The following two articles report on the profound political reflections taking place among the members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood political/social movement and among factory workers in the wake of the bloody and disastrous military coup of July 3, 2013. The second article below is titled, ‘Army rule divides Egypt’s once-united worker heros’.
Egypt’s Islamists struggle to bridge divide
Generational Tension Further Splinters Muslim Brotherhood, as Younger Activists Blame Leaders’ Mistakes for Crisis
By Charles Levinson, Wall Street Journal, August 30, 2013
CAIRO—Days before the Egyptian military’s deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, several Brotherhood activists frustrated with their leadership wrote a bold, public apology for the perceived failures in the two years since the revolution. “We were mistaken when we abandoned the revolutionary strategy,” the proposed statement read. “Our decisions at that time and other decisions proved to be wrong.”
The mea culpa would have been unlike anything the Brotherhood had said before, and might have helped rally secularists to join the Islamist group in standing up to the military. But the Brotherhood’s conservative leadership balked at the show of humility, delaying a decision for days. Then came the military’s Aug. 14 crackdown on protesters in Cairo that left nearly 1,000 dead.
The proposed apology, confirmed by several Brotherhood members, underscores a split within Egypt’s oldest and best-organized civic and political group, between the more-conservative old guard represented by Mohammed Morsi, the deposed president, and younger leaders who view themselves as more politically astute and inclusive.
Those younger activists now are stepping up criticism of the Brotherhood’s top leaders—imprisoned by the military-backed regime—and holding them responsible for the movement’s worst crisis in more than half a century. “The time will come to hold our leaders accountable and demand change,” said Ali Khafagy, a prominent Brotherhood leader in Giza governorate. “And there must be changes. We need people who are more open, more willing to work with everyone.”
It is too early to say whether the 85-year-old organization will survive the current crisis, or whether the criticisms will lead to a more open and politically savvy leadership.
Earlier rifts along similar fault lines led to prominent defections before and after the 2011 revolution that deposed President Hosni Mubarak. Then, as now, the group’s authoritarian culture meant the conservative leadership could rein in dissent.
It is also possible that a sustained period of brutal suppression by the military regime could harden those Brotherhood leaders now calling for a less-insular approach, as happened to a generation of leaders during the 1950s and 1960s.
Thousands of opponents of the military regime demonstrated throughout Egypt on Friday in the largest display of public discontent in more than two weeks. The Health Ministry reported 3 people were killed and 36 injured in clashes around the country, according to state television.
While the turnout paled in comparison with the earlier protests, it was the first signal that the Brotherhood can still muster mass support. Marchers, however, focused more on opposing the military coup than supporting Mr. Morsi.
Several Brotherhood leaders said that on numerous occasions after Mr. Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012, the leadership had dismissed pleas from the younger ranks to work more closely with liberal opposition parties, to keep their distance from the military and to quickly overhaul the country’s police state. Instead, they said, missteps left the Brotherhood isolated and ultimately derailed the country’s democratic aspirations.
“The leadership lacks strategic vision and remains convinced that they have the sympathy of the street and powerful capabilities to mobilize,” said Ahmed Abdel Gawad, the grandson of former Brotherhood leader Mustafa Mashhur. “They sound almost mystical now,” he said. “They talk as if their strategy is to wait for a miracle to come to their rescue and restore them to power, and that is not sitting well with a lot of younger members.”
At nearly every turn in recent months, the Brotherhood’s leadership seemed to be caught off guard. It first insisted to its cadres that Mr. Morsi’s presidency was secure even amid threats from the military. Then, after the military deposed Mr. Morsi on July 3, it insisted that he would be returned to office within days. Finally, the leaders said that security forces wouldn’t dare attack the peaceful Cairo vigil, where hundreds were eventually killed.
“We were told by our leaders that the military would never betray their president,” said Ahmed Ali, a junior Brotherhood leader in Cairo. “Our leaders believed the police and army would never return back to attacking peaceful protesters.”
These rifts have been stewing, mostly behind closed doors, since the 2011 street protests, when the Brotherhood’s leadership waffled over whether to support the anti-Mubarak uprising to the dismay of many rank and file members.
They sharpened when the Brotherhood reneged on its pledges to not run candidates for all parliament seats or for president, decisions that many members today say were critical missteps.
Mohamed Tosson, a Brotherhood lawmaker and lead lawyer for the group, said four-fifths of members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party opposed those two decisions.
Within the Brotherhood’s 110-member Shura Council, which must vote on major decisions, the initial vote on whether to run a presidential candidate was deadlocked. Mr. Tosson said it subsequently passed by only two votes after heavy lobbying from the group’s deputy leader, Khairat el-Shater, who is now one of those under arrest.
“The party knew it was a bad idea to run for president, especially when the Brotherhood was so deeply divided about it,” Mr. Tosson said. “This should never have happened. It wasn’t reasonable to take the presidency in this political and security vacuum after we had given our word not to.”
After Mr. Morsi’s ouster, internal dissent sharpened further.
At one point during the sit-in, a contingent of Brotherhood members and other Islamist allies replaced banners that branded the sit-in as pro-Morsi with pro-democracy and anticoup banners, a subtle but important shift meant to attract broader appeal.
