Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Courtesy Reuters Army soldiers don gas masks before clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, July 8, 2013.

Why the Brotherhood Won't Back Down

The Battle for Cairo

After only one year in power, during which its blatantly autocratic behavior alienated millions of Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood is back where it started. For six decades before the 2011 uprising, the group sat in the opposition, under fire from a military regime. This time, even after security forces unseated President Mohamed Morsi, detained top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and reportedly issued arrest warrants for about 300 more, shut down the group’s television station, closed some of its offices, and then killed 53 and wounded hundreds at a demonstration outside of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood does not seem ready to go quietly. It has called for an intifada and has repeatedly vowed escalate its protests until Morsi is reinstated.

To some extent, the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to keep fighting is a product of how it views the events of the past week. Morsi, the organization argues, was an elected president with three more years left in his term. Therefore, it says, he should be allowed to complete that term and then face the voters in the next elections, whether he was a good president or not.

Historically, however, the Muslim Brotherhood has been willing to compromise, albeit temporarily, on such principles when faced with an insurmountable adversary. “The Muslim Brotherhood always has a ‘roof’ -- we don’t touch it, and play under it,” Abdel Galil al-Sharnouby, a former Brother who worked in the organization’s central headquarters from 2005 to 2011, told me in June. For example, Sharnouby explained, the roof prior to the 2011 uprising was President Hosni Mubarak. The group set internal limits on the extent to which its members could attack the Mubarak regime. So criticizing particular ministers was fine. But, with occasional exceptions, attacking Mubarak personally was not. Following Mubarak’s ouster, Sharnouby said, the roof became Washington, since the Muslim Brotherhood feared that directly confronting the United States on its key interests would invite a devastating response. This is why the Brotherhood never overturned the 1979

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