Introduction by Roger Annis, August 16, 2015
The political and human rights situation in Egypt has deteriorated gravely during the past two years, ever since the military coup of July 3, 2013 which overthrew the country’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and his elected government.
The situation has been summarized concisely, and paradoxically, in a letter last month to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by a right-wing think tank in the U.S. The letter, dated July 24, warns, “State violence [in Egypt]— several thousand killed during street demonstrations, tens of thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of documented cases of torture or forced disappearance, sexual assault of detainees or family members, reported collective punishment of Sinai communities possibly with weapons provided through U.S. military aid — is creating more incentives for Egyptians to join militant groups.”
The letter adds, “By carrying out a campaign of repression and human rights abuses that is unprecedented in the country’s modern history and by closing off all avenues of peaceful expression of dissent through politics, civil society, or media, [President] Al-Sisi is stoking the very fires he says he wants to extinguish.”
In several recent reports, Human Rights Watch has documented that Egyptian security forces are operating with “nearly absolute impunity”. Dozens of dissidents have been killed in recent months, some 41,000 people have been arrested, indicted or sentenced since the coup, and dozens of people have been forcibly disappeared. University students in particular have been targeted for mystery disappearances and killings.
On August 17, the military regime in Egypt signed into law a new, draconian ‘anti-terrorism’ law. Associated Press reports, “The far-reaching new law adds provisions to protect security forces from prosecution, establishes stiffer prison sentences for terror-related offences, heavy fines for those who publish “false news” and a special judicial circuit for terrorism cases.
“Authorities claim the measures will halt attacks by Islamic militants and stop the spread of their ideology, but the new restrictions have prompted concern from lawyers, rights groups, the opposition and even some Egyptian politicians and senior judges. The 54-article bill, signed into law late Sunday by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and announced Monday, establishes an extremely broad definition of terrorism, describing it in one article as any act that disturbs public order with force. Some charges, such as leading or organizing a terrorist group, carry the death penalty.”
The consequences of the Egypt coup for other peoples in the Middle East have been very grave. Egypt is, by far, the largest country by population in the region. It borders the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Soon after their 2013 coup, the new military rulers closed down the border traffic, vital for Palestinians, that had opened up following the election of Mohamed Morsi.
Investigations of the massacres that followed the 2013 coup have been deeply flawed or non-existent. Jonathan Marshall reports in Consortium News on July 29, “The government has also jailed some 18 journalists for publishing reports that conflict with government-approved messages. Its massacre of roughly 1,000 protesters in Cairo in August 2013 [at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Squares] ranks as one of the worst single-day atrocities in the region.”
A death sentence issued by an Egyptian court in June 2015 hangs over the head of the jailed, elected President Mohamed Morsi. Hundreds of members of his government and his Freedom and Justice Party and Muslim Brotherhood movement face similar threats. Seven have been executed to date, reports The Guardian. The party is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The general who led the seizure of power in July 2013, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, was elected “president” in a staged vote on June 3, 2014. According to The Guardian, al-Sisi won 96 per cent of the vote on a voter turnout of 47 per cent. The newspaper says the turnout to the 2012 election which elected President Morsi was 52 per cent. That election went to a second-round runoff.
In the face of the catastrophic situation in Egypt, including the country’s economic crisis and the civil war situation in the Sinai Peninsula, several recent developments provide encouraging signs. Last month, the small, left political group called Revolutionary Socialists issued two statements advocating a the formation of a “revolutionary front” of all democratic forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which oppose the military regime.
The RS statements criticize those who, in the present situation, seek a “third way” between the “elected”, military regime in power, on the one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood and its mass, popular base, on the other. “This third way appears on the surface to oppose the regime, but at a practical level and in terms of its content, in reality it supports the military,” says the RS.
The full texts of the two Revolutionary Socialists’ statements are below.
The Muslim Brotherhood has welcomed the RS statements, as reported in the first news item enclosed below.
The two statements last month of the Revolutionary Socialists do not address the events of 2013. At the time of the July 2013 coup, the group welcomed the overthrow of President Morsi, saying the Egyptian military was obliged to remove him due to the pressure of the so-called revolutionary street movement named ‘Tamarod’. That movement had for months mounted mass demonstrations ostensibly in the name of democracy but focused on the overthrow of President Morsi and his government.