Angry Brotherhood members and allies from smaller Islamist parties confronted Brotherhood leaders in stormy, closed-door meetings held in the annex of the Cairo mosque that served as the hub of the group’s protest vigil, said an attendee, Mohammed Soltan, a spokesman for the Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella group that includes the Brotherhood.
At one meeting, Mr. Soltan said Brotherhood members confronted Osama Yassin, a former cabinet minister under Mr. Morsi and a top aide to Mr. Shater, who is also now under arrest. “The message was, ‘We told you not to bet on the military, and you ignored us. We told you not to assume the entire leadership of the revolution, but you did,'” Mr. Soltan said.
—Leila Elmergawi contributed to this article. Write to Charles Levinson at [email protected]
Army rule divides Egypt’s once-united worker heros
By Maggie Fick, Reuters, Aug 28, 2013
EL-MAHALLA EL-KUBRA (Reuters) – The workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company once locked arms long enough to wring pay rises out of the Egyptian state, and inspired the pro-democracy uprising of 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Now, divided and cowed, with the army in power once more and armoured vehicles inside their gates, their story could stand for the failure of Egypt’s entire pro-democracy movement to build on the revolution against authoritarian rule and unite in a common cause.
The April 6 movement for social justice that began the uprising took its name from the date in 2008 when the workers of the largest textile firm in the Middle East downed tools, along with many others in the gritty industrial city of el-Mahalla el-Kubra, and were bullied back to work by the security forces. But since the army toppled Mohamed Mursi, Mubarak’s successor and Egypt’s first elected leader, on July 3, and security forces shot dead hundreds of supporters of his Muslim Brotherhood, key figures in Mahalla’s labour movement are not speaking to each other. They barely even share the same goals.
Widad el-Demerdash, who has worked at the state-run firm for 29 of her 47 years, fondly recalls the heady days of a series of strikes in 2006, when she and her colleague Amal el-Saeed helped to win bigger production bonuses for the factory workers. “This was a big achievement,” she said in an interview at her apartment on Monday, her day off. But the smile turns to a frown when she is asked about Saeed. They no longer have “any relationship”, she said, accusing Saeed of having joined the Brotherhood.
Demerdash agreed with the argument of the new military-led rulers that the Brotherhood is a “terrorist group” bent on destroying Egypt, in language that lays bare how polarised society has become during the most violent period in the Arab republic’s modern history. “Whoever becomes ‘Brotherhood’ and sells out their principles is no longer a human being,” she said.
“They have their rights too”
Like many who backed the army takeover, Demerdash supports the violent crackdown on the Brotherhood that has followed. More than 1,000 people, mainly pro-Mursi Islamists, have been killed since July 3. The toll includes about 100 soldiers and police.
For her part, Saeed denies having joined the Brotherhood but condemns those who vilify Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement. “I’m trying to tell people: ‘The Brotherhood are your neighbours, they are people and they have rights like you’.”
Like many of the 2011 revolutionaries, she says she voted for Mursi last year only because she could not bring herself to support his rival in the run-off, Mubarak loyalist Ahmed Shafik. “I was among the first people to say ‘Down with Mubarak’,” she said. “There was no democracy in the past, and I fought for that. Now today, I’m still supporting democracy.”
Saeed said the removal of Mursi had taken Egypt backwards, and that she feared the consequences for the labour movement. She acknowledged that Mursi’s government had failed to address workers’ longstanding demands for a guaranteed minimum wage and limits on bosses’ pay, but said progress on those and other issues such as delivery of unpaid bonuses was now less likely than ever.
“Who do we speak to now? Where is the government? The army is in charge of everything,” she said in an interview on Sunday in Mahalla, where posters of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi abound in cafes, on buildings and at traffic circles.
For all that, there seems little doubt that most workers at the factory, which has a long history of labour activism, backed the army takeover and are content for now to acquiesce.
Forced to choose
“The army needs to stabilise things now,” said Kamel Mohamed Fayoumi, an activist who was himself arrested when Mubarak’s government sent plainclothes security forces and riot police to intimidate workers during the 2008 strike.
Joel Beinin, a history professor at Stanford and an expert on labour and protest movements in the Middle East, said Egyptian workers had often succeeded in the past by managing to lay aside political differences. “They have bread and butter interests on the line and understand they need to be united to win them,” he said.
Political upheavals mean that the monolithic trade unions that largely toed the state line under Mubarak have given way to a profusion of smaller, more independent unions. But Egypt is now is so polarised between Mursi’s Islamists and the entrenched military-backed establishment that “neither the workers nor anyone else” have been able to bridge the gap. “So people have been forced to choose. Neither choice is very good in terms of workers’ interests,” said Beinin.
Even those like Fayoumi who suffered under Mubarak’s police state did not speak out when the army and police thwarted a strike at Misr Spinning and Weaving Company on Monday and another protest at a Suez steel factory earlier in the month.
The Mahalla protest attracted only a few hundred participants – and was quickly followed by the deployment of armoured personnel carriers inside the factory compound. Local media reported that they were protecting the factory’s power station, but labour leader Mohamed El-Attar, a Mursi supporter, said even Mubarak had never dared to send troops to confront labour protests.
“These vehicles were sent by the army to terrorise workers,” he said. “We must ask, who are the real terrorists in this country today?”