The Muslim Brotherhood is Going Underground — But Will It Come Back Stronger?


On Friday General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called on Egyptians to take to the streets asking for an authorization to fight against what he called the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although Mr. Al-Sisi was referring to the explosion at a security headquarters in the city of Mansoura north of Cairo, his references to terrorism were not random — and could well become prophetic.

There are many speculations about the Muslim Brotherhood being a terrorist organization. Some groups, such as Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and Jamaat Al-Islamiyya, are ideologically linked to the Brotherhood, and the group even had links with the Nazis in the 1940s. It is true, though, that the Brotherhood has its own record of terrorist activity. Following the government's crackdown on the organization in the 1940s, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Egypt's prime minister in 1948. A few years later the organization was accused of committing an arson that destroyed some 750 buildings in Cairo. The Brotherhood's terrorist attempts even included a failed attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser in 1954.

This event led to suppression of the organization: Many of its members were held in concentration camps and tortured, and the Brotherhood itself went into hiding but still existed. At this time the Muslim Brotherhood began to re-organize itself into a more effective organization, since it could not function openly and was looking for new ways to integrate people. In 1964 a leading member of the Brotherhood and Islamic scholar Sayyid Qutb was released from prison, where he had spent 10 years writing his famous works that inspired younger members of the organization, The Milestones and In the Shade of the Qu'ran. Being guided by these works, younger members of the Brotherhood advocated immediate revolution in Egypt, and in 1965 the government used these claims to accuse the organization of planning a coup in Egypt, as a result of which more than 16,000 members were arrested. This period in the history of the Brotherhood was marked by police raids on members' homes and crackdowns on secret meetings, among other things, to completely eliminate the organization. Interestingly, though, when Anwar Al-Saddat succeeded Nasser, the Muslim Brotherhood remained illegal but was tolerated by the authorities due to its policy of liberalization, which allowed the Brotherhood to re-emerge as a stronger and more organized body. Through its existence in the underground and its extensive work to improve the ideology of the organization, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to embrace political change and gain mass popularity under the Saddat regime.

Currently mounting bloodshed that is widening division between Morsi supporters and the military-backed administration and raises strong security concerns could result in forcing the Muslim Brotherhood back underground, just as it happened in 1954 under Nasser. Everybody should understand, however, that it's impossible to eliminate the Brotherhood from the political scene, because it has millions of supporters who believe that Sharia law can be established in Egypt.

But the manner in which Gen. Al-Sisi has begun to attack peaceful sit-ins and demonstrations of people demanding reinstatement of a democratically elected president, proves not only that the Brotherhood could be forced to go underground, but that it could well change its tactics and start responding to violence with the same violence.