The question I come across most at conferences and seminars where I talk about Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood Movement (Ikhwan) is, “Can a movement similar to the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] emerge from Ikwan?” This question is usually followed by an effort for clearer and more certain comparison: “Does Ikhwan have a [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan? If so, who?”
This is a view that links the arduous period currently faced by Ikhwan with the transformation that started in the National Vision Movement (MGH) with the Feb. 28 coup. Based on this, thıs view seeks disintegration between “the old” and “reformists.” There is even a presupposition in the subconscious that “Ikhwan can overcome the hardships it is currently going through only if it underwent a similar transformation.” “Otherwise, Ikhwan will continue on its path by becoming marginalized and never rise to the position of being an alternative to take power.”
Before anything, thinking that the political parties founded by Necmettin Erbakan are exactly like the Ikhwan movement is a shortcut taken by those who choose to overlook the great differences between Turkey and Egypt's social structures. Even though the Islamic tones and emphasis in discourses give the impression that these lines are equal, a close look at the picture will show that the differences stand out more than the similarities.
To further elaborate, let us first discuss Egypt's social and political scene and then the likelihood of Ikhwan changing and transforming in the context of this scene.
Regardless of where you look at it from, the first fact that needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting Egypt is the military. In the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the people, the military is “a rough but protective father.” The military guarantees security, stability and relative prosperity. The Egyptian military, which runs like a gigantic conglomerate, is directly involved in ordinary people's lives through its investments and productions. The quickest way for people in the middle and lower layers of the social fabric to succeed is to join the army and advance within the hierarchy. When the military, aware of this perception help by the community, seized control by force like in the most recent example in 2013, a significant segment of the people regarded this as an “obligatory intervention for peace” rather than a “coup.” Hence, the insignificant outside definitions and hopes for democracy have no response in the minds of a majority of Egyptians.
The variety of “Islamist” movements in Egypt is another difference. Ikhwan is not alone at the point of reaching the layers of the public through Islamic discourse. It has serious rivals in this area, primarily the Salafis. If we remember that the Salafis came in second after Ikhwan in the elections, we can see that this competition has a numeral response, too.
Another interesting point is that even the most liberal and leftist figures make a point of referring to Islam in their discourse. Even those who identify themselves as “leftist” will not open to debate the verdict that Islamic Sharia is the source of the constitution. It is notable that politicians from all political backgrounds appearing before the public are careful regarding religious practices and do this with great skill.
In addition to all this, one of the most burning realities of Egypt's political sphere is that there is no room for idealist poverty discourse. Regardless of their discourse and economic programs, political movements that do not promise practical relief to the public have no chance against the military which control's the country's economy, and the strong wind created by the elites. For instance, Mohammed Morsi, who took the presidential seat after running in the elections as Ikhwan's candidate, also got his share of this power. The military and the circles provoked and directed by it (especially rentiers and the media) resisted Morsi with all their might. The power cuts and scarcity of oil during the nearly one-year Morsi period were troubles personally organized by the military. Add to this the media bombardment against the elected leader, Morsi became weakened in the eyes of the ordinary public and the military took over the situation as “savior.”
Ikhwan, which openly liaised with the military in the 1952 coup that ousted King Farouk, made the same strategic choice following the public uprising in 2011. However, history tragically repeated itself and similar to 60 years ago, Ikhwan fell victim to the military's wrath once again. Of course, Ikhwan had no chance of conducting politics against the military under Egypt's conditions. In this sense, Ikhwan cadres had no choice but to appear in support of the “honorable Egyptian military.” The military's dominant power of politics, social life and the economy is the first obstacle preventing Ikhwan's change and transformation. There is a power against Ikhwan that oppresses it whether it stands up against it or submits to it. Despite all the high and low political tides since 1928, when the movement was first founded, Ikhwan continued to maintain its essence as a result of this pressure.
The second obstacle preventing Ikhwan from changing is its own structure: Ikhwan, which still continues to actively practice the teachings of its founding leader Hassan al-Banna, gives serious Islamic education to its members. Ikhwan members, who get into politics as individuals well-learned in Quran and hadith, actively use this knowledge in their discourse. A deputy having memorized tens of thousands of hadith or the youth branch president leading tarawih prayer reciting the Quran from start to end are not unusual things. Despite all democracy and other similar modern discourses, the radical religious training of Ikhwan members prevents the movement from changing and transforming.
Finally – or perhaps this needs to be called a twist of fate – the fact that no charismatic leader has emerged from among Ikhwan since al-Banna to deeply grasp the people of Egypt should also be noted. Potential leadership candidates rotting in prison with the pressure of the regime might be claimed as a reason. However, in the general sense, Ikhwan is still a movement continuing its existence under the shadow of al-Banna. The founding leader is such a dominant figure that a young and charismatic leader to emerge from within Ikhwan will try to gain legitimacy in efforts to be more like him.
A close review of the political movements in the Muslim world says a lot of striking things in relation to the structure of the countries they are active in. The Egypt and Ikhwan case is an example filled with great lessons in this context. It would be more educational to review this example in detail, instead of looking at memorized information and quickly made comparisons.