A Week of Escalations: The MB And Al Azhar Demonstrations

Last week witnessed a dramatic escalation of events between students affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the security apparatus in Egypt. The week started with an irresponsible and isolated move by a handful of Al Azhar students affiliated with the MB, who protested to denounce the unjust dismissal of eight of their colleagues.

The group organized a symbolic martial arts performance wearing black uniforms and head masks to express their dismay over university policies. The “show” was intended to scare away the ruthless riot police, which surrounded the university premises.

Widely criticized by leading MB figures including Chairman Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the incident was considered an error of judgment by the students and an unnecessary provocation. MB opponents, however, used it to hurl accusations at the MB of setting up a military wing, alleging that the students belonged to a secret militia.

What worries me, as much as it would worry any Egyptian, is how the incident manifested the tension and confrontation between the students on the one hand and the University administration and security forces on the other.

As an active member of the Ikhwan [MB] for a few years, and someone raised in a household that upholds the ethics and principles of the Ikhwan, I failed to make sense of the actions of these students who supposedly represent the very same principles and goals I believe in.

The goals set forth by founder of the Brotherhood Hassan Al Banna’s, his thoughts and teachings, were more concerned with reforming society peacefully through education and the Islamic upbringing of individuals. So I am confident that this behavior will be addressed seriously within the Ikhwan. Measures must be taken to ensure that such incidents will not be repeated in the future

At the same time, I reject any attempts to justify this irresponsible act as a reaction to the unjust dismissal of some students. Although the regime has banned the MB students from participating in the formal student union elections, and has expelled those who have organized the parallel “free” elections, that should never drag us out of our chosen path of reform.

Justification is unacceptable simply because I believe that one mistake does not justify another. True that the dismissal of the students was an unjustified mistake, the students should not have retaliated the way they did. They could have presented their just cause in a more civilized way. What Al Azhar students did was only damaging their case by presenting themselves in the worst possible light, and giving the tyrannical regime the pretext it needed to crack down on the MB.

Few days after the notorious demonstration, 180 MB students and 17 leaders, including Deputy Chairman Khayrat El-Shater were taken into custody. And to deceive the Egyptian people, the regime launched a media offensive propagating the false notion that the crackdown was a defensive act to prevent the recurrence of similar demonstrations across other campuses.

The regime and its security forces are well aware that most of the MB leaders arrested (including El-Shater) are not involved in any student activities, and publicly condemned them. But thanks to the emergency laws, the incident gave them a carte blanche to violate their civil rights codes and make random arrests without clear charges.

Khayrat El-Shater is a leader known for his balanced opinions, deep insight, and moderate views on issues like the relationship with the West, the succession of power and the MB’s relationship with the regime in general. He was the man who presented the MB’s stance on pressing issues in his famous article published in the Guardian “Don’t be afraid of us”; and to illustrate his moderate stance regarding the relationship between Islamists and the West he published an interview published on IkhwanWeb titled “We do not promote an anti-Western agenda.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is an institutionalized organization, which does not depend on an individual for its survival but rather on its ideology. For decades, the regime has failed to understand the resilient nature of the MB and mistakenly believed that preemptive arrests will undermine its ability to fight for reform and change. What they don’t realize is that the arrest of our leaders will only open the doors for the emergence of new leaders, further empowering the organization.

The crackdowns by the regime will fail to derail us from our chosen reform path. We will continue our peaceful struggle against tyranny, oppression, corruption and authoritarianism, until we achieve our dream of a free, democratic, integral and prosperous Egypt.  

Ibrahim El Houdeibi is member of Ikhwanweb’s editorial team in Cairo. He can be contacted at

[email protected]

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