After the dramatic events of the past week which saw the overthrow of the first democratically elected Egyptian president, Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, many are now wondering whether Egypt, the birthplace of political islam, will also be its burial ground.
This is arguably the worst crisis the Muslim Brotherhood have had to face since it was created in 1928. For the first time it is up against an alliance of the old enemies — the military and the security services — with a broad spectrum of Egyptian society. It has lost all its battles against the state in the past, the chance of winning this one on a much bigger front appear very slim.
It’s perhaps too early to expect the MB to acknowledge (publicly at least) that it has itself to blame for the downfall of Mr Morsi. Its leadership still insists that it has been the victim of a plot by the old Mubarak regime backed by America and some “misguided” youth. It refuses to call off its street protests until the ousted president has been re-instated.
It has also refused to recognise the new interim president or take part in new care-taker cabinet.
If this does not change in the next few months or even weeks, the MB will have put itself on a collision course with society and the new emerging order for some time to come. Continued street protests may even turn more Egyptians against it.
The spike in violence in the Sinai desert which coincided with the removal of Mr Morsi is believed to be the work of Jihadi groups that are doing the MB’s bidding to put pressure on the military
with the hope of forcing concessions.
That will most likely backfire and strengthen the hand of those within the security establishment that want to see the MB declared a terrorist entity, outlawed and disbanded.
Whichever way it goes, it’s hard to imagine the MB emerging out of this crisis unscathed or unchanged. There are reports of growing unease in its ranks and calls to oust the old leadership blamed for the current disaster. This may very well be true, but it is doubtful any internal reform could happen any time soon, because in times of crisis all members will close ranks.
But trouble for the MB does not necessarily mean the end of political Islam.
Immediately after the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011 we witnessed the fragmentation of the what is known as the Isalmist current and the emergence of a powerful rival to the MB, that is the Salafis.
Even the Salafis have not been immune to the polarisation that has paralysed Egypt. The Salafi Nour party, the second largest organised Islamist group , has split as a result, with one faction supporting the MB and another joining calls for an early presidential election.
Like other liberal and leftist groups, the Nour party accused the MB of trying to monopolise power and of failure to build broad based government.
But no sooner was Mursi overthrown than the Nour changed its position again accusing the new interim administration of being pro-liberal and objecting to the appointment of Mohammed El-Baradei (leader of the opposition National Salvation Front) as vice president.
Sooner rather than later the same problems that dogged the first stages of the transition after the fall of Mubarak, will occupy centre state again. Foremost among them will be the controversial Isalmist-leaning constitution drafted by the MB and their Salafi allies late last year. It was this document and the controversial process leading up to its approval by Mr Morsi that has split the country in two as never before.
The Salafi Nour party has already voiced its opposition to the new road map under which the constitution will be amended and then put to the vote.
It will most likely be joined by other Islamist groups including the the MB –as an organisation or individual members — to frustrate any attempt to dilute or change the Islamist clauses in the controversial constitution.
The Islamists have a choice to make : they can focus on the things that unite the mainstream (fixing the ailing economy, reforming the security sector) or once again insist on making their top priority the divisive issue of “Islamic identity” – which may require months if not years to resolve legally and constitutionally. Failure to do so could plunge Egypt into deeper economic woes and which in its turn may even turn greater section of the public against the Islamists.
Egypt has confounded all pundits and observers, none of whom have predicted that Mubarak would fall, let alone the manner in which he was overthrown — after 18 days of peaceful protests. Even less, that Mursi would follow suit after only three days of unprecedented demonstrations nationwide.
Part of the problem is that the alliance that brought Mubarak down 30 months ago is as shaky as the alliance that forced his successor down last week.
Throughout its long history the MB never had to contend with the state, the police and intelligence services, but it never had to confront the wrath of the people, which proved to be decisive. It has lost much of its standing and credibility in the eyes of ordinary Egyptians – once it gained their sympathy because it was the underdog, now many think they have uncovered a wolf in sheep’s clothes.