Part of Foreign Affairs Report: Morsi and Beyond

The Muslim Brotherhood After Morsi

Can the Brothers Reboot?

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood sit on a barrier they erected near the Rabaa Adawiya Square, July 11, 2013
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood sit on a barrier they erected near the Rabaa Adawiya Square, July 11, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Courtesy Reuters)

On June 30, 2012, Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, was sworn in as Egypt’s president. On the first anniversary of his inauguration, Morsi faced millions of protesters demanding his resignation. When the president proved unable to resolve the crisis, the military forced him out of office and placed him and other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders under house arrest.

The Morsi presidency’s abrupt and ignominious end was due to several factors. Although Morsi had promised to serve as a president for all Egyptians, his actions over the past year reinforced the impression -- among key figures in both the state establishment and the secular opposition -- that he was using the powers of his office for partisan gain. For example, he gave Islamists control of key government ministries, including those of education and information. And after he ousted 17 provincial governors, Morsi replaced seven of them with Muslim Brotherhood members and one with a member of an ex-militant Islamist group, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyaa. He also appointed Muslim Brotherhood loyalists to strategic positions in the state prosecutor’s office and in the media.

Morsi and his supporters justified such moves by saying that they needed to cleanse the state of figures associated with the old regime. One could argue, moreover, that rewarding one’s own party members is normal behavior in democratic politics. But in Egypt, relations among leading political and civil-society actors are so warped by long-standing mutual suspicion and distrust that such appointments were widely interpreted as evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood was intent on monopolizing power.

Those doubts about the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to the establishment of a truly inclusive political order were only compounded when, last November, Morsi placed his actions above judicial review, which allowed him to protect a constitutional commission packed with Islamists from dissolution. He then pushed for a snap public referendum on the constitution that it drafted, despite the controversy dogging the commission’s skewed makeup. More recently, he issued warrants for the arrest of several human rights activists and proposed a new law imposing state control over the registration and funding of civil society groups.

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