The RS’ international supporters, notably, but not limited to, most of the parties and groups of the International Socialist current and the groups of the Fourth International in Europe, welcomed the overthrow of Morsi. They argued that the military’s time in power would be short-lived, that it would soon find itself ousted by the “revolutionary” Tamarod movement in the streets.
In reality, Tamarod was a multi-class movement which contained in its leading ranks supporters and agents of the “deep state” in Egypt. The latter were intensely determined to overthrow Morsi. As well, large sections of Egypt’s middle class supported Tamarod and its goal of overthrowing Morsi. All the ‘deep state’ and well-to-do social classes supporting a coup did so because they feared the dynamic of political and social changes in favour of Egypt’s poor majority which opened up following the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. [See Wikipedia entry for January 2011 Revolution in Egypt.]
The coup in Egypt was a serious blow to antiwar forces in the world because of the very different responses to it. The welcoming or turning-a-blind-eye attitude of many on the left in Egypt and internationally was bad enough, but there was also the outright support of the coup by the Egyptian Communist Party and its followers internationally.
A recent New York Times article analyzes the political debate today in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters over strategy and tactics in the fight against the extreme violence of the military-fascist dictatorship in Egypt. The text of that article is enclosed below.
A Socialist In Canada website contains an extensive dossier of articles by this writer on the July 3, 2013 coup in Egypt and its aftermath. Find the dossier here.
The Muslim Brotherhood publishes an extensive English-language website, Ikhwanweb.
* * *
Four items enclosed:
1. Brotherhood agrees to form a revolutionary front with socialists
The Muslim Brotherhood has praised the invitation by the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt to form a revolutionary front to stand against the military coup and end military rule. The movement regards this step as a point in the socialists’ favour and called for its immediate implementation with the formation of the new front before the protests planned to commemorate the anniversary of the massacres in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares two years ago.
“Let us align together and unite the revolutionaries against the coup,” urged Brotherhood official Gamal Heshmat.”We hope that a revolutionary front is formed before 14 August in order to take advantage of the popular anger and overthrow the military rule as soon as possible, as well as end the political dispute amongst the revolutionaries.”
In a telephone interview with Rassd news network, Heshmat added that the invitation was a result of the long-standing communication channel between the Brotherhood and other revolutionary forces in an effort to unite the opposition to the Sisi government.
“We are now seeing a positive change and step in the context of regaining the benefits of the January  Revolution, starting with freedom,” he insisted. “We hope we continue to communicate and that the respectable parties reunite because there is only one solution: uniting our ranks just as we did during the 2011 uprising.”
The Revolutionary Socialists movement has called on all the revolutionary forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to form a new front aiming to overthrow the military rule in a statement it issued under the heading, “Once again on terrorism and national alignment”.[See Wikipedia entry on January 2011 Revolution.]
2. On terrorism and closing the nation’s ranks
Perhaps the reactions to the latest wave of terrorist operations, and in particular those targeting army positions in Sinai, have confirmed the scale of crisis in the ranks of the Egyptian opposition. The regime’s response was clear and forthright: the wholesale adoption of exceptional laws in order to strengthen the iron fist of the security apparatus and the unleashing of a new wave of repression, killing, assassinations and torture targeting all who fail to express complete agreement with the narrative of the events confected by the secret police. Anyone who opposes the regime when it is in a state of “war on terror” is considered a traitor and terrorist. “Anyone who is not with us is against us.” There is a direct line here from George Bush and his wars on Afghanistan and Iraq to Abdelfattah el-Sisi and his open and expanding war on the Egyptian people and their revolution.
This is all perfectly logical. Every dictatorship uses terrorism as an excuse to increase repression to create a state of national panic and hysteria across the widest sections of the masses in order to force everyone to close ranks behind the dictator. However this hysteria extends to liberal and leftist opponents of the regime, who at least in theory are opposed to Sisi’s coup and his counter-revolution, and this is creating surprise and disgust.
