Sisi Regime and the War on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Social Work
Throughout its history, especially the second founding generation in the seventies, the Muslim Brotherhood has been keen to the transparency and legality of its activities in general, and the network of social services, in particular. This network played a significant role in gaining its popularity and public confidence. Coincidentally, such transparency and legality have helped the state, after the coup of July 3, 2013, to effectively diminish the network of social services.
This situation gave the government a list of the institution targets. The network of social services did not benefit from the cooperation it had achieved with various official agencies, or the great role that it played in helping the state to form and operate the society instead of delegitimizing it.
The regime’s plan to disrupt the Muslim Brotherhood’s social services network originated from a lawsuit in September 2013 (case ruling No. 2315 of 2013), in which the Cairo court for expedited matters ruled that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization. Then the Court established a ‘commission’ to study the prospects of confiscating the financial and material assets of the group.
The Commission completed its initial report in December of the same year. The preliminary targeted list included 1,142 entities, across the governorates of Egypt, which the Commission considered that they are either directly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or ostensibly independent, but the group has a controlling influence, as was the case with Al Gam’iyyah Al Shar’iyyah network of social services and Gamaa’at Ansar Al Sunna Association. At the same time, Egyptian newspapers published a list of 87 schools belonging to the group. All these institutions and schools were subjected to an immediate freeze on assets pending further action.
The regime had faced the challenge of maintaining social stability, while reducing the influence of Islamists in these associations so as they do not to turn into anti-regime opposition centers used by the Muslim Brotherhood to rally popular support by continuing to help Egyptians solve their daily life problems.
These associations have begun since the reign of President Anwar Sadat, in the 1970s, as the country had adopted policies of free market economy and economic reform, which reduced the social security prospects, and increased the need for non-governmental organizations, notably Islamic groups, in order to fill that gap. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Muslim Medical Association used to serve nearly one million Egyptians annually.
Sisi regime has confronted this challenge by seeking to continue the work of these associations, and maintain the efficiency of its services, installing new management teams composed of government bureaucrats to oversee these facilities.
The Brotherhood’s Medical Networks
The Muslim Medical Association is the Muslim Brotherhood’s largest and oldest social service organization. It was established by a prominent leader, Dr. Ahmed Al Malt, in 1977 to provide low cost and high quality medical care. In 2013, the Foundation was running 22 hospitals and 7 specialized medical centers (four kidney dialysis centers, Fertility Centers, and Center for Individuals with Special Needs).
Shortly after the July 3, 2013 military coup, members of the security apparatus raided all the facilities of the association to check the validity of their papers and the legality of their work. The association, in turn, was forced to sever its ties with prominent Muslim Brotherhood’s members, including members of the board of directors: Dr. Helmi Al Gazzar and Dr. Gamal Heshmat, while others decided to flee the country, such as Dr. Mohyi Al Zayitt, director of the pioneering central charity hospital in Nasr City, while others were arrested by the authorities.
As soon as the medical association appeared on the regime’s lists of Muslim Brotherhood institutions in December 2015, it had become a target of asset freeze, it responded by a public appeal to the government, on the front page of the state-owned Al Ahram daily newspaper, on behalf of 2 million patients and thousands of citizens who cannot pay for their medical treatment, to allow it continue providing its services. And an association director said, in an interview, that he was optimistic that the asset freeze decision would be lifted within days.
However, in early 2015, the Egyptian government decided to take control of the association and seized its assets with an estimated 300 million Egyptian pounds. Hospital management teams were dissolved and replaced with other pro-regime teams. Financial managers were subjected to additional audits to ensure that the association did not fund "terrorism".
The commission for Muslim Brotherhood’s asset inventory chose a pro-regime cleric, Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s former mufti, to head the medical association’s new board of directors.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Schools
The Muslim Brotherhood’s private schools chain is the second pillar of the group’s social services network, and based on the aforementioned court ruling, the government sought to take control over the schools by assigning the task of supervising them to the "June 30 Commission".
The schools were subjected to an orchestrated media campaign accusing them of inciting students against the army and the police, indoctrinating them with ideas that contradict the love of the homeland, and despise to the events of June 30, 2013, as a military coup and not a revolution as seen by government agencies.
Contrary to the state’s ability to control hospitals, it faced more bureaucratic and legal obstacles in dealing with schools. First, every decision had to pass through the "June 30 Commission".
The legal challenge presented by school owners against confiscation, in September 2013, is that these schools are privately owned; thus, by the end of 2014, at least nine of them have succeeded in obtaining court rulings citing the constitutional protection of the principle of private ownership from confiscation. The rulings said that the seizure of their school is invalid, although some of the owners are well-known Muslim Brotherhood symbols such as Wafaa Mashour, the daughter of the former MB’s Murshid Mustafa Mashhour, Mohsen Radhi, an MP in the 2012 Parliament, and Khadija Al Shatir, daughter of leader Khairat Al Shatir.
This led the security apparatus to conclude that the Ministry of Education does not have the ability to take control over these schools. However, in January 2015, the Ministry appointed a number of pro-regime new directors in these schools’ boards. In February 2015, the Minister of Education announced that 85 percent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s schools are under control.
Sisi later issued a law that included a series of measures giving the authorities greater powers to confiscate assets of groups that pose a threat to public peace. It was no coincidence that the September 2013 court ruling considers the Muslim Brotherhood a group that poses a threat to public peace providing a more stringent legal basis to confront the legal challenge was that was used by Muslim Brotherhood’s school owners against confiscation.
Five years after the coup, the Muslim Brotherhood’s social service work disappeared, and its social work is now limited to the help of the families of its detainee and oppressed members. Egyptian society endures now one of the most severe cases of poverty and need under a brutal authority that seeks to empower itself, take extreme control on the country and wage war on the Muslim Brotherhood without considering the society and its needs.