No Brothers in Arms in Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood Breaks with the Military

Khairat al-Shater of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Courtesy Reuters)

In late May, Egypt will ostensibly hold its first open presidential elections in nearly six decades. But the Muslim Brotherhood suspects treachery. This past Tuesday’s disqualification of ten presidential candidates, including Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater, has convinced the group that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak resigned last year, is conspiring against it to ensure the election of a non-Islamist president who would restore the country’s autocratic order. In response, the Brotherhood has vowed to “protect the revolution.” It is directing its energies against the SCAF, running a replacement presidential candidate and calling for mass demonstrations. This aggressive approach is undermining the legitimacy of Egypt’s transition.

The Brotherhood’s animosity toward the SCAF is a relatively recent development. For the first 12 months following Mubarak’s fall, the Brotherhood appeared to be working in tandem with the military junta. The SCAF legalized the Brotherhood’s newly formed political party, Freedom and Justice, and administered parliamentary elections that the Brotherhood won handily. Meanwhile, the Islamist organization refrained from criticizing the SCAF, even endorsing the March 2011 constitutional amendments that legitimized the SCAF’s control of Egypt’s transition, and, after assuming control over the parliament in January 2012, appointing a retired general to chair the legislative committee that handles military issues. Cooperation seemed so smooth that many assumed that the SCAF and Brotherhood had agreed to accommodate each other’s needs and thereby control Egypt’s political transition jointly.


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Despite this reciprocal relationship, however, the Brotherhood continues to mistrust the SCAF. To begin with, the group remembers that when it last cooperated with Egypt’s military rulers during a political

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