There are those who have stood clearly with the regime from the first instant, condoning all the crimes committed on the excuse of fighting terrorism or out of fear of the Muslim Brotherhood. These people threw themselves without hesitation into the arms of the military and counter-revolution from the beginning, even if they have occasionally criticised some of the excesses of the security forces, particularly against those outside the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But there are also those who take a half-way position, opposing with equal vehemence the counter-revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood, arguing that these are in fact two factions of the counter-revolution. They reject both the military Mubarakist faction and the Muslim Brotherhood faction. They attempt to maintain the same distance from both warring factions, imagining that they can ignore their battles and build a third alternative which is capable of opposing the military regime’s policies and repression, while also resisting the Islamist opposition, thus conflating different kinds of Islamist movements and different forms of opposition, whether violent or non-violent. Thus bloody terrorist attacks in Sinai and a peaceful protest in the village of Nahia become simply two different expressions of counter-revolutionary Islamist obscurantism, no less dangerous than the current military dictatorship.
This third way appears on the surface to oppose the regime, but at a practical level and in terms of its content, in reality it supports the military.
In the face of the latest terrorist attacks the ranks of the third way have crumbled, with many of its proponents showing that they are united with the state against the threat of our real enemy, ISIS! These people suddenly lost whatever superficial neutrality they claimed in the battle between the terrorism of the state and the terrorism of the armed Islamist groups, declaring “bravely” for closing the nation’s ranks as we are already in a state of war. They repeat the demagoguery of the regime’s mouthpieces, weeping over the soldiers killed in Sinai at the hands of treacherous “religious fascism” while not uttering a word over the murder of peaceful protesters after Eid prayers.
Once again, we the Revolutionary Socialists confirm our rejection of terrorist operations, because they increase the power of our principal enemy, the military dictatorship which is leading the counter-revolution. Terrorist attacks are a propaganda coup for defenders of the regime, who use them to justify all its crimes against the masses and everything which represents the revolution. We reject terrorism, even when it is directed at the symbols of the regime because it increases the power of the regime and sends a disastrous message to the masses: “there is no need for your strikes and sit-ins!” For this reason we utterly oppose all forms of terrorist action.
At the same time we do not forget for an instant that the strongest and most dangerous form of terrorism is the terrorism of the military dictatorship. The road to getting rid of ISIS and its like is not through closing ranks with El-Sisi’s state, which is Mubarak’s state. Nor does it mean taking a neutral stance towards the battles between the state and the terrorist movements, which is either just naive or in most cases complicit with the state. The only revolutionary road is to revive the weapons of mass struggle through strikes, sit-ins and protests against the corrupt military dictatorship which will bring us nothing but poverty, repression, violence and terrorism.
3. On the counter-revolution and the Islamists … an invitation to open discussion
The latest statement by the Revolutionary Socialists ‘On terrorism and closing the nation’s ranks‘, July 21, triggered angry reactions and has been rejected on a variety grounds. Some of these reactions have taken the form of insults, abuse and mockery not only of the content of the statement but of the Revolutionary Socialists Movement in general. This in turn has led some of the activists of our movement to respond with anger and abuse. The purpose of this document is to refocus attention instead on the urgent political issues at stake. There is nothing political about engaging in a shouting match. The position outlined in the latest statement, although it was published as a statement of our political perspective, also had the objective of opening up discussion and debate. As for the unprincipled attacks on the Revolutionary Socialists, and even incitement against us, as a movement and an organisation we will not respond to these, and will focus on pulling the debate back to the terrain of politics. If some of us have been led by anger and emotion to respond in an unpolitical manner, this is unacceptable and must not continue.
We must however respond to the political criticism which some have directed towards the statement, and we welcome this as part of the debate we need to have across the whole of the Left which is opposed to the military dictatorship, and not only within the ranks of the Revolutionary Socialists.
This document therefore attempts to clarify the positions put forward by the statement, and to clarify some points which appear to have caused misunderstanding.
- The statement does not say that the attempt to take a third path, opposed to the military dictatorship and separate and independent of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, gave in any sense implicit support to the dictatorship. In fact, we as an organisation took part in all attempts to build such a third alternative (from the first efforts to organise the Third Square movement to the Revolutionaries Front). It would be absurd to accuse those who attempted to build, or who are attempting to build such a movement or third alternative of support for the dictatorship. Perhaps the short statement did not explain this sufficiently clearly, or perhaps some people wanted to read it in this way.
