Two weeks ago, Muslim Brotherhood leaders from across Africa and the Middle East gathered in Istanbul to regroup following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. (Morsi, as I noted previously here, was recruited into the group while studying in the U.S.) But after even more setbacks suffered by the Muslim Brotherhood in a number of countries this past week, another meeting might be in order.
Here’s a rundown of the week’s events:
Egypt: The most prominent example, the MB there rejected calls for reconciliation meetings by the interim government and demanded Morsi’s reinstatement as president before any negotiations. That’s not remotely likely. So that set the stage this week for a game of chicken, with the MB refusing to stand down and Defense Minister Sisi calling for rallies yesterday in support of the interim government, ostensibly to legitimize a crackdown on a terror campaign being waged by Morsi supporters against police and military targets in the Sinai. Of note is the statement last week by a senior MB leader that the terrorist acts would stop when Morsi is reinstated, indicating some degree of MB control over the terror cells.
The result yesterday was massive rallies supporting both sides, predominately backing the new anti-MB government, with as many as 35 million taking the streets in support of the army despite a fatwa issued by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the senior international MB jurist, prohibiting participation in the protests. Those protests led to a series of clashes last night and this morning that have reportedly left dozens dead. Meanwhile, Morsi was charged with murder and other crimes by the new government this week, and will probably be sent to the same prison currently housing former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.
The MB strategy appears to be leveraging the deaths of supporters killed during nearly continuous clashes with the police and army to gain domestic and international sympathy. Yet that doesn’t seem to be happening. Some clashes in which MB supporters were killed have not been with the government, but rather with residents of the areas occupied by the MB protests. And assaults on Egyptian and foreign journalists alike by Morsi supporters and news reports of torture and killing of so-called “infiltrators“ at the MB protests aren’t helping either.
And while the MB might have temporarily taken comfort in the Obama administration’s decision this week to halt the transfer of a few F-16 aircraft to the Egyptian military (though the administration continued such military hardware transfers while Morsi declared himself dictator in November and was killing protesters earlier this year), any hopes of backing their “legitimacy” campaign were dashed when administration officials said that no determination will probably be made as to whether Morsi’s ouster was a coup or not, which would trigger sanctions against the Egyptian military under a law passed by Congress last year.
So the MB doesn’t appear to be gaining support, and the majority of Egyptians appear willing to hold their nose over the violence against the MB while the army and the police attempt to create some stability. The result will be an increase in the violence and more deaths, and the low-grade terrorism in the Sinai will also probably escalate into more acts of terrorism, prompting greater crackdowns.
Gaza: Another big loser in Morsi’s overthrow is the Hamas government in Gaza. In recent weeks the Egyptian military has put a stranglehold on trafficking through tunnels, which provides Hamas with considerable funds. A UN estimate this week said that 80 percent of the traffic through the tunnels running from Egypt into Gaza has been shut down. The Hamas economic minister said the Egyptian crackdown has cost the terror group $230 million – one tenth of the gross domestic product of Gaza. Things aren’t likely to improve with the Egyptian government either, as one of the charges against former President Morsi is collaboration with Hamas in his prison escape back in 2011.
Tunisia: The country was rocked on Thursday by the assassination of political opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, an open critic of the ruling Ennahda party’s Islamization policies. The assassination outside Brahmi’s home took place on the country’s Republic Day, so many Tunisians were not at work and began gathering around government buildings in protest. The Ennahda office in Sidi Bouzid – the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” – was torched by protesters.
Many in Tunisia are blaming Ennahda for Brahmi’s murder, particularly because of the inability on the part of the government to bring to justice the assassins of Brahmi’s political partner, Chokri Belaid, who was killed back in February. Reports indicated that the same gun used to kill Brahmi had also been used to kill Belaid. Now protesters are calling for the dissolution of the government led by Ennahda.
A government official this week blamed the assassinations on a cell of Ansar al-Shariah, but it’s not likely that Tunisians are going to buy the attempt by Ennahda to distance itself from the jihadist group. In the past, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi has played a public double game, denouncing Salafists to the Western press, and then colluding with them in private to push Islamization policies. He’s also known for making his own supremacist statements, such as his claim back in November that Islamists would rule the Arab world.
It should be noted that Ghannouchi has been greeted with open arms by top U.S. Islamic groups closely tied to the Obama administration, despite Ghannouchi being subject to a ban on entering the U.S. since the early days of the Clinton administration for terrorist activities until the Obama administration dropped the ban two years ago. Since, he’s been feted on Capitol Hill by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and he was recently the keynote speaker at an event with top Obama Muslim adviser and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) president Mohamed Majid outside D.C.