Let Morsi Be Forgotten. The Suffocation of Egypt’s Oppositions
Federica Zoja 9 July 2019

Less than a month after the death of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, the future of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood appears increasingly uncertain, overwhelmed by government repression of unprecedented intensity as well as by the inability to produce a new political and social project. Equally impotent is the secular opposition, which is disrupted and systematically attacked by the authorities.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood, there are indications that “in recent years some factions of the organization are beginning to develop self-criticism and reflect on what they could have done differently” in their short golden age, explains Lucia Ardovini, researcher at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs. It is, however, “still an isolated phenomenon and certainly not a common position for the entire organization”, the Brotherhood expert specifies adding that “the general opinion is that the so-called old leadership of the movement still has the organization’s control”.

So seems to think of it the regime, which does not relax its grip on long-standing Islamists, internal or external to the confraternity, mostly in prison, while not forgetting to “care” about the younger component strongly critical of the choices of the old guard. Those who were been arrested, among the most influential ideologues, have fled abroad.

The Brotherhood’s attempt to ikhwanise the social and political life of Egypt under Morsi’s rule in 2012-2013 is continually reminded to citizenship, called to watch over together with the authorities.
On the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the dismissal of Morsi, on July 3rd, the ministry of Religious Affairs released a video on “contemporary Khawarij” and their danger: in it, the Muslim Brothers are equated with “those who left”. This is in fact the literal meaning of the Arabic term Khawarij, used for the radical sect that rebelled against the fourth caliph. In the clip, a cartoon, the members of the Gamaat, the Islamist groups, attack nerve centers such as a subway station or a mosque. They look like Isis fighters, armed to the teeth.


The Brothers and the others

The authorities consider as dangerous all the different souls of Islamism, not only the disciples of Hassan al-Banna. Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh has been in prison for almost a year and a half: a leading figure for the Islamic political front in Egypt and candidate for the 2012 presidential election, he is the founder of the centrist party Misr al-Qawiya (“strong Egypt”) after leaving the Muslim Brotherhood of Mohammed Morsi.

Aboul-Fotouh was arrested in February 2018 to be questioned on charges of “spreading false news that damage Egyptian national security, and for guidance and financing of a terrorist group” (he had given a particularly harsh interview against Egyptian authorities during a short stay in London). His story, according to two Egyptian NGOs, is purposely ignored by pro-government media. According to the family, in the Tora prison Aboul-Fotouh was hit by two cardiac arrests and was not treated properly. But this scenario was denied by the pro-government daily Al-Akhbar through the voice of an anonymous “prison official”.

Politically active since his university years (Fotouh is a doctor and, still, secretary general of the Union of Arab Physicians), a militant of the Gamaa al-Islamiya since its foundation in 1971 and a member of the Muslim brotherhood always on the frontline in opposition to the Sadat and Mubarak presidencies, Aboul-Fotouh is known for his ability to maintain dialoguing relations with politicians of different sides.  An independence of judgment which, from 2014 onwards, has led him to denounce yet another authoritarian drift.


Suspicious gatherings

The repression of dissent does not give breath to the secular voices either. On the same days when the authorities recalled Islamist misdeeds, leading figures of the civil society were arrested because they were considered accomplices of the “Hope plan”: a plot hatched by the Muslim brotherhood in exile and by political activists at home to “turn the established order upside down”, as asserted in a statement by the Egyptian ministry of the Interior on June 25th.

Hisham Qassem, founder of the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, denied the reconstruction of the investigators talking about “a project in an embryonic state” and explaining that those were meetings of representatives of the whole opposition. Except for the Islamists, “of whom we have a bad memory”.

Among the participants in such nascent coalition, which has been running for about two months, there are members of parties regularly registered and admitted to political life, such as the Egyptian Social Democratic party and the Conservative party, as well as Hamdine Sabbahi, already a candidate for the presidential elections, or the Christian politician George Ishak.

Shocked by the arrest of his acquaintances, Qassem protested on Le Monde: “Our only goal is to respond to the growing apathy so that everyone can participate in the legislative elections of 2020. This coalition does not intend to supplant those political coalitions that will be presented in the elections “. But the reassurances are not enough to al-Sisi’s regime: anyone who still wants to be politically militant is at risk today in Egypt.

Journalists, trade unionists, intellectuals, students, professionals active in the corporations of their category: the list of those arrested and those who could be shortly gets longer. So much that in its recent report on the opposition in Egypt, Amnesty International does not hesitate to define the North African country as “an open-air prison”.


Photo: Khaled Desouki / AFP

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