- What the statement does say, however, is that those who stand halfway between the military and the Brotherhood, considering them to be equally dangerous and regarding them with the same degree of hostility, accepting the logic that they are two sides of the same counter-revolution and who attempt to build a third alternative on the basis of these claims are tacitly supporting the military dictatorship.
- If we were to use the language which the left adopted in previous generations then this would mean identifying the principal contradiction as opposed to the secondary contradiction! What we put forward in the statement, according to this old method, was to argue that two years after the coup our main enemy is the military dictatorship and not the Muslim Brotherhood, and that we must stop dealing with the two sides according to the same logic.
- This does not mean at all that we are saying that an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood is necessary or possible or healthy now. But no revolutionary organisation can doubt that the battle today is against the ruling military dictatorship. This is completely independent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in complete awareness of the Brotherhood’s non-revolutionary nature, and of its historic betrayal of the Egyptian Revolution which immediately preceded the revolution’s betrayal by the majority of the Nasserists, liberals and the Left.
- It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood betrayed the revolution immediately after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, by making a direct alliance with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. It is also true that the Brotherhood, when they came to power, even they only held it superficially, following elections which betrayed the hopes and demands of the masses and the demands of the revolution, saved the same regime and the same security institutions which are slaughtering them today.
- It is also true, for those who care to remember, that the Revolutionary Socialists stood in the front ranks of the opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood, throughout the year of his presidency, and took part in all the activities opposed to the Brotherhood, the feloul [remnants of the old regime] and the military during that period.
- Yet the situation has changed now. Those who are accusing us of not moving on from the first year of the revolution in 2011 are in reality the ones whose clocks have stopped in the first half of 2013. If the slogan “Down with all those who betrayed – military, feloul [remnants of the old regime] and Brotherhood” was understandable at that period, with the Brotherhood’s attempts to share power with the military and the feloul, then today, in the second half of 2015 it has become empty of any meaning. In fact, and perhaps this is what has angered some people, it has become a misleading slogan, which tacitly supports the military dictatorship. This slogan equates those who are being killed, arrested, tortured and sentenced to death with the most violent, filthy and corrupt dictatorship known to modern Egyptian history. This is not a “third way”. This is complete surrender and in the present circumstances will lead to utter paralysis and implicitly to standing with the victor. Politics, particularly in such circumstances, does not recognise neutrality.
- Some may confuse our perception of the statement as a subject for debate with our historical and social analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood. This document will not offer a detailed exposition of this analysis, and its development through different stages since the 1990s. We do not disagree with whoever points out the necessity to develop this analysis with changing political and historical circumstances. However, the outlines of this analysis have been misunderstood by some, sometimes in good faith, and sometimes for other reasons. Perhaps it is useful, therefore to restate the key points here, as this is likely to remove some of the misunderstandings and tensions.
- We naturally reject the analysis which seems to have become dominant among some quarters (to the delight of Rifaat al-Sa’id, the closest Stalinist ally of the regime), and which describes the Islamist movement in general and with it the Muslim Brotherhood, as a fascist movement. Firstly, we have to differentiate between the historical, social and political context. Fascism is a term used to describe the movements which arose and grew rapidly in countries such as Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 1930s, after the failure of a wave of workers’ revolutions. These movements took advantage of panic among wide sections of the middle class over the danger of revolution which they felt could only lead to chaos, and exploited their need to repress revolutionary movements, and in particular the workers’ movement. (In fact, at a superficial level, Sisi’s regime and the mobilisation it has carried out is a lot closer to historical fascism than the Muslim Brotherhood).
- The theory that the Brotherhood is a kind of religious fascism was, and remains, merely a superficial intellectual justification for the support of sections of the traditional left, and now the Nasserists and the liberals along with them, not only for Sisi’s coup, but even for military rule, the counter-revolution and for the repression of the Islamist movement and of anyone who stands as an obstacle in the path of Sisi’s project on the grounds that they are advocates for or allied with religious fascism.
