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Muslim Brothers: Egypt-wide uprising against Sisi regime 'inevitable'

"No injustice can last forever. People's patience and ability to tolerate what is happening is not eternal. A is inevitable, although I cannot predict a precise date," -- the official spokesman of the -- told the media outlets in Istanbul.

AFP WORLD
Published January 21,2021
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Hounded by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after briefly rising to power following the Arab Spring uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood sees a new revolution sweeping aside the current regime.

"No injustice can last forever," Talaat Fahmy, the Islamic movement's official spokesman, told AFP in Istanbul.

"People's patience and ability to tolerate what is happening is not eternal. A street uprising is inevitable, although I cannot predict a precise date."

Killed, imprisoned and chased into exile by Sisi, the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed a fleeting hold on power after people power in Egypt toppled the late president Hosni Mubarak.

Their candidate Mohamed Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2012.

But Morsi was overthrown by the army when Sisi was at its helm, and the movement's members have ever since been the victims of relentless repression -- which they vow to surmount.

"The Muslim Brotherhood movement is 93 years old and it has seen similar travails under (former Egyptian president) Gamal Abdel Nasser from 1954 until the release of its leaders from prison in 1974," said Fahmy.

"The group did not disappear. It did not cut off contacts with those members over all those years. The Muslim Brotherhood knows how to communicate with its members, adapting to the security and political circumstances."

Jailed eight times during the three-decade rule of Mubarak, Fahmy left Egypt and settled in Istanbul in 2015 after spending two years in prison under Sisi.

He considers Sisi's rule even more damaging to his country than that of Mubarak, who died in February 2020, and accuses Sisi of overseeing a "bloodthirsty regime that rules with an iron fist".

'BRINK OF IMPLOSION'

"The situation in Egypt today is worse than it was under Mubarak, who tried to maintain a certain balance, while the current regime does not care," Fahmy said.

"No change in Egypt is possible through elections under the current regime."

Fahmy thinks Western powers that once gave Sisi the benefit of the doubt because he presented himself as an ally in the fight against radicalism "are beginning to realise that he is leading the country to the brink of an implosion".

"Egypt under Sisi's rule has no future. You just have to see how the army is taking over national companies and imprisoning businessmen. .... The army now controls between 70 and 80 percent of the economy and the country's businesses."

Fahmy also expressed little fear at the repercussions of this month's reconciliations between Qatar -- where some of the group's members have fled to -- and its regional rivals in the Gulf and Egypt, which have branded the Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist organisation".

The movement "is not dependent on this or that government, and all the financial aid it receives comes from the group's own members," he said.

"We do not receive any support from Qatar or Turkey," said Fahmy, stressing that the only help the group gets from Ankara is the authorisation to be present in the country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regularly refers to Sisi as a "coup leader" and accuses Egyptian authorities of "killing" Morsi, who died in 2019 after collapsing in court during his trial.

"We never embarrass the country we are present in and do nothing to violate its law and traditions," Fahmy said.

ARAB SPRING LIFTED, THEN CRUSHED MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD

The Arab Spring a decade ago gave Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood a brief shot at power, but today many of its followers are dead, in jail or in exile.

Still, the Muslim Brothers vow to be back one day, and few observers write off the almost century-old Sunni mass movement that has spawned offshoots across the region.

In the turmoil that followed Egypt's 2011 mass protests and ouster of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Morsi was elected president.

But he was ousted after a turbulent year by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who outlawed the group and has since ruled with an iron grip over the Arab world's most populous nation.

Cairo University political science professor Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed said "I don't think the organisation has ended," pointing at the remaining base of supporters.

"But it is difficult for them to make public appearances in Egypt under the current regime."

LABELLED 'TERRORISTS'

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna as a pan-Islamic religious, social and charitable movement with the core message "Islam is the solution".

Long denied a role in Egyptian mainstream politics, it emerged as a major popular force in the conservative Muslim country after the mass protests.

It went on to score ballot-box victories that propelled members of its allied Freedom and Justice Party into parliament, and Morsi to the presidency.

However, his government soon came under fire for its perceived incompetence, which sparked yet more street protests, even as its defenders blamed obstruction from a hostile bureaucracy and security sector.

Morsi's short-lived rule ended with his ouster in 2013 by Sisi, whose security forces violently dispersed a sit-in protest in support of Morsi that left some 800 people dead.

Human Rights Watch labelled the crackdown of the Rabaa sit-in a "massacre" and one of "the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history".

Senior Brotherhood leaders and thousands of members have been jailed or fled to Qatar and Turkey, the two regional players that backed Morsi's rule.

