Three months after June30, the Brotherhood leaders are either in prison, hiding, or in exile. Following the massive crackdown, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has decided to move its media center to an undisclosed address in London. This announcement has coincided with news of alleged meetings held by the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization in Istanbul and Lahore to look at ways to escalate action against the regime in Egypt. There is also an Islamist gathering in Doha chaired by Qatari-based Azmi Bishara to discuss the Islamist movement and democracy.
The Muslim brotherhood has experienced two major waves that have risen and fallen. The first wave was in 1928 in its original launch by group founder Hassan el-Banna and then the ruthless crackdown of president Nasser beginning in 1954. The second wave started in 1971 with the release of their leaders from imprisonment, and ended this year with the collapse of Morsi’s rule and the subsequent crackdown.
The collective movements along the axis of Doha – Istanbul – London -Lahore can provide refuge to the Brotherhood diaspora and another chance to regroup and launch a third wave. Many analysts have already written passionately that the group is down, but not finished as an organization. They argue that ideas do not die, particularly, as in the Brotherhood case, where the ideas are fortified by deeply rooted social structures, including medical charities and extensive student networks.
While this is true, the question still remains if the outside mushrooming of the Brotherhood will help or hinder the group’s activities within Egypt. There is the potential for negative impacts from this new flux of outside support. A successful rise of a third wave is challenged by several factors.
The loss of support from most Gulf states
Unlike the time during the 70s, the current Brotherhood has lost important backers in the Gulf region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Their members and supporters in these countries will have to tread carefully in order to prevent a similar crackdown. Saudi Arabia’s support of the current leadership in Egypt and its hostile stance against the Muslim Brotherhood is well known. In the UAE, the battle against the Muslim Brotherhood continues along with the imprisonment of 69 Islamists for sedition. Undoubtedly, Qatar will try its best to fill the void, but despite its endless financial resources; history and geography is against this tiny, rich Arab state. Qatar has simply never won when its neighbors actively stood up against its interests. Therefore, a revival of 70s survival tactics in the Gulf would be a hard and tricky task for the Muslim Brotherhood and its patron Qatar.
The elusive support of the Ottomans
Turkey is another emerging patron of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has repeatedly rejected the ousting of Morsi, and openly criticized the army leader Sisi, even hinting that one-day Sisi may be assassinated. The manufactured yellow and black Rabaa hand gesture was invented in Turkey and exported to Egypt. Istanbul is a haven for many Brotherhood cadres. There is a mutual romantic vision shared by the Muslim Brotherhood and the neo-Ottomans; both consider the collapse of the Ottoman empire as the root of the many problems and challenges that have plagued Middle Eastern societies. This is misplaced romanticism for many reasons
- The new Ottomans view the region from the prism of their collapsed empire, but they lack knowledge and expertise in modern Arab history that can help them to engage positively with regional players in the post-Arab-spring era. This is precisely why they failed to grasp the reasons behind the rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
- The new Ottomans are heavily focusing on fighting the coup in Egypt, rather than helping the Brotherhood to emulate their own Turkish transformation after the 1997 coup in Turkey. Ottoman anger is feeding the Brotherhood’s emotional jittery behavior, rather than helping to spur a more sober recovery and transformation of the group’s 85-year-old senile structure.
- Ottoman Islamists have no clear theory regarding the role of religion in political life. Their own experience is mainly a slow introduction of religious teaching and symbols to replace the kemalist doctrine. They have not developed a clear strategy to buttress against Islamic radicalism, or to strengthen liberalizing Islamic thoughts. Therefore, their role in modernizing the Muslim brotherhood will always be limited to the tactical and not the ideological front.
As Bel Trew has explained, London is an important destination outside of Egypt for the Brotherhood. There are already various Brotherhood activists who live in London that have developed close links with traditional UK media outlets, and they are heavily involved in lobbying for the Muslim Brotherhood cause. Hesham Shafick aptly explained why did the Muslim Brotherhood survive in London. But again, links with the UK have limitations:
- Although London was the head office for the Brotherhood’s English-language website, “Ikhwanweb,” since 2005, currently, however, the web site is under more scrutiny and exposure, any press release is meticulously checked by opponents. Moving to London may maintain the group’s freedom, but it will not give the movement any breathing space to expand upon clichés or doublespeak.
- London is also a base for other non-Islamists Egyptian expats, and of many Gulf-sponsored outlets that are openly against the Muslim Brotherhood.
- As Shafick explained, moving to London will leave Cairo with the less skilled elite.
- All the cadres who move to the UK will be exposed to financial and legal scrutiny, as the British government has recently tighten the laws regarding permanent residency, financial links, and tax declaration. Unlike the 80s and 90s, Islamists cadres may not find London to be the same friendly place it once was to them.
The choice of Lahore for a Brotherhood meeting may came as surprise to some, but the link between the Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan is as old as the group itself; this historic photo is just one example. Following June30, many Pakistanis have protested against the coup, and in support of the Brotherhood. They drew similarities between events in Egypt with their own 1999 coup by General Musharraf. Can Pakistan help Egypt’s Brotherhood? The short answer is an emphatic no. Other than moral support, and some protests holding the Rabaa sign, Pakistan has no political or financial impact in Egypt that qualify it to offer fundamental support to their Egyptian Brothers. It also values its relation with Saudi Arabia and may not wish to compromise that relationship.
While countries like Turkey and Pakistan may want to help the Muslim Brotherhood, they also need to focus on their own domestic front. Such a clash in interests may affect the long-term strategic alliance between the Brotherhood and these countries.
To sum up, the new Doha – Istanbul – London – Lahore axis may provide the Muslim Brotherhood with moral, residential and financial support, but it will not help the group to re-boot or launch its third wave of incarnation inside Egypt. The organization may find a surge of non-Egyptian supporters, but this will only be associated with a decline or no change in Egyptian affiliations. Ideas do not die, but its survival may depend on various mutations. The Brotherhood in its third wave may inherit many English, Turkish, and Urdu traits, but at root they have to solve the conundrum of how to channel these new traits into a strategy to save and reinvigorate their social and political roots inside Egypt in a post-Morsi era.