- There is another tradition on the left, which refuses to describe the Islamist movement as fascist, but which sees it as no less dangerous than the counter-revolution represented by Sisi. The perspective put forward by this current can be summarised as follows: We are of course opposed to the military dictatorship, and of course we want to struggle against it for the democratic and social goals of the revolution of 25 January 2011. Of course we see what has happened in Egypt under military rule as a counter-revolution, not only the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from the political scene, but the uprooting and destruction of the Egyptian revolution. However, because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s betrayal of the revolution and because of their reactionary nature, and because of their adoption of the same policies as Mubarak, and because of their alliance with the Salafists, and because of their sectarianism, because of all this, not only must our battle against the dictatorship be independent of the Brotherhood’s battle, but in fact we have to carry out two battles at the same time. We must fight what could be described as two wings of the counter-revolution: the wing of the military dictatorship and the wing of religious reaction represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
- We naturally consider that those holding this position are our comrades in the struggle against the military dictatorship, even if we disagree with them strongly over their understanding of the Islamist movement and over their understanding of the current political scene. We see a strong danger that this position will lead in the end to an implicit closing of ranks with the military dictatorship whether out of paralysis, or by acting as an onlooker in the battle, accepting the status quo and awaiting the outcome of the struggle. That is to say, awaiting the crushing of the Brotherhood, after which it will surely be the turn of the secular opposition and with it the left opponents of the dictatorship.
- Yet what we have seen in the two years since the coup, every step towards the crushing of the Brotherhood narrows the political space for everyone and paves the way for the repression of all. It is a strategic error to keep silent over the repression of the Brotherhood, or to fail to say that defending them in the face of the brutal dictatorship is an integral part of the struggle for democracy and for the return of the Egyptian revolution. This error has led to, and is leading to, the marginalisation of the left opposition to the dictatorship.
- When we describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a reformist movement, we are not applying the same criteria as in the case of reformist movements in the capitalist West, such as the social-democratic parties, for example. The historical context is different, just as in the case of fascism. The roots of the Brotherhood lie in the educated middle classes, particularly in the cities, including the provincial cities. However, the roots of social democracy in the West lie in the trade union bureaucracy, which is also part of the middle class but the context of its composition and its relationship with the rank-and-file of the trade union movement makes it a qualitatively different phenomenon to Political Islam and particularly to the Muslim Brotherhood.
- There are features of reformist movements which apply to the Muslim Brotherhood, however. The social composition of the movement, including the majority of its leadership, is based on the educated middle class. This is the ideologically dominant layer, not only among large sections of the middle class, but also, as a result of charitable work among significant sections of the poor and the working class. At the same time the Brotherhood has developed an organisation with significant representation among the commercial bourgeoisie, although its representation among the big bourgeoisie has been marginal in Egypt.
- This cross-class composition, with its spinal cord formed of the educated middle class, makes the Brotherhood a highly contradictory organisation. On the one hand, sections of its base push for a more radical confrontation with the regime, while sections of the middle class and traditional bourgeoisie seek common ground with it. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood has for the last three decades existed in a state of constant oscillation between appeasement and confrontation, between challenging the regime, mobilising against it, and attempting to secure a deal allowing the Brotherhood wider participation within the same regime.
- The performance of the Muslim Brotherhood during the years of revolution and counter-revolution confirms the organisation’s contradictory and vacillating nature. They are certainly not a revolutionary movement. Nor are they capable of revolutionary mobilisation: on the contrary they are afraid of such mobilisations. At the same time, the Brotherhood’s social composition pushes it to participate in opposition to the regime, not only following the reactionary agenda of the traditional middle class, but also over issues such as democracy, corruption, tyranny and social injustice, albeit using opaque vocabulary. This ambiguity is a logical consequence of an entity which is contradictory in class terms attempting to express itself.
- This is an extremely short summary, with the sole aim of clarifying points which had led to the misunderstanding of the statement. It is the reason why we labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a reformist organisation, which stands as an obstacle in the way of the completion of the revolution, but neither is it one of the wings of the counter-revolution.
- None of what we have said here should be taken as a call for alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. But it certainly means we defend their cadres and supporters from the brutality of the counter-revolution. It also certainly means clarity in publications and practical work that the enemy of the revolutionary movement in Egypt is the ruling military dictatorship. It certainly means that we need to build a new revolutionary front which does not suffer from Islamophobia, and which is prepared to avoid the hysteria of Islamist-secular confrontation. Our aim is to build a broad revolutionary front which, although it will not join the Muslim Brotherhood, is open to joint work side by side with the young Islamists who are facing the machinery of military repression every day. This does not mean that we propose for an instant to drop our principled criticism of the Islamist movement’s reactionary stances or their appeasement of the regime. Nor will we compromise the independence of our slogans, our perspectives, our banners and our organisation.
