Egypt’s ‘Ikhwan’ face hard containment

Egypt’s ‘Ikhwan’ face hard containment
There are no specific indicators to denote how Egypt perceives the controversy involving Hamas and the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Lessons, however, must be derived from this controversy, particularly insofar as it impinges on a strict policy that Egypt has recently been following to ward off similar developments. 

Egypt regards both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood from the same perspective: both are non-ignorable de facto actors. The former is not recognized as the legitimate authority in Gaza despite the frequent reception of its leaders in Cairo, while the latter is not recognized – in its religious capacity – as a legitimate group despite its 88 members in the Egyptian Parliament. Nonetheless, handling the two parties separately is very different from handling any relationship that arises between them.

Egyptians do not doubt that correlations exist between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and have an accurate sense of the nature of these correlations. Prior to Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007, the Egyptian authorities occasionally appeared to allow limited Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas “public relations,” such as public visits by Hamas leaders to the office of the Muslim Brotherhood chairman in Cairo, within specified and long-term “rules of engagement.” Those rules were vehemently breached in January 2008 when Palestinian crowds broke through the Egypt-Gaza border. The same mistake was repeated during the Hamas-Israel war in late 2008. The “Ikhwan” (members of the Muslim Brotherhood) almost repeated the breach a third time when a Hizbullah cell was arrested in Egypt, pushing the authorities to radically change the rules.

Based on this description, we can grasp how Egypt perceives Hamas’ relations with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Although no official statements or comments have been made in this regard, and while the Egyptian media doesn’t seem to be interested, we can assume that Cairo is heeding and seriously monitoring what is happening in Amman to a greater extent than meets the eye.

Egypt believes that although Egyptian Ikhwan are considered the leaders of the international Muslim Brotherhood organization and are depicted in the media as having the closest ties with Hamas – at least because of Hamas’ repeated problems with Egypt – Hamas’ relationship with the Jordanian Ikhwan has always been stronger. Hamas originally emerged as an extension of the Jordanian Ikhwan, with the interconnections between the Palestinian and Jordanian people forming the basis for links between the two groups. 

Still, details of developments that took place recently in Jordan have taken many Egyptian circles by surprise. The very thought that Hamas-Jordanian Ikhwan linkages would rise to the level where Hamas, despite its financial relations with Iran, offers financial support to a new hawkish stream within the Jordanian Ikhwan; where Hamas loyalists dominate Jordanian Ikhwan offices in four Gulf states; and where an internal report of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council slams the Jordanian state in a way that suggests an attempt by Hamas to take control of the Jordanian Ikhwan – all this seems unfathomable in Egypt.

Any analysis of the way Egypt deals with this intricate relationship suggests that it considers that keeping the situation under control is a self-evident necessity. Hence some must be wondering why such interconnections were allowed to reach this level in a “survival savvy” state like Jordan, that depends on an experienced political and security establishment and that suffered in an earlier historic stage from an attempt to dominate by Fatah that led to internal armed clashes.

Not enough statements have been made by officials in Egypt to allow for further analysis of the Egyptian stance. However, the recent treatment of Egyptian Ikhwan suggests that Egypt has never forgiven their apathy toward the breach of its borders that threatened national security. Similarly, Egypt has apparently not forgiven the Ikhwan for their position on the public relations campaign that was launched against Egypt during the Gaza war. Egyptian public opinion almost devoured the Ikhwan for hesitating to denounce Hizbullah’s establishment of a cell in Egypt under the cloak of support for the resistance.

Egypt understands that these groups would not hesitate to establish organizational connections or make special deals if they were allowed to. That’s why the state has drawn a red line in this regard. As the well-informed Egyptian analyst Mustafa al-Fiqi puts it, Hamas has learned the lesson; Khaled Meshaal warned Hamas leaders not to visit the main Muslim Brotherhood office during their visits to Cairo. 

In contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t learned the lesson well enough, and the result is yet another confrontation with the state, this time within the framework of the international Muslim Brotherhood Organization. Mohammad Habib, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and the main suspect in the recent case, said in his description of the current situation that the Egyptian state had no red lines for the Ikhwan to observe.

Still, what happened in Jordan would not happen in Egypt. The very concept of external correlations is very sensitive for everyone in Egypt, including at times the Muslim Brotherhood itself. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly been warned not to consider Hamas as an external “military wing’” and during the argument over the Hizbullah cell it strenuously denied that two of its members had joined that cell. 

The question that remains is: Why have events followed a different course in Jordan?