Egyptian crackdown weakens Muslim Brotherhood, but may not crush it

August 20, 2013

(A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shouts slogans against the military and interior ministry whilst gesturing and holding a copy of the Koran during a protest in front of Al Istkama mosque at Giza Square, south of Cairo, August 18, 2013. The four-fingered gesture, meaning “Rabaa” or “Fourth” in Arabic, is in reference to the police clearing of the Rabaa Adawiya protest camp on August 14. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Until Monday night, Farid Ismail was one of the few Muslim Brotherhood leaders who still answered his phone, even when many of his associates had been arrested or gone underground.

By Tuesday morning Ismail was nowhere to be found after the authorities seized the group’s chief, Mohamed Badie, overnight.

The army seems determined to decapitate the Middle East’s oldest and arguably most resilient Islamist movement, to prevent it from preparing a political comeback after President Mohamed Mursi, one of its senior leaders, was ousted on July 3.

Badie’s arrest means the Brotherhood’s most experienced and respected leaders are now behind bars. Others such as Ismail, if he remains free, must now be focused on staying out of jail.

The military’s strategy appears clear: remove the top of a pyramid-shaped organisation in hopes that the rest will crumble.

Brotherhood members take their orders from the 120-member consultative Shura Council and 18-member Guidance Office, which send directives down via several layers of deputies.

The army’s disruption tactics have already paid dividends.

The Brotherhood, which for six weeks managed to keep large protest camps going in Cairo to demand Mursi’s reinstatement, is now struggling to get people onto the streets. The authorities, meanwhile, have tightened their grip with dusk-to-dawn curfews.

“To some extent they have succeeded. Turnout in the street is low,” said Khalil Anani, an expert on Islamic movements. “For the short term the Brotherhood has received a major blow.”

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