CAIRO – Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, visited Egypt with the hope of initiating reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian interim government. She met with Vice Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa Eddin, Amr Darrag, Mohamed Ali Beshr and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Al Ahram reported, “The two senior Brotherhood figures will demand an end to the arrest campaign launched by Egypt's interim government against Brotherhood sympathizers and the release of those arrested without charges, in exchange for a halt to protests.” Reconciliation would be a major step in a positive direction for the country; however, with the interim government’s latest crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the fact that the group denies the legitimacy of the interim government, Ashton’s trip might be a futile one.
In the last month, the interim government banned all activities organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and those who participate in its activities, regardless of membership, will be arrested. It also shut down its Freedom and Justice newspaper. The courts ruled that the Muslim Brotherhood be dissolved and ordered the government to seize the group’s funds and freeze its assets.
The Muslim Brotherhood continues to deny committing any criminal or terrorist acts; hence, these rulings have caused outrage for its members. Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leader Mohamed Ali Beshr said “The court ruling issued to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood was illegitimate, but would not hinder national reconciliation or a political solution for the current crisis in Egypt.” Beshr also said, “The ruling confirms that we are not [living] under a state that [applies] the constitution or law as the ruling was political par excellence and lacked legitimacy,” Al Ahram reported. The group plans to appeal the verdict.
These rulings affect the group’s non-governmental organization (NGO) status, although it seems rather pointless in light of the fact that it has only been a registered NGO since March 2013. Regardless of whether the group is registered as an NGO or not, it has been in existence for 85 years without legal standing.
As the government continues to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, the group’s support base has decreased significantly. Although street protests continue, they pale in comparison to those held during the sit-ins. Many people have grown weary of the group’s feeble attempts to restore the deposed Mohamed Morsi to his legally earned position as president of Egypt. "Their protests will continue for a while, on every possible occasion and in different ways, that's beyond doubt," Gamal Abdel-Gawad, former head of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online. Political analyst Amr El-Shobaky said, "The Brotherhood's strong organizational skills are contingent on blind obedience to their leaders. With their leadership behind bars they cannot deploy their supporters effectively. They already have no popular support, and that makes it harder for their coming protests to yield positive results,” as reported by Al Ahram.
Although political pundits have much to say about what they perceive as pointless protests by the Muslim Brotherhood and its lack of support, college campuses paint a different picture. Recently, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students protested at universities across the country.
In some cases, violence ensued as clashes broke out between supporters and the opposition. “Eleven students were injured as supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi clashed with supporters of Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Zagazig University,” says Egypt Independent newspaper. As a result, the university may postpone courses for a week. If nothing else, the Muslim Brotherhood’s members are adamant that if the government chooses to ignore them, they will continue to show civil disobedience. This could be seen in the city of Giza, where they intended to disrupt the campus activity by blocking access to the schools.
With the start of a new academic year, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies have a new platform for demonstrations among the college-educated youth. Politics is a common topic for discussion and thus students on both sides of Egyptian politics are making their voices and opinions known. The Students Against the Coup group staged a march near Cairo University, moving from the university's main gate to the main library. Students chanted against military rule and giving judicial powers to security personnel to arrest individuals on campus, Egypt Independent reported.
To the interim government, disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood might be viewed as a victory, at least legally; but if college campuses continue to remain an arena for protests, claiming such a victory might be a bit premature especially if reconciliation cannot be achieved.