The Muslim Brotherhood is fighting for its life, once again, against the modern secular Egyptian state founded by Muhammad Ali Pasha during the first half of the 19th century.
The 85-year-old Brotherhood has battled the national state with protests and bombs since 1948, when it was first banned. Egypt’s prime minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha was assassinated that year and the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, was murdered in early 1949.
In 1952 Brotherhood members were accused of starting the fire that gutted downtown Cairo and in 1954, after Egypt became a republic, the Brotherhood's "secret apparatus" was blamed for an unsuccessful assassination attempt on president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In the 1970s, during the rule of Anwar Sadat, a sympathiser, the Brotherhood renounced violence, members were freed from prison and, while still officially banned, prepared to enter politics. In 2005, during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, who for a time tolerated the Brotherhood, candidates it sponsored won 20 per cent of seats in parliament. In the 2010 fraudulent election, they won no seats. After Mubarak's ousting, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won control of both houses of parliament and the presidency.
Once in power, “the Brotherhood alienated everybody: the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the army and the people”, says businessman Amgad Sultan, who went every day to Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. “The revolution was stolen.”
Today, some commentators predict the Brotherhood and “political Islam” will be eliminated as a political force because they represent nothing more than a “naive dream,” as analyst Youssef Zaki put it.
“What is happening today is a repeat of 1954,” when Nasser cracked down hard on the Brotherhood, he said.
Since last week's violent dissolution of its sit-ins protesting the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, most Brotherhood leaders have been imprisoned and President Adly Mansour has spoken of restoring the ban on the group.
This time its situation is perilous. In the view of Socialist party member Mamdoh Habashi, the battle for the secular system is “taking place not only among leftists and intellectuals but among ordinary people. It was lucky that the Brotherhood was in power for a year so they could see its real face . . .”
In his view the Brotherhood will not disappear any time soon. Rather, it will split into three. The most extreme faction will align with al-Qaeda, those seeking to make a political comeback will organise underground, and the moderates will adapt to current circumstances.
Sultan said the only way to defeat the Brotherhood was to provide “jobs, jobs, jobs for the people” now, and education in the medium and long term.
The Brotherhood, he said, won the loyalty of the poor by “giving them rice, oil, and promises of heaven”.