top of page

Why the Muslim Brotherhood Failed to Rule Egypt?

Ten years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood was given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rule Egypt, and they wasted it. The unexpected rise of the Muslim Brotherhood group to the topmost of power, in Egypt, followed by a quick and loud fall, has shattered the group into unassimilable pieces. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders had dug the grave of the group with their own hands, by insisting on placing their Islamist identity above the nationalist identity, that Egyptians dearly embrace. Then, they shot the group right in the heart, by inciting their young followers to practice acts of violence, under the flag of defending Islam, against civilians, policemen, and state facilities in a vengeful reaction to their ouster from power. Even after fleeing Egypt, they continued to hurt their grassroots supporters, whom they left behind with no protection or support, by creating meaningless internal battles over the group’s leadership and finances. The ill performance and unwise decisions of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are the main reasons why the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to rule Egypt.

The Opportunity

Before becoming president, in 2012, Mohamed Morsi had not been known to most Egyptians, including those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi’s marginal victory with 51.7% against Ahmed Shafik, the former military aviator and the last prime minister of Mubarak’s regime, marked a plot twist in the decades-long rivalry between the military institution and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi’s victory was widely celebrated by Western media and academics as a step towards containing Islamists within an organized political system. But, inside Egypt, there was a heightened sense of shock and defeat, especially among the liberal and pro-democracy activists. The majority of the young Egyptians, who participated in the revolution against Mubarak, had not planned or expected to see Egypt turning into an Islamic theocracy governed by the Muslim Brotherhood in the presidency and the far-right extremists of the Salafist movement, in parliament.

Neither the military nor the liberal activists dared to challenge the results of the elections. The military could not afford to expose the country to the threat of initiating a civil war by not accepting the new reality of Islamists taking over. The chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring offered a perfect environment for this hellish scenario. Likewise, it was easier for the pro-democracy activists to accept the results of the elections, even though they did not ideologically agree with the Muslim Brotherhood than let Egypt fall back into the sludge of dictatorship at the hands of Mubarak’s associates.

Meanwhile, the majority of Egyptians, pushed by fear of losing the secular Egypt that they knew under the pressure of systematic Islamization of the state by the new rulers, chose to quietly retreat to their safe caves of apathy. “The couch party” was the term used by analysts to describe this phenomenon of Egyptians' sudden withdrawal from political participation, at that time. The political ascendance of the Islamists instigated a shuffle in the relationship dynamics between the Islamists, the military, and the general public.

That was the beginning of a whole new chapter, where the average citizens started to reconsider the legitimacy of the Arab Spring revolution that ousted Mubarak from power, and the viability of the democratization process if it would happen at the expense of risking state security and stability.

The Mistake

The Muslim Brotherhood did not care to address the concerns of the public or to console the defeated liberal activists. They did not even try to negotiate a political deal with the powerful military generals. On the contrary, they purposefully marginalized everyone who adopted a political or religious ideology that was different from theirs and kept the Salafists as the only political allies. The Muslim Brotherhood took every step in the wrong direction of alienating themselves and stirring popular anger and resentment.

First, the Muslim Brotherhood turned against the military generals. On the first week of August 2012, nearly one month after Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was seated as president, Morsi fired the two most popular leaders of the Armed Forces: Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawy, the Minister of Defense, and his Army Chief of Staff, General Sami Anan. Together, Tantawy and Anan had complete control over the military for years. Both commanders were highly respected by the Egyptian public and counterpart militaries, worldwide. Ironically, what the Muslim Brotherhood thought was a bold step to control the military institution, turned out to be their most unwise decision. The new Minister of Defense, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was appointed by Morsi after the removal of Tantawy played a tremendous role in overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood regime from power, a few months later.

In parliament, the performance of Muslim Brotherhood allies, the Salafists, was not only shocking to the public but also threatening to the liberal and democratic values that motivated the young activists to lead a revolution against Mubarak. The legislation discussed by Islamist Members of Parliament was not about improving the economy or advancing democracy. Rather, they were preoccupied with making new laws to legalize child marriage, allow the return of the horrific practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and prohibit women from working in certain fields that they believed should be reserved exclusively for men.

They went as far as marginalizing the Coptic Christian citizens and disregarding their needs for individual freedom and security. This explains why women and Coptic Christian citizens represent the majority of El-Sisi’s electoral constituency. They are, also, the two main social groups that supported the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime from power, in 2013.

Yet, the most shocking behavior by Islamist parliamentarians was when they refused to stand up to honor the Egyptian flag when the national anthem was playing, claiming that this is a non-Islamic practice. Even worse, some Salafist Members of Parliament used to disrespectfully disturb parliamentary discussions by standing up without permission and loudly reciting the Islamic “Azan” (the call for prayer), and then leaving the room in groups to perform prayer.

One of the biggest mistakes that the Muslim Brotherhood committed when in power was tolerating the discriminative practices of the Salafists against women and non-Muslim citizens, in order not to lose the support of their grassroots followers. That is despite the fact that, on another level, the Muslim Brotherhood took the effort to end its own discriminative rhetoric against women, to please Western allies. For the first time ever, the female members of the Muslim Brotherhood were allowed to take leadership positions inside the political party that the group created after the Arab Spring revolution. These women were, in fact, the wives and daughters of the leaders of the group. They had no political experience and they were acting as instructed by the top leaders.

