The Brotherhood’s lack of realism is nothing new. Claiming to represent “true Islam,” the Brotherhood has long overestimated its popularity within Muslim-majority Egypt, and its leaders therefore cannot believe that Egyptians actually rebelled against an Islamist president. (“On June 30, nothing happened on the streets,” Heshmat said, flatly denying that many millions of Egyptians participated in the anti-Brotherhood protests that preceded Morsi’s ouster.) And precisely because the Brotherhood believes that it is winning, it sees little reason to compromise.
Yet the Brotherhood isn’t winning at all—in fact, it’s at its weakest point in nearly four decades, and its notoriously rigid organization is in total disarray. Within urban centers, the Brotherhood’s five-to-eight-member cells, known as “families,” haven’t held their weekly meetings since Morsi was ousted, and Muslim Brothers say they can only meet each other one or two at a time.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood’s top leadership hasn’t met since late July. And although new leaders have been promoted to replace those who have been imprisoned, Muslim Brothers don’t actually know who is strategizing on their behalf. “Those who manage, I don’t know them and nobody knows them,” said Heshmat, the Brotherhood leader exiled in Istanbul. While Mohamed Ali Bishr, a former Brotherhood executive who served as a governor and minister under Morsi, often speaks on behalf of the Brotherhood within Egypt, Muslim Brothers and their allies are unsure whether top Brotherhood leaders have entrusted him with any actual authority. One Brotherhood leader said that deputy supreme guide Gomaa Amin, who is currently exiled in London and chronically ill, is running the organization. But Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Riad al-Shaqfeh, who is based in Istanbul, says that secretary-general Mahmoud Hussein has presided over the Muslim Brotherhood’s international meetings since Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was arrested in August.
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