The army-backed Egyptian government has been on something of a tear lately in its efforts to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood’s infrastructure and influence in Egypt. Just the last few days have seen the group’s activities banned and asset freezes against its top leaders extended. Today saw the shuttering of the Cairo offices of the Islamist group’s main newspaper.
The Brotherhood, which is rigidly hierarchal and led by a vanguard at the top, is particularly vulnerable to moves targeting its leadership. Washington Institute fellow Eric Trager this week outlined three different scenarios that might unfold in Egypt as the organization’s middle and low tier members seek to deal with Cairo’s decapitation campaign:
First, in lieu of the organization’s nationwide command chain, ordinary Muslim Brothers may generally look towards those leaders who have gone into exile for guidance… Second, ordinary Muslim Brothers may decide to participate in elections, perhaps after a few years, as independents… Third, ordinary Muslim Brothers may abandon the Brotherhood and turn to other Islamist movements, including violent ones.
Critically, Trager points out that under all three scenarios the Brotherhood as a coherent organization operating inside Egypt’s borders would have collapsed. The decline might become particularly precipitous if Brotherhood members lash out and embrace violence:
Far from representing any specific concept of what its stated goal of an “Islamic state” might entail, the Brotherhood is, first and foremost, a cultish and hierarchal vanguard, whose priority is internal cohesion and complete obedience to its own institutional directives. And whereas ideas rarely die, cults often do… individual Muslim Brothers’ turn towards terrorism would validate an even more thorough regime crackdown—one that would not only target the Brotherhood’s organization, but its rank-and-file members broadly.
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