The Downfall

The victory of Islamists in presidential and parliamentary elections, in 2012, was a result of disgraceful manipulation of people’s religious piety and starvation for democratic change. The slogan the Salafists used in parliamentary elections, for example, was: “We are your way to Allah’s Heaven.” They deceived the religious pious grassroots citizens into believing that voting for political Islamists is voting for Allah. However, it did not take Egyptians more than a few months to realize that they committed a mistake by voting for political Islamists in the presidency and parliament.

A series of surveys run by the Ibn Khaldun Center for Democratic Studies, between July 2012 and June 2013, about the public citizens’ satisfaction with presidential performance marked sharp declines in Islamists’ popularity and credibility among grassroots citizens. In July 2012, only one month after Morsi was elected, the survey showed that 40.3% of Egyptians were satisfied with the performance of the president. During this month, Morsi – the then-new president – gave an endless list of flowery promises that included improving the economy and empowering women and religious minorities into decision-making positions, in a clear contradiction to his group’s ideology and principles. But, in November 2012, as public rallies surrounding the presidential palace to protest the government’s failure were received by violent resistance from the Muslim Brotherhood militia, the citizens’ satisfaction index dramatically declined to 8.5%.

By the end of June 2013, in coincidence with Morsi’s first anniversary in power, the Egyptians decided that the Muslim Brotherhood had wasted their opportunity and did not deserve to remain in power, any longer. The persistence of Egyptians to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood from power was clearly expressed through several nonviolent tactics that built up the momentum of nationwide protests that eventually overthrew Morsi from power.

Towards the end of 2012, ordinary citizens, especially in Cairo, started to hang banners outside their houses and shopping stores located on the main streets, portraying Islamists as Machiavellian manipulators. Soon after, a massive petition signing campaign, under the name “Tamarud” (Rebellion), was launched by young liberal democratic activists to mobilize the “couch party” citizens to express their rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Tamarud's petition collected more than twenty-two million signatures in less than three months, between February and June 2013, exceeding the number of those who voted for Morsi in the presidential elections.

Tamarud's petition called upon Morsi to resign and for the constitutional court to set a date for new presidential elections. In parallel, young liberal activists organized protests, on regular Fridays, outside the Presidential Palace and the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters. As the police forces and military guards at the presidential office refused to use violence to control the protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders ordered the militia affiliated with the group to clash with them.

The decline of the military and police forces to obey the presidential orders to violently repress the protesters awakened people’s desire to see the military coming back to power. By March 2013, the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood started to incorporate slogans calling for the military's return to political leadership. In addition to the regularly used slogan of “down with Muslim Brotherhood rule,” the people started once again to chant the revolution’s slogan “people and the military are one hand.”This renewed confidence in the military, encouraged the Minister of Defense, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, to instruct the military institution to take the side of the people against the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the 1st of July, as the protests calling for Morsi’s resignation multiplied and expanded, El-Sisi made a public statement, in his capacity as the Minister of Defense, giving Morsi an ultimatum of forty-eight hours to resign, in compliance with people’s demands. On the 2nd of July, Morsi responded with a televised speech about his electoral legitimacy, asserting that he was willing to defend it even by “shedding blood.” A few minutes after the speech, violent clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and anti-Morsi protesters erupted at several locations across Egypt, resulting in fatalities. On the 3rd of July, El-Sisi announced the removal of Morsi from his position as president and transferred presidential powers to the president of the constitutional court until writing a new constitution and holding a presidential election.

The Polarization

Not all Egyptians observe the June 30th anniversary the same way. The perception varies to great degrees, based on the political tendencies of those who are looking back at the day that initiated the new political reality of Egypt and the entire region of the Middle East.

For the Egyptian state, and its supporters, the June 30th anniversary represents two significant events. It is the day, in 2013 when the Egyptian people rallied nationwide to protest the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and call upon the military institution to intervene to force convening early presidential elections. On the same day, exactly one year later, the retired Major General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was sworn in as the new president of the state, after an overwhelming majority of Egyptians elected him in reward for his central role in ridding Egypt of the Islamists’ rule.

Pragmatically, the people, also, believed that El-Sisi was the the only person who could restore security and stability because the military was backing him. In his inauguration speech, El-Sisi made sure not to make promises to the people about what he could achieve. He only asserted that his main task was to save Egypt from the “people of evil,” and asked the Egyptians to help and support him on that mission.

On the flip side, the Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathizers remember the June 30th anniversary as a coup d’état against a democratically elected regime, that derived its legitimacy from the constitution and the will of the citizens who voted the group in. They still insist on their mistakes and refuse to learn from the hard lessons.

In the middle, between the supporters of Mubarak, the supporters of El-Sisi, and the supporters of Morsi; the pro-democracy activists who spearheaded the Arab Spring revolution against Mubarak's autocratic rule, and later supported the military-backed uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood out of fear of a potential theocracy, are now reflecting, with a sense of guilt, on whether they may have squandered Egypt's rare opportunity for democracy by cheering on the early purge of an elected Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Also, read on Majalla


bottom of page