For the Muslim Brotherhood, running Egypt has been like crossing a minefield. As President Mohamed Mursi ends his first year in office, fortifications being erected at his group’s headquarters suggest a looming war.
Behind a reinforced wall and a five-inch thick iron gate, the Brotherhood’s Cairo compound bears scars of a divisive year that has triggered frequent protests and bloodshed. There is the promise of more later this month: Mursi’s opponents have called a mass rally on June 30 aimed at pushing him to resign.
“We must begin to fortify ourselves a bit,” Mostafa Elgheinemy, a member of the Brotherhood’s 17-man executive, told Reuters in an interview at the headquarters building, which was attacked earlier this year.
As it shores up its walls, the Brotherhood is seeking to buttress itself in other ways too: it is planning its own mass rally on Friday, backed by allies in the Islamist camp.
“If there are others who say the president’s opponents are many, we want to say that he has very large numbers of supporters,” said Elgheinemy, an obstetrician who was jailed 20 times during 35 years in the Brotherhood under military rule.
Reflecting what some see as the Brotherhood’s disregard for opposition and minority views – a tendency critics have also seen in Turkey’s Islamist leader this month – Elgheinemy said the relative strengths of factions should be “kept in their true proportions”: “You claim that you have millions behind you,” he said of protest organisers. “Perhaps my view is different.”
Mobilising its sympathisers, the Muslim Brotherhood is showing no signs of bending to the will of assorted liberals and leftists it defeated in a series of elections held after Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in 2011. Elgheinemy describes their latest demand – early presidential elections – as absurd.
It would plunge Egypt into what he described as an unending, dark tunnel, he said: “Every two or three months, they’ll want to change the president”.
The Brotherhood’s intention is to govern on regardless of its critics. These now include Islamists who were once allies. The Nour Party, Egypt’s biggest hardline faction, has grown increasingly critical of the Brotherhood this year.
Now the Brotherhood is forging closer ties with the former militants of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya. Mursi made waves this week by appointing one of its members governor of Luxor – a town where Gamaa al-Islamiya gunmen killed 58 foreign tourists in 1997.
Elgheinemy described that appointment as a choice that reflected Mursi’s desire to be inclusive and appoint the right people in the right places: Gamaa al-Islamiya’s local community ties would help keep order in the city of pharaonic temples.
Critics, however, see the new governor’s arrival as a major blow to an already beleaguered tourist industry.
NO GOING BACK
From the Brotherhood’s headquarters, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Cairo’s dusty, metropolitan sprawl, the controversy is a sign of its opponents’ desire to turn back the clock to the days when Islamists were in jail rather than power.
They want to “maintain the unfair, oppressive exclusion imposed on this faction”, said Elgheinemy.
“Dr. Mursi calls on all the parties to take part, but they refuse,” Elgheinemy said. “There is a strong desire by the presidency to build bridges … but the doors are closed by them,” he said. “What do I do?”
The opposition, in turn, says Mursi’s calls for dialogue are never sincere. They accuse his group of trying to colonise state institutions and entrench its rule through “Brotherhoodisation”.
Mursi has reshuffled government to bring in more of his Islamist allies.
On the ground, the group appears more interested in reaching out to voters than opponents. Elgheinemy presented a spreadsheet showing how a Brotherhood campaign had provided charitable services to 6 million Egyptians in the last six months.
Yet polls point to mounting discontent in a population of 84 million and rising, where many fear worsening economic hardship.
Elgheinemy said they will see “the volume of achievements” – soon: “There are crises,” he conceded. “There are problems. People are suffering. But we can say that after all revolutions, in all parts of the world, there is a period of suffering.
“Once the street calms down, even for a short while, I think the wheels of production will start to turn.”
The business of government has been like a road mined by saboteurs, he said – notably those who did well under Mubarak.
A mystery to many Egyptians, the Brotherhood is depicted by its opponents as a secret society with an autocratic agenda. The Guidance Bureau, the executive to which Elgheinemy belongs, is widely seen as the silent voice behind Mursi’s presidency.
Elgheinemy says the executive gives advice to the presidency, as do other parties: “We cannot wash our hands,” he said, but added: “The president either listens or he doesn’t.
“Much of the time, or in fact most of the time, he doesn’t.”