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Who is responsible for saving the Brotherhood? How?

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The painful scene of the arrest of Dr. Mahmoud Ezzat, the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy leader and the acting general guide, renewed debate about the conditions and future of the group.

As it usually happens on such occasions, the question directed to anyone who attempts to discuss this topic is: What do you suggest?

Sometimes the question is directed out of a real pursuit of answers to persistent questions, but in other times it is directed only to silence the speaker and block the discussion: If you are unable to find solutions to the current impasse, do not engage in any discussion about it or criticize what is already available.

This article attempts to investigate who is responsible for providing answers to such questions within the Brotherhood. It also touches on general entries that may be a useful contribution to this endeavor.

Who is responsible for answering such questions?

It is not the task of the researcher, or those interested in the group’s affairs, whether among its members or outside its organizational frameworks, or even those interested in Egyptian political affairs in general, to provide ready-made solutions for the decision-maker in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or tell him what he should do in this regard.

The decision-maker is not necessarily intended to be an individual, as decision-making is a result of a broad “process” that includes diverse and integrated efforts, most prominently:

First: Efforts to obtain information via a professional institution

The MB is engaged in an extremely complex and dangerous conflict against regimes that are ruthless in defending their survival with exploitation of the State’s potentials, especially the security and intelligence services. It has become clear that the consequences of engaging in such a conflict are not limited to simply restricting the livelihood of the group’s members or exposing them to security harassment from time to time.

Accordingly, adopting options or policies, or developing plans based on impressions or conclusions made by persons that claim knowledge of everything, not only leads to moving in the wrong direction, but it also makes the MB vulnerable to manipulation by its enemies – that the Egyptian opposition is actually exposed to in one way or another.

With regard to the question of whether the MB has a professional information service, the current reality indicates one of two possibilities: Either there is no such service at all, or that there is an inefficient information service that is unqualified to provide a qualitative leap in the level of the group’s planning and ability to surprise and startle other parties.

Second: The Research Institution “Think Tank”

Although it is extremely important in general, the MB is not only required to have a research center of its own, but what is more important is that such a professional institution must be included within the decision-making process, and be enabled to perform the tasks of analyzing information, assessing situations, proposing alternatives, estimating the cost of each alternative, up to proposing and weighting policies.

It is shameful that a group of the size of the Brotherhood, with the importance of its role, has not had such a professional think tank, except for small teams with limited and marginal efforts. Although members of these teams may be competent and qualified on the personal level, but they have never had the required resources to play their roles cumulatively. Furthermore, such teams have never been involved in the decision-making process throughout the MB history, both at the level of the guidance office or at the level of the general Shura council.

The main challenge here is not only to secure the existence of such institution, but to include it in the decision-making process, so that it will not be seen as a marginal theorization and consultation body that may only absorb the capabilities of existing researchers and thinkers, but rather as a primary partner in decision-making; included in the structure of the decision-making circle, performing specific tasks according to regulations, and subjected to scrutiny and accountability.

Third: the political apparatus

The ‘political apparatus’ intended here is quite far from the well-known “political committee” in the Brotherhood. Understanding and practicing politics is not an arbitrary matter, nor is it merely a “task” assigned to any MB member, similarly to any tasks in other departments and technical committees of the group. Politics is complicated, cumbersome, and it is a professional “vocation”, as Max Weber pointed out, not just voluntary public work. Understanding politics requires a fair deal of knowledge of history, law, international relations … etc.

The practice of politics should not be limited to students of specific disciplines, but it requires fundamentals that must be professionally acquired. A politician should have a vision, a project, and an approach to explaining the reality, as well as a vision for the future. Therefore, being a great talker or a skilled communicator during presentation of the group’s project does not automatically convert you into a politician.

The fundamentals required for a politician are completely different from those required for the media spokesperson, the public philanthropist, or the preacher. The political apparatus should mainly rely on strategists that understand how the world is run based on awareness and knowledge, not on the emotions and impressions of the public.

Unfortunately, this is not available in the reality of the Brotherhood’s political practice, as the political committees have relied – with few exceptions – on those distinguished in administration, communication, charitable work and perhaps the media – that are not qualified to practice politics, or even willing to play such role.

I think that the pragmatic solution (perhaps not the best) to the “political work – advocacy work” controversy within the Brotherhood is to establish a professional political apparatus, a primary partner in decision-making, not just a committee that, at best, carries out the tasks of political communication and media representation, without having a real role in the political decision-making process, not only because the group’s leadership marginalizes it, but because it has no place in the structure of the decision-making process, except for provision of advice.

Fourth: Leadership

The group’s regulations should define more specifically the leadership bodies according to levels of decisions that can be made. In particular cases, the leadership may be the General Guide, the Guidance Office, the General Shura Council, or only the political apparatus. But in any case, it should not be allowed for the leadership to make a decision or adopt a policy without relying on accurate information, or assessing the risks and alternatives. It is also inconceivable that the group’s leadership may make a decision on a certain political issue with disregard of the political apparatus.

Of course, there are other circles that can be added to the decision-making process, such as advisors, coordination with other allies and friends, the public opinion within the organization, and the group’s grassroots in general … etc. But it suffices to make these indications only to show that the answer to the question: What is the solution? cannot be answered by an individual.

