One of the grave mistakes that led to the Muslim Brotherhood’s downfall was their inability to manage the government bureaucracy. This gave the crowds ample reason to join the anti-Brotherhood protests after citizens’ hopes for better living conditions were shattered, as evident in the escalation of the power cut and fuel crises, price inflation, and the general rise in the cost of living.
Public resentment of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood administration was greatly driven by its failure to run the country. This was particularly the case because the Brotherhood operated as a closed cult that served its own interests, in addition to its implication in regional and international agendas. Anti-Brotherhood sentiments were also consolidated by fear of the group’s interference in private life, through restricting personal freedoms.
The relationship between the general public and the Brotherhood is quite complex. It is not unlikely that people empathized with the group when they were being persecuted by the Mubarak regime, for example, and even admired their devoutness. But this feeling promptly vanished and turned into loathing once people realized that the Brotherhood acts as a cult, preserving its own interests, and that its loyalty is to its foreign affiliates, not to the nation. This extreme shift from empathy to loathing is indicative of the group’s detachment from, and inability to integrate with, Egyptian society as a whole.
The Brotherhood tried to bridge this gap with society, and to an extent succeeded in the year following the 25 January revolution; the climax of this success was the 2011 parliamentary elections. Around 11 million Egyptians voted for the Brotherhood, who presented themselves as a moderate conservative party capable of representing the people and leading them responsibly. They succeeded through employing a non-religious rhetoric, particularly evident in their adoption of the political slogan “We hold good for Egypt.” But this did not last long.
As time went by, the group began to drift away from the revolutionary groups, adopt counter-revolutionary stances, and develop a quite turbulent affair with state institutions. While doing so, they also reclaimed their classic religious Islamist rhetoric in order to appease their Islamist supporters. This transformation in the Brotherhood’s political technique began around the time of the 2012 parliamentary elections. This, coupled with mismanagement of the country’s affairs under Morsi’s administration, fueled public dissent against the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood managed to anger revolutionary groups, state institutions (as explained in my previous article), and the public, which led to its isolation.
The Brotherhood therefore began to depend solely on Islamist supporters, who were empowered to escalate their incitement against, and excommunication of, dissenters. The group’s fall was thus a rational outcome of the increasing animosity between them and everyone else. What is quite surprising, however, is how the Brotherhood insisted on wasting any opportunity to save their rule.
Since the polarization of the political sphere began following Morsi’s adoption of the infamous authoritarian constitutional declaration in November 2012, the Brotherhood have insisted on adopting a zero-sum game mentality. Both its leadership and its members refused to make any political concessions proposed by the opposition. They refused to change the government or attorney general, and declined to provide guarantees that the coming parliamentary elections would be free and fair. The Brotherhood dismissed everyone and continued their failed management of state institutions. They refused to take public anger against their rule seriously. In doing so, they rebuffed the essence of negotiation politics, preferring instead to be disciplinarians.
By killing any chance for political settlement, the Brotherhood cornered their opposition into believing there was no salvation without their fall. The June 30 Tamarod movement, when millions took to the streets, was the final blow. And the Brotherhood naturally blew their last shot at a “safe exit” by not considering the demands of the people.
They could have redeemed themselves by sacrificing Morsi and holding early presidential elections. This would have created a win-win situation for the Brotherhood. It would have prevented military intervention and calmed the public. In addition it would have enabled them to restrain Islamists’ escalation of violence. The Brotherhood would have also been able to negotiate their position on the political map following early presidential elections. The zero-sum game mentality, unfortunately, aborted all these possibilities.
There was no other option in front of the military, fearing that public anger would escalate to the point of toppling the state as a whole, but to directly intervene to oust Morsi. The purpose of this intervention was also to take control of the situation, tame popular discontent, and carve a new path for the counter-revolution after the Brotherhood’s failure.
It is worth noting that one reason behind the Brotherhood’s decision to nominate a candidate to run in the 2012 presidential elections was to prevent the old state institutions from controlling the presidency, and consequently excluding or marginalizing the Islamists. Ironically, however, after assuming power the Brotherhood committed tactical errors and engaged in zero-sum games that made their fears come true. But at what cost? The cost is grave: a great blow to the democratic process and prospects of revolutionary change.