CAIRO – The Muslim Brotherhood is on the run.
Its leaders, including its Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, are in prison. Badie’s only son, Ammar, was killed during the military’s clearing of protests last week. Badie’s deputy, Mahmout Ezzat replaced him, and is apparently free for now, but others are imprisoned or sought for arrest. Its protestors have been scattered by police and the army, losing hundreds of lives in the process. The cancellation of its legal status is now being discussed by the military-backed government. Former President Hosni Mubarak’s release on Thursday, from jail to house arrest, is salt in a wound. As they fall from the heights of leadership, so the old and reviled leader climbs, if shakily, out of the pit.
In a special report, Reuters correspondents wrote that the Brotherhood originally had decided not to contest for power after the fall of Mubarak, arguing — according to the U.S. scholar Nathan Brown, who met the senior Brotherhood official Khairat El-Shater several times — that ”the burdens of Egypt are too big for any one political actor.” Yet, in power, it insisted on being that one actor.
Neither a visionary nor an efficient politician, Mohamed Mursi issued meaningless calls for unity and moderation, while rooting legislative power in an Islamist-dominated Shura Council that he appointed. He brushed aside all proposals for inclusion of other forces and sought to make his office unchallengeable. Mohammed Habib, a former deputy supreme leader of the Brotherhood, now a renegade with his own party, wrote in the Egypt Independent this week that, ”they lost everything due to their failure to understand what was happening around them.”
The loss is still visible in the streets around Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo, where the Brotherhood and their supporters camped for weeks before the military moved in last Friday.
There are lines of burnt out cars and other equipment standing sentry around scorched pavements and buildings. Soldiers sit behind machine guns on top of tanks and armored carriers, baking in the sun. There are few people on the streets. It has the sense of a space with the life sucked out of it. Abdallah Hassan, an Egyptian journalist with whom I work in Cairo, took a series of pictures of the sprawling encampment a day or two before the clearances: he decided to focus on the children, playing about the tents, posing charmingly for the camera. There were a few boys with toy guns in mock military pose — carefree, as if on holiday.