Egypt's Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates meanwhile went on to also outlaw the Brotherhood as terrorists, deepening a rift with Ankara and Doha.

'EXISTENTIAL BATTLE'

The Brotherhood has gone through "an unprecedented disruption on all levels," said political scientist Kamal Habib.

"The current regime's relationship with the organisation has become an existential battle. It is no longer just a political dispute."

Habib argued that the group's one year in power "shook its image" and laid bare its "incapacity to rule".

The group had relied heavily on its historic legacy but "this ancient heritage no longer fits the modern generation," he said.

Lebanese Middle East researcher Hadi Wahab argued that during its brief rule, the Brotherhood failed to "present an alternative economic or political project".

After Joe Biden won the US presidential election against Sisi-ally Donald Trump, the Brotherhood urged Washington "to review the policies of supporting dictatorships".

Analysts however do not see the Biden administration change the status quo in Egypt.

Habib said it may work toward the goal of "improving the human rights situation... (but) not the Brotherhood's return".

ARAB SPRING'S LONG LOST DREAM OF EGYPTIAN FREEDOM

A decade after Egypt's mass protests briefly unlocked new freedoms, human rights groups say it is back to square one as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has stamped out all opposition.

The iconic demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which broke out on January 25, 2011, toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak just a couple of weeks later in one of the most momentous changes of the Arab Spring wave of revolts.

They ushered in a heady period of free speech and free elections that propelled Mohamed Morsi to power, followed by mass protests against Morsi and then his overthrow -- all within two and a half years.

Spearheading the second regime change in 2013, former army chief Sisi has since presided over a crackdown against Islamists, secular opponents, journalists, lawyers, artists and intellectuals.

"The Arab Spring in Egypt was short-lived," Agnes Callamard, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings to the UN, told AFP.

"The regime has learnt the worst lesson -- to nip any hint of freedom in the bud."

In early December, Amnesty International deplored a "frenzy" of executions in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country.

Faced with such international criticism, the response of Egyptian authorities has invariably been the same -- to reject outside interference.

'STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE'

The wave of repression began in the summer of 2013, when hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members protesting against Morsi's overthrow were killed by security forces in Cairo, according to various rights groups.

Arbitrary detentions, mass trials and death sentences followed for members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned once more from 2013.

The power of Sisi -- who was elected president a year after bringing down Morsi and re-elected in 2018 with more than 97 percent of the official vote -- has only grown stronger.

In April 2019, a constitutional amendment prolonged his presidency and tightened his control of the judiciary.

Rights groups say around 60,000 political dissidents now languish behind bars, despite the government's insistence there are no political prisoners in Egypt.

In September 2019, hundreds of protesters demanding Sisi's departure again tried to mobilise in Tahrir Square, but this initiative only provoked a wave of arrests.

The judicial system, at the heart of the repressive apparatus, is often deplored by rights groups for resorting to charges of "terrorism" and "disseminating" false news -- offences that carry prolonged sentences.

"The judiciary is supposed to be a castle... that protects rights and freedom," said Mohamed Lotfy, director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

But in Egypt it "is rarely able to hold to account any officers" from the security forces, and even in cases with damning evidence, sentences are lenient, he added.

Authorities often cite the threat of "terrorism" when faced with accusations of rights abuses, in a country grappling since 2013 with a jihadist insurrection in North Sinai.

Sherif Mohyeldeen, a scholar on Egypt and North Africa at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said the reported abuses contribute to "fuelling the structural violence and partly cultivate extremism".

'IT WILL TAKE TIME'

Egypt's media has also been repressed, with hundreds of internet news sites shut down since 2017.

Twenty-eight journalists are currently imprisoned in the country, says watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

Few independent media organisations are left for those journalists "who are not already behind bars," said Lina Attalah, editor in chief of Cairo-based online newspaper Mada Masr.

"Mada is really an exception," added Attalah, who has herself been arrested several times.

Some media outlets have been acquired by entities close to the powerful military, which controls swathes of the economy.

A state of emergency, in place since 2017 and reinforced in May 2020 during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, is seen as a covert tool for exercising new repressive powers.

That repression took a new and spectacular turn in November, with the arrest of three activists belonging to a local rights organisation after a meeting with Western ambassadors.

It was only after a rare outcry by a plethora of powers that the three were released.

The authorities have also targeted women. Around a dozen social media influencers have been detained in recent months for sharing content on TikTok deemed to debase moral standards in the conservative country.

Mokhles Kotb, secretary general of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, told AFP it will "take time to institute the rule of law".