A series of contradictory Muslim Brotherhood statements published Wednesday exposed internal rifts between different members’ visions for the outlawed group’s political direction.
The source of this flurry of contradictory statements was analyst Khalil al-Anany’s article, “A statement that the Brotherhood did not write,” which was published a week ago on the London-based news site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. On Wednesday, “A statement written by the Brotherhood” was sent to an email list of journalists and analysts. This statement, purportedly authored by the Brotherhood, agreed with Anany’s calls for moderation and political engagement.
In his article, Anany exhorted the Brotherhood to recognize its failure to conform to the political roadmap set out by the interim government after former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster on July 3, 2013. Anany also said the group should recognize its administrative failure to separate itself from its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which was dissolved by court order in 2013. The organization should open the door for its members to join other established political parties, Anany suggested, and put an end to the Brotherhood’s long-standing ban from joining any parties besides the FJP.
Anany went on to encourage the Brotherhood to abandon all forms of violence, and the FJP to consider all the political mistakes it made since 2011, in order to rebuild trust with the revolutionary political parties and movements that still believe in democracy.
Analysts and journalists who received “A statement written by the Brotherhood” confirmed that it was sent from the same official email address that delivers the Muslim Brotherhood newsletter. But shortly after it was issued, official Brotherhood sources claimed that it was not authored by the group.
Another statement published later on Wednesday on the Brotherhood’s official website, ikhwanonline, stated that the Brotherhood only officially communicates through statements published on its website and Facebook page, or issued by its official spokesperson. This statement urged the press to exercise caution when quoting the Brotherhood.
On the same day, two more articles written by Brotherhood figures were emailed to journalists from the same email address, and indirectly refuted the initial statement’s message. This spate of conflicting messages raised serious questions as to the current inner workings of the organization.
A post on the Brotherhood’s official Facebook page, which is administrated by the group’s spokesperson, Mohamed Montasser, insisted that “A statement by the Brotherhood” was an article, not an official statement, and that it expressed the personal views of a single person, not the organization.
That statement was written as an “interactive response” to Anany’s article, the post added.
The Brotherhood-affiliated news site Klmty.net qouted fugitive leader Gamal Heshmat, who denied any Brotherhood links to the statement, which he claimed was “fabricated.” Heshmat explained that Brotherhood members do not publish statements individually and the group only communicates through its official spokesperson. The statement reflects the personal opinion of its writer, and is a “failed attempt to initiate divisions,” he asserted.
“How come we issue a statement that calls for divisions?” he asked. Heshmat argued that the person who sent the email is unknown, and that it would be easy to create a false email account that appears to be affiliated to the Brotherhood.
Speaking to Mada Masr, Anany said that it has become very difficult to determine who speaks in the name of the Brotherhood. He believes that the group suffers not just from an internal division, but rather a broader failure to construct a vision and strategy to deal with its current crisis. The Brotherhood has been in “a state of free-fall” since July 3, 2013, Anany argued, and the group hasn’t acknowledging that. The Brotherhood is mired in a state of denial, Anany continued, which only further deepens the crisis.
Ahmed Ban, a former Brotherhood member and researcher on Islamist movements, agrees with Anany. He told Mada that the Brotherhood never used to immediately respond to criticism in the way that it did on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s statement reflects the wishes of a certain wing within the organization that is pushing for a more reformist approach, Ban argued. He believes that this wing does not belong to either of the two conflicting groups currently battling over leadership of the Brotherhood: old guard leaders like Mahmoud Ezzat and Mahmoud Hussein, and the new leadership represented by Montasser.
“The third wing is angered by both groups, and wants to restore the Brotherhood’s religious preaching role, which is not linked to politics,” Ban said. “But it is obvious that this wing does not yet want to reveal its identity.”
But the main takeaway from the flurry of statements issued Wednesday is that it has become incredibly difficult to determine who is now leading the Brotherhood, and who is speaking in its name, Ban asserted.
Anany told Mada that he doubts that his suggestions would ever be seriously considered by the group.
“They don’t see any problem in continuing as they are,” he conjectured. “They naively believe that their current course and strategy will end President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration. The younger generation is more inclined to confront the government for political, personal and psychological reasons, and I have major doubts that the current leadership will be able to control them.”