course we would love to be in Tahrir Square," Amr Darrag, a senior Muslim
Brotherhood official and the former minister of planning and international
cooperation, told me last week. "But we don't want to give the impression that
we want to get in fights with anybody, to give anybody the excuse to accuse us
of more violence."
working out that way. Today, clashes
broke out near Tahrir Square between supporters of Mohammed Morsy and the
deposed president's opponents. The violence started with the two sides hurling
stones at each other, and degenerated into an exchange of Molotov cocktails and
gunfire. The bloodshed illustrates the bind that the Brotherhood finds itself
in: If it doesn't take to the streets aggressively, it dooms itself to
irrelevance in the new political game. But if it pushes too hard, it risks being
blamed for the sort of violence Egypt witnessed today.
can the Brotherhood reverse the setbacks it has suffered over the past three
weeks? Paradoxically, Darrag laid out a plan that focuses on winning over the
very people Brotherhood supporters are clashing with in Tahrir. This involves reconstituting
a broad-based alliance with non-Islamists against Egypt's military rulers,
transforming the national debate from Morsy's performance to how to preserve
democracy, and raising the possibility of another massive uprising similar to
the one that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
strategy is to convince everyone that [the military coup] is not just directed
to us, it was a scheme that was directed toward democracy. When people
understand that, they will raise their voices until this anti-revolutionary
move is defeated," Darrag said. "It's not about us any more, it's not about the
Brotherhood has good reason not to make this about Morsy. At the time of his
ouster, he was broadly unpopular: According to one poll, he enjoyed the support of only
28 percent of Egyptians. Brotherhood officials have tried to get around this
conundrum by floating the possibility that Morsy, upon being reinstated, could
immediately make concessions to the non-Islamist opposition.
realize that a lot of people are not in favor of the president or in favor of
us being there," Darrag said. "We can work on some sort of reconciliation to
come up with anything that is satisfactory to most of the Egyptians...Including
that the president goes, or calls for [early] elections, or appoints someone on
his behalf until elections."
addition to making plans about the future, the Brotherhood is trying to patch
up past disagreements with non-Islamist groups. Many of the Brotherhood's
opponents, for example, accuse the Islamist movement of maintaining a cozy
relationship with the military junta that ruled Egypt after Mubarak's fall --
ordering its cadres to stay home even when the non-Islamist revolutionaries
were engaged in bloody clashes with the security forces at Mohammed Mahmoud St. and Maspero during winter 2011. Darrag attributed
the Brotherhood's inaction to "information" that the movement had received that
the military was planning a "big massacre," which would be used as proof that
the Brotherhood was a violent movement.
"What I would say to people, to the revolutionaries,
is that we are sorry that we did not join at that time, yes, but we hope you
understand why we didn't join," Darrag said.
Brotherhood not only needs to get its message right -- it needs to reach the
millions of Egyptians who are also listening to the narrative of the military
and its allies. It's no easy task: Anti-Morsy protesters hold Tahrir Square,
Islamist TV channels have been shut down, and major stations sympathetic
to the military's narrative have plastered a tagline on their broadcast:
"Against Terrorism" -- a reference to the Brotherhood.
Brotherhood has countered by scattering its protests across Cairo. Today's demonstrations
in Cairo, for instance, are occurring near Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque in the
neighborhood of Nasr City, at Nahda Square near Cairo University, at the
Ministry of Defense, at the Republican Guard headquarters, and outside the
prosecutor general's office, and other locations. And the pro-Morsy movement
has looked to spread its message even further by reaching out to the
international press, which is viewed as more sympathetic than domestic media:
For the past two weeks, English-language signs have proliferated at the main
pro-Morsy sit-in at Rabaa al-Adaweya. "People's Power vs. Military's Might;
Democracy vs. Coup," reads a typical sign near the main stage.
believe the international media is playing a very important role at this moment
in conveying a balanced view of what is happening," Darrag said. "The majority
of the media outlets are giving a good picture of what's happening -- they're
referring to what happened as a coup, they're referring to [the July 8 attack at the Republican Guard
headquarters] as a massacre that was conducted by the security forces."
not even the Brotherhood, can be sure whether this strategy will work. But for the
Islamist movement's top officials, the situation is akin to the military-backed
dictatorship that existed under Mubarak - and the solution, too, is identical.
[The protests] will keep on growing and growing and growing, until it cannot be
resisted," Darrag said. "And if nothing is done to regain the democratic path,
I believe we will end up with a scene similar to that of the Jan. 25
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images