Whatever happened to the Brotherhood?

In elections in late 2011, the Brotherhood secured more than 42% of the parliamentary seats and emerged as the single dominant political party in the post-Mubarak order. The Brotherhood, at the time, portrayed its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, as Egypt’s equivalent of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. A cross-class coalition that encompassed middle classes in the urban as well as rural areas seemed to be in the making.

In that context, the Brotherhood distanced itself from the religious right-wing which ran on separate lists dominated by the Salafi Nour party. Conversely, the Brothers managed to run liberal and leftist figures and small parties on their lists including the very party headed by the now Brothers’ number one rival Hamdeen Sabbahi.

At that time, the Brotherhood was downplaying its Islamist discourse, talking rather about the compatibility of Islam and democracy. They developed a party platform that flirted with the upper and mainly urban middle classes’ conception of free market growth and prosperity.

A year later, the Brotherhood seems to be focused on a very different political constellation. The very urban centers that witnessed the January 2011 revolt against Mubarak’s regime protested massively against President Mohamed Morsy’s constitutional declaration. Cities like Cairo, Alexandria, Zagazig, Mansoura, Tanta and Mahalla voted heavily against the Brotherhood-backed constitutional draft.

The urban upper, upper-middle and middle-classes appear to be searching for a different political agent to represent them in the post-Mubarak order. Conversely, the Brotherhood has moved to the right, allying themselves openly with the Salafis and the retired terrorists of Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya. The Brotherhood block has relied heavily on sectarian incitement and promises of applying Sharia as the main means to drive supporters to vote for the constitutional draft.

The first round of voting has clearly shown that the Brotherhood – and generally the Islamists – has moved its support-base from urban centers and the Delta provinces in the north to underdeveloped Upper Egypt. In such provinces, the Sharia-based discourse together with sectarianism has been able to mobilize many supporters since Morsy’s elections six months ago.

Hence, the Brotherhood is becoming more and more the representative of the periphery. Gone are the days when the Brotherhood was appealing to the most relevant and affluent urban centers in the northern part of Egypt.

Yet, can the Brotherhood represent the periphery in Egypt’s burgeoning political system? The answer is likely to be in the negative for many reasons.

First of all, the Brotherhood has been historically a middle-class movement with a strong presence in the Delta provinces. Accordingly, the Brotherhood is no revolutionary force that may represent the grievances of the periphery. It is rather a conservative sect that sets its strategy to share power on reaching compromises with the military, big capital-holders and American interests in the region.

Secondly, there is very little possibility that the Brotherhood can deliver anything meaningful or tangible to their new supporters. Any Islamic radicalization will disrupt the tension-ridden arrangements with the military, big capital, the Gulf donors and creditors and the West on which the very prospect of economic recovery depends.

It seems that the Brotherhood have lost their way into the periphery. No dominant power can emerge in Egypt’s newly-opened political sphere without relying on a broad social coalition that reflects the interests of the northern urban centers. The Brotherhood’s recent re-Islamized discourse and voting-patterns are closer to that of a small far-right party that is likely to emerge on fringes and margins of the political system rather than in its very center.

This even runs contrary to the Brotherhood’s favorite example and model which is that of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey.

Since its rise to power in 2002, the Turkish majoritarian party has been managing a broad cross-class coalition. It comprised the middle and lower-middle classes of the Marmara region in the west that includes Istanbul and other industrial and touristic centers, together with the emerging small bourgeoisie of the cities in inner Anatolia that came to be known as the Anatolian tigers. The Turkish periphery in the east is either represented by ultra-national Turkish parties or by Kurdish nationalists.

Countries that bear some similarity to Egypt, such as Brazil and India as developing democracies, have center-left parties that comprise more or less the same broad coalition.

It is about time to state that the Brotherhood has failed in forging such a broad cross-class coalition. Moreover, it has failed to sell itself to the urban centers that once ousted Mubarak. Rather, the Brotherhood has resorted to the periphery using a discourse that is hardly distinguishable from the Salafi and Jihadi-right while trying to seal deals with the Americans and the military at the same time.

Amr Adly is director of the Social and Economic Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He has a PhD in political economy.

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