Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Upended Path: The Rise and Fall of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Upended Path: The Rise and Fall of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Article excerpt

This article examines the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the 2011 uprising. It analyzes the Brotherhood's behavior and strategy since taking power in June 2012, exploring the underlying factors leading to their downfall in 2013. The article argues that the short-lived Islamist government's fall can be ascribed to three key factors: its lack of a revolutionary agenda, the Brotherhood's organizational stagnation and inertia, and its leaders' incompetence and inexperience in governance.1

The abrupt rise and fall of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to power took many observers, commentators, and policy-makers by surprise. After only one year at the reins of government, the Muslim Brotherhood's path was upended and its future has become uncertain. While the Brotherhood leadership and sympathizers blame the old regime forces (i.e., the "deep state") for their failure, the Brotherhood's own blunders and miscalculations cannot be disregarded. Their impetuous rush to power, the stagnant and rigid decision making-process within the movement, and the incompetent and weak leadership of President Mohamed Morsi all contributed to their fall. After the ouster of Husni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, the Brotherhood emerged as one of the key political forces in Egypt. Its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won the first parliamentary elections after the January uprising and party chairman Dr. Mohamed Morsi became Egypt's first free and democratically elected president. However, after only one year in office, Morsi proved unable to run the country effectively or to achieve the objectives of the January uprising, leading the military to take control in a coup on July 3, 2013, following an eruption of mass protests against Morsi on June 30.

This article begins by tracing the debate over how to explain Islamists' behavior and strategy. It critically discusses the key theoretical trends dominating the terrain of Islamism over the past three decades. The second section probes the Brotherhood's role before and after the January uprising. It examines the ability of the Brotherhood to survive and endure under the Mubarak regime and how it became Egypt's key player in the post-Mubarak era. The third section focuses on the Brotherhood's downfall and explores the key factors behind it, particularly those related to the group's internal dynamics. The final section discusses the current crisis facing the organization and how it has thus far dealt with the post-coup regime, which has designated it as a terrorist group.

DEBATING ISLAMISM

Over the past few decades, Islamism has been a subject of inquiry and debate within academic as well as policy-making circles. Despite a plethora of literature on Islamist movements, capturing the essence of Islamism as a sociopolitical phenomenon is still an enigma. Scholars are not only puzzled by the changing faces of Islamism but also by the lack of methodological and theoretical tools that could help analyze and explain Islamists' discourse, behavior, and strategy.1 Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, two influential bodies of scholarship have dominated the study of Islamism. The first is the essentialist or culturalist approach, which treats Islamism as a rigid and immutable phenomenon. The advocates of this approach tend to view Islamism as nothing but a reactionary response to the crisis of modernity that has challenged Muslim societies since the early 20th century. This trend falls short in explicating the complexity and multifaceted character of Islamism, and tends to consider it within a reductionist, ahistorical, and culturist view of Islamic societies.2 Moreover, to prove their views, essentialists tend to conflate Islamism with Islam as a whole, focusing particularly on more conservative and violent forces that follow a rigid and regressive version of the religion. For these scholars, Islam is not a faith but rather an anachronistic ideology that does not cope with modern ideas. …

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