- Everything we have written here is an invitation to discuss these ideas in the widest possible sense. It is not an attack on anyone, except those who betrayed the revolution, whether they are leftists or Islamists. As for those who genuinely want to work tirelessly on the long, arduous task of bringing down the military dictatorship and returning to the goals of the January revolution, we must show our appreciation, respect and the desire to work together. It is time to go beyond a state of tension and the exchange of insults, and begin debating and building. For time is not on our side.
4. Push for retribution in Egypt frays Muslim Brotherhood
By David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikhaug, New York Times, Aug. 5, 2015
CAIRO — A veteran leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was so alarmed by the rising calls for violence from the group’s youth that he risked arrest to urge the movement to stay peaceful.
Already hunted by the police for his role in a banned organization when he released his online manifesto in May, the leader, Mahmoud Ghuzlan, conceded that shunning violence in the face of the government crackdown on the Brotherhood was “like grasping a burning coal.” But, he said, history taught that “peacefulness is stronger than weapons, and violence is the reason for defeat and demise.”
It was a losing argument, or so it now appears. The police in Cairo soon found and arrested him. A chorus of Islamists mocked him on social media as naïve, unrealistic and hypocritical.
And his manifesto for “peacefulness” was quickly drowned out by official statements that have come closer to endorsing violence than anything the organization has said or done in more than four decades — an ominous turn for both Egypt and the West. Not only is the Brotherhood Egypt’s largest political organization, its long history gives it unique influence among Islamists beyond the Middle East to Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Brotherhood officials insist that the group still opposes violence as immoral and counterproductive. There are no signs that it is seeking to start an armed insurgency or ally with others who have done so — such as the Sinai arm of the Islamic State.
But some in the Brotherhood also acknowledge privately that the demands of young members for “retribution” against participants in the military takeover two years ago are threatening to stretch the group’s ideology toward violence, widening a generational split at a time when the Brotherhood’s discipline is fraying and many young members blame their elders for bungling the Arab Spring revolt and their chance to govern.
“The aggrieved party has the right to fight back against the aggressor,” more than a hundred Muslim scholars wrote on May 27 in an open letter, “The Egypt Call,” that the Brotherhood formally endorsed the next day.
Labeling President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government a “murderous regime,” the scholars wrote that Islam prescribed that those who collaborated with him — such as “rulers, judges, officers, soldiers, muftis, media professionals and politicians” — should be punished as “murderers.” All are “murderers according to religious law,” they wrote. (More than 620,000 other people have since endorsed the statement online.)
Newly formed groups with names like Revolutionary Punishment and Popular Resistance, which receive online support from many social media accounts that also back the Brotherhood, have already claimed responsibility for small-scale bombings on police stations, empty businesses and electric utilities in recent months.
At the end of June, the Giza chapter of Popular Resistance also claimed responsibility online for a remotely detonated bomb that killed the country’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. (The group’s initial statement was later deleted without explanation, but no one else has since taken responsibility.)
The attack was the most significant assassination in Egypt in decades, and it seemed just the kind of punishment the scholars had endorsed four weeks before. A statement from the Brotherhood denounced the killing but blamed Mr. Sisi for provoking such violence.
The Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is the movement that defined political Islam and remains its central reference point. It has prided itself for decades on a nonviolent and election-oriented approach to political change. Some of its acolytes founded moderate Islamist parties in Turkey and Tunisia, while others like Ayman al-Zawahri, the ideologue of Al Qaeda, have broken with the Brotherhood to form anti-Western militant groups.
After the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Brotherhood’s years of patient organizing helped it win the most votes in Egypt’s free elections, apparently vindicating its strategy and undermining the militants.
But since the ouster two years ago of President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader, the group has suffered a wave of repression more severe than at any time in its history, exceeding even the jailings and executions under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mr. Sisi’s government has called the Brotherhood a terrorist group and criminalized its membership. Security forces have killed more than 1,000 of its supporters in mass shootings, detained tens of thousands and seized the group’s assets. Judges have issued mass death sentences for hundreds of people thought to be Brotherhood members, including Mr. Morsi and other top leaders.
