Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, increasingly excluded from mainstream politics, says it will not risk open confrontation with the state by taking to the streets in large-scale protests only to be crushed by security forces.
Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of Egypt’s most powerful opposition group, said the Brotherhood would not risk that path without more substantial popular support and clear objectives.
Smaller opposition groups have often decried the apparent unwillingness of the Brotherhood, which seeks an Islamic state through democratic means, to use its resources to agitate more aggressively for change in the most populous Arab country, Reuters adds.
“For the Brotherhood to go out alone and be crushed by the security apparatus or the army, no,” the group’s deputy leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters in an interview this week.
“You’re talking about anarchy … and that is something no one accepts, in addition to the fact that it can be exploited by the mob to damage public and private property,” Habib said.
But Habib, whose group played a seminal role in the development of Islamist ideology and political groups around the Muslim world, said he saw promise in a burgeoning social protest movement working on issues of poverty and social justice.
The Brotherhood won roughly a fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament in 2005, but authorities have since obstructed its efforts to further its electoral gains in more recent votes for municipal councils or parliament’s upper house.
They prevent potential Brotherhood candidates from filing nomination papers, block members from voting, harass and detain organisers and supporters, and detain rank and file members and leaders without charge.
The government has also pushed through a constitutional amendment banning political activity based on religion.
The Brotherhood has eschewed violence for decades and has generally refrained from using civil disobedience to confront the state, with one exception being the group’s involvement in protests demanding a more independent judiciary in 2006.
“The conviction must be born among the people that the issue of reform and change is dependent on them, more than it is dependent on political and national forces,” Habib said.
Such conservatism may reflect the bitter experience of purges under the nationalist government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, when thousands of Brotherhood members were tortured in detention camps.
Habib said that emerging social protest movements had the potential to snowball, fuelled by tensions caused by the massive rift between wealthy businessmen allied with the state and the vast majority of Egyptians who live in poverty.
“Social protest movements are strong and growing, and are full of simmering anger,” he said of the movements, which focus on specific issues like rising prices or poor health services rather than on supporting openly political organisations.
“If we can achieve some sort of coordination among the social protest movements … we will have laid our feet on the beginning of the path.”
The Brotherhood has said it prefers to focus on its extensive social service networks and spreading their values rather than holding demonstrations of limited value.
Habib said the emergence of protest movements was among factors that left him less certain that President Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal will succeed his father to the presidency, as many in Egypt speculate he is being groomed to do. Both father and son deny Gamal has presidential ambitions.
Habib said the Brotherhood would not oppose Gamal’s running for office if his nomination came with reforms including ending emergency law, restoring civil liberties, and free and fair elections — conditions Habib said Egypt was unlikely to meet.
The size of the Brotherhood’s following in Egypt is unknown, but analysts point to the 1.7 million votes secured by its candidates in 2005 legislative elections. It won the votes despite government efforts to block Brotherhood loyalists from polling stations.
Habib said the Brotherhood would not be able to retain anywhere near the number of parliamentary seats it currently holds in light of recent government clampdowns, but was determined to fight on at the ballot box.
“We are required to try. We are not obliged to succeed,” he said