July 27, 2009

Mubarak's Ikhwan Policy

On their way to prison, Muslim Brotherhood members look upbeat!

Center for a New American Security non-resident fellow, Marc Lynch, wrote a remarkable blog entry a few days ago criticizing the recent crackdown on "moderate Islamists" in Egypt. Lynch astutely notes that the effort appears to deliberately radicalize moderate elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Al-Ikhwan.

Cairo has long played this game. It has consistently persecuted moderate (especially secular) elements of the opposition. Mubarak's best foreign policy mantra has been it is either me or the radical Islamists. Alas, the international community has taken the bait every single time. The boogeyman policy works.

There was even juicier news broken by Al-Shorouk Al-Jadeed newspaper. According to "informed official sources," the Egyptian regime was not after a confrontation with the Ikhwan (in reference to the latest round of arrests), but was rather driven to it to “maintain stability”, and curtail the Brotherhood’s foreign contacts. It is not a secret that some Ikhwan figures have pursued dialogues with American and European officials.

The real bombshell is that a senior National Democratic Party (NDP) official sent an offer to the Ikhwan’s leadership urging them to cease their contacts and anti-government campaigns in exchange for releasing detained Muslim Brotherhood members. The Ikhwan were also asked not to run candidates for all seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections, and to tacitly endorse Gamal Mubarak’s succession of his ailing father.

The offer was partially accepted by Mahdi Akef, the Ikhwan’s Supreme Guide. Akef’s counteroffer stressed the need to release all detained and imprisoned Muslim Brothers, and assured the NDP of his willingness to withhold candidates from running in 2010. His offer did not include assurances regarding the group’s stance on Gamal Mubarak’s likely bid for the presidency. Akef’s counteroffer has not been accepted by the NDP yet. The reports have been vehemently denied by Ali El-Din Hilal, the NDP’s media secretary general. Akef, in turn, denied that there is a deal with the “ruling regime,” instead confirming his receipt of an offer.

These reports and others indicating government support for minor opposition parties set the tone for the upcoming confrontation. The Mubarak regime is increasingly nervous about the Ikhwan’s performance in the next parliamentary elections, and their reaction to the succession of Hosni Mubarak by his son. It is conceivable that Mubarak, whose old age and poor health are too visible to mask, is willing to ensure that his son takes over, prior to his death. The only viable opposition movement in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood; hence, Cairo’s deployment of a carrot and stick policy. The moderate Islamist group’s refusal to sing along muddies already murky waters. What is next for Egypt?

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