Brotherhood-linked satellite television networks set up in Istanbul are rife with calls for revenge. Misr Alaan, the satellite network most clearly linked to the Brotherhood, conducted a telephone interview this spring with an observer on the scene of a clash with the police in the Cairo neighborhood of El Matareya.
“Now, it’s not, ‘Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets,’ ” the observer reported, recalling the Brotherhood’s motto at the time of the military takeover. “It has now turned into, ‘Our peacefulness is stronger with bullets,’ ” he said. “Their women for our women, their girls for our girls and blood for blood.”
“That is what I was just saying!” Mohamed Nasser, a host on the network, replied. “I sent a message to the wives of the officers and told them that revolutionaries will kill their husbands!”
Previously famous for the obedience and discipline of its members, the Brotherhood has become much less hierarchical and more diffuse since its decimation in the crackdown, said Nathan J. Brown and Michele Dunne, two scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who recently released a study of the group. “This is not your grandfather’s Brotherhood,” Professor Brown said in an interview.
Leaders in exile and members inside Egypt say the group’s top officials now exert only limited control over the Brotherhood’s grass roots in the streets. The group has said it held internal elections in February 2014 for a new executive committee to manage the crisis. But the Brotherhood has not disclosed the identity of the board members because of concerns for their safety.
Both members and senior officials, though, say that a new generation of Brotherhood leaders sharply critical of their elders has muscled its way into power. Speaking on the condition of anonymity for his safety, one young Brotherhood leader in Cairo called the generational change “the only beneficial thing to happen because of the coup.”
Yahia Hamid, a 37-year-old former minister in Mr. Morsi’s cabinet now living in Istanbul, said in an interview that he and other younger members blamed their former leaders for misunderstanding the “revolutionary” moment after the ouster of Mr. Mubarak four years ago.
“The moment did not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood but to all of Egypt,” he said, faulting the group’s leaders for seeking to negotiate with the military, for trying to change the authoritarian state from within and for failing to keep collaborating with left-leaning activists who had been allies in the uprising.
Mr. Hamid said the group had now adopted a “revolutionary” strategy that meant continuing nonviolent protests, rebuilding trust with other factions and preparing for what the Brotherhood considers Mr. Sisi’s inevitable failure. Violence, he said, would bolster the government and drag the country toward a civil war, and it also went against decades of Brotherhood indoctrination.
“You can’t take an engineer and turn him into a doctor,” he said.
Even in the Muslim scholars’ call for the punishment of those who back the “murderous regime,” its authors added the qualification that “retribution must be taken against them within religious regulations.” The same call went on to urge resistance “using appropriate means, such as civil disobedience.”
But some Brotherhood supporters are frustrated with nonviolence. When a group of Islamists was executed after a military trial in May, a Brotherhood spokesman using the name Mohamed Montaser declared that the only solution for such “murderers” was “retribution” and “a revolution that reaps heads from atop rotten bodies.”
“The revolution will not be still until it exterminates all oppressors,” he said, and many others online complained that even those threats were too mild.
That was when Mr. Ghuzlan and another senior Brotherhood leader, Abdel Rahmanal-Barr, felt compelled to respond.
“Peacefulness is not a tactic or a maneuver,” Mr. Barr, a religious scholar sometimes known as the mufti of the Brotherhood, said in another manifesto posted online. “It is a fundamental choice based on religious jurisprudence, realistic awareness and a correct reading of history.”
Mr. Barr was arrested with Mr. Ghuzlan days later, on June 1. An Egyptian court had already sentenced both in absentia to death. (The Sisi government treats all Brotherhood leaders as “terrorists,” even if they publicly oppose violence.)
Their calls for “peacefulness” had already set off backlash from young Brotherhood supporters. “What you’re describing isn’t called ‘peacefulness,’ it’s called, ‘shame and humiliation,’ ” wrote one online commentator, Asmaa Hussein.
“The revolution is the streets now,” another, Essam el-Masry, wrote back to Mr. Ghuzlan, “and the blood that was shed has overrun the meaning of facedown peacefulness.”
Who actually died in Egypt’s Rabaa massacre in August 2013?, by Neil Ketchley and Michael Biggs, Washington Post, August 14, 2015