The question in this case is extremely reductive. Whoever directs such a question to a specific person falls into the same problem of the current leadership of the group, that is reduction of the decision-making process to a single circle, and reduction of that single cycle to one individual; and therefore it assumes that whoever attempts to assess the group’s performance, or criticize it, must introduce, as an individual, an alternative plan that is ready to apply. This is not how things are tackled!

Milestones on the way to the solution

The MB has been at a standstill since the military coup of 2013. Although the group is still the main opponent of the ruling regime and has strikingly withstood in the face of a comprehensive eradication campaign, against the regime’s expectations; but the fruits of this steadfastness have never been converted into strengths and opportunities that may serve the course of political action. The MB priority has been to “calm” down the current situation, whether with respect to the conflict with the governments of the counter-revolution, or the group’s internal affairs. This priority has made the group extremely wary of any political move against the regime, or any internal development within the group itself. The general consequence of this approach is, in short, the “voluntary” loss of effectiveness. I argue that the group’s loss of effectiveness is “voluntary” because it is a results of its own choices, not of a chronic shortage of its latent power resources, or merely of the unprecedented security crackdown.

The MB has not lost its unique organizational advantage. Despite the internal discord, security crackdown, and state of frustration, the group still effectively maintains its organizational lines of communication. It is true that this fact does not mean maintaining the same capability for organizational mobilization compared to the pre-coup era, but any way the difference does not result from the interruption of organizational lines of communication, but from the nature and feasibility of the required action. In other words, the important organizational machine has not been damaged, but it is only pending an inspiring plan to act accordingly.

Also, the MB continues to represent the most organized and widespread trend in the Egyptian society, as well as the backbone of organized political forces in the event of betting on any political action against the current regime. The group still has cadres with diverse experiences and ages. Also, the media outlets, both satellite and electronic loyal to the MB agenda, whether satellite or electronic, albeit not in the best condition, have become influential and can be used in the service of the group’s political agenda. Even with respect to the human rights file, the group has recently become more capable of addressing international bodies, which has embarrassed the regime.

In general, the group enjoys a much wider reach than the organization, which in accounts of the widespread conflict will remain a fundamental circle, albeit limited. The group’s broad project is still expressive of many of those who have abandoned it organizationally, but have never abandoned its public project. Also, the regional dimension of the current conflict adds to the group a geopolitical extension that is much deeper than the narrow Egyptian equation.

However, all the strengths and opportunities referred to above, and even others, are voluntarily disrupted due to the group’s own choices, not because they are not existing or not possible.

On the other hand, it cannot be said that the MB is currently at its best conditions. It is not an exaggeration to say that the current situation of the Brotherhood is catastrophic. You don’t need to be an expert in Islamic movements or a genius analyst to realize this conclusion. Strengths never mean that there are no fundamental weaknesses or serious threats, including the following, for example:

– Reluctance to participate actively in events by the active bloc of young people, for various reasons.

– Severe decline in the group’s influence on younger age groups due to absence of university and pre-university activities at home.

– The MB has not adequately recovered from repercussions of political failure and the military coup, whether with respect to the perception of others towards the group, especially its direct public grassroots, or even the trust of its own members.

– The ambiguity or absence of the political agenda adopted by the MB, and inadequacy of its political discourse to reality, in addition to lack of the sufficient resources needed to meet the group’s growing internal needs or requirements of an influential political, media and human rights action.

All this puts the group’s future on the verge, regardless of the survival of the organization and its traditional structures.

Proposed priorities

I am not seeking to present a solution plan here, because this requires efforts that are broader than the capabilities of any individual, as it mainly requires a sound and integrated decision-making process. However, I will only refer to general topics as proposals that require discussion and study among those interested, both inside and outside the group:

1- The group is in urgent need of:

a- A completely different approach that could enable its youth to exercise real leadership roles in the coming stage and give priority to the younger age groups with respect to the political, media and advocacy discourse.

b- Rebuilding internal and external trust in the group’s project, that will not be achieved except through presenting a clear political project that meets requirements and challenges of the stage.

c- Investment and development of its human energies to ensure its survival and effectiveness in the future.

d- Boosting and encouraging individual initiatives to achieve diversification of action platforms and give individuals wider spaces for innovation.

2- At the strategic level, the group needs:

a- Undertaking a deep review of the regional situation and its balances, the nature of the current regional order, and the new order whose features are already taking shape.

b- Undertaking a deep review of the modern Egyptian State, in terms of its structure, centers of power, network of internal and external relations, regional role and international weight.

This review also requires an understanding of the Egyptian State’s culture, vision of itself, and its vision of the Egyptian society and the Brotherhood, to be able to present a realistic vision on how to deal with the State, not apart from regarding the regional situation that decisively affects the overall internal situation.

c- The group needs to redefine its position, role, and cultural function in general.

The century-long struggle over the identity and future of the nation, as well as the freedom and will of its people, has reached its climax with the Arab revolutions that represent the moment of transformation, which requires studying their requirements in terms of developing visions, strategies, priorities, structures, action tracks and tools.

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