Muslim Brotherhood Splinter Group Bids for Peace With Egyptian Regime

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Protesters, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, are seen behind burning tires during a protest in the Matariya area in Cairo, August 14, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Amr Amara is sick of the rift between the Egyptian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. Amara had been a member of the Brotherhood but quit in June last year due to the violent clashes between that organization and Egyptian security forces. Now he has decided to take action. Last month he drafted a national-reconciliation proposal aimed at the movement and the regime in Cairo.

As a leader of an alliance of young people who have left the Brotherhood, Amara is proposing, among other things, that the Islamist organization recognize the regime of the current president, Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, and apologize to the Egyptian public for last year’s violent acts, for which the group bears responsibility.

Furthermore, the proposal calls on the Brotherhood to honor court decisions, to recognize the supreme authority of Egypt’s Al-Azhar religious institution, and not to use violence against citizens.

In return, the suggested agreement would have the regime release Muslim Brotherhood prisoners with no “blood on their hands,” conduct fair trials of those suspected of illegal acts, and allow Muslim parties to operate within the political system.

This is a particularly interesting proposal because unlike the Muslim Brotherhood itself, the group of young people who have broken away from the movement acknowledge the authority of the state. They do not view Sissi’s regime as the product of a military coup last year against the Brotherhood, or as the result of “a crime against the nation and democracy,” as the Islamist organization characterizes it.

As a gesture, Amara also announced that the former Muslim Brotherhood members would even contribute their own funds in support of the “Long Live Egypt” campaign that Sissi initiated to raise money for the economic rehabilitation of the country.

Does the reconciliation proposal stand a chance? As other young, liberal revolutionaries have done in the past, Amara is seeking to convince other protest groups, including established ones like Kefaya (the Egyptian Movement for Change) and the April 6 movement, to join forces with Islamic movements that are not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He is also seeking to recruit Brotherhood members who have become dissatisfied with the way their movement is run.

Last week, Amara received the support of Kefaya and several left-wing groups that believe that “national dialogue” – meaning a reconciliation with the Brotherhood – is essential to stabilize the country and to fight terrorism by radical Islamists.

Sissi, too, appears interested in a unity move, on condition that it be subject to certain presidential dictates.

Meanwhile, in the streets of various Egyptian cities, there are still occasional outbreaks of violence, with Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashing with security forces. Indeed, terror attacks have become routine in Cairo and Brotherhood members are suspected of involvement in some of them.

The public trials against Brotherhood activists and the absurdly harsh sentences that are being meted out, including death sentences for hundreds of them, are also creating international diplomatic pressure on Egypt.

The reconciliation initiative, which would distinguish between those with whom negotiations can be held and the hard core of the Muslim Brotherhood which would continue to be shunned, could promote the perception of Sissi as the "president of all Egyptians," not just of the country’s secular, left-wing and liberal populations.

For his part, Sissi intends to hold parliamentary elections by the end of the year, thereby completing his "road map" scheme for the country's political future, which he initiated last year with the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi as president. Sissi’s blueprint outlines implementation of a democratic system as he described it following approval of the constitution and his election as president.

Unlike these previous moves, however, parliamentary elections could pose the biggest challenge to Sissi. In August political blocs began to coalesce that intend to run for parliament together. Some support Sissi, but there are also groups that oppose him, particularly among movements with young members.

Furthermore, the electoral law under discussion is also a matter of controversy; there is concern that it will favor the regime’s supporters, as was the case during President Hosni Mubarak’s tenure. And for their part, liberals are concerned that it could lead to the election of independents who actually represent the Muslim Brotherhood and will therefore undermine the balance of power. Both camps are demanding that the law be amended and unless agreement is reached, it is expected that elections will be delayed.

Unlike the parliament under Mubarak, the next legislature is to have broad authority. Even though presidential powers have been expanded in the interim, the new parliament will not be a rubber stamp. That makes the future constellation of parties and movements in the legislature highly important: Conservative Salafi Muslims and right-wingers could be sitting with liberals, even though at this stage there is no way of knowing what the distribution of power will look like.

Theoretically, Sissi could be facing a parliament with a majority that opposes him, something that would have been impossible under Mubarak or President Anwar Sadat, thanks to the power of their ruling party. Therefore, Sissi is seeking to enlist all the parties that are running to focus on a central, unifying platform.

No one disputes the importance of Egypt’s economic rehabilitation or its war against terrorism, but the latter is also directed at the Muslim Brotherhood. But since the regime's anti-terror effort also involves infringement of civil liberties and the incarceration of more than 12,000 people – Sissi could find himself facing growing opposition from movements of young people who are already demanding major reforms on the ground, based on what they call “revolutionary values.”

All these considerations could advance national reconciliation and selectively allow those who have left the Muslim Brotherhood to enter politics. There have been indications of this, in fact, in the release of two jailed Brotherhood activists and in a meeting that Sissi’s spokesman had with an alliance of young former Brotherhood members.

Sissi himself has not announced whether he will accept Amr Amara’s reconciliation initiative, but according to reports from Cairo, the president’s advisers support it and are even portraying it as part of the battle against the Muslim Brotherhood itself.

The coming months will reveal whether Egypt is prepared to implement ideas from the revolution and establish a representative parliament that will garner public legitimacy, or whether there will be a return to the terrible days of the Mubarak regime.

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