Why have Egypt’s military leaders been calling the Muslim Brotherhood “terrorists”, killing hundreds of its members and threatening to ban the organisation? Two years ago they were co-operating with the Brotherhood. What’s changed?
General el-Sisi and his fellow members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) were a key part of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. They had major interests in industry, commerce and finance.
The army had been at the centre of a system of state capitalism where state and private capital co-habited.
When Mubarak fell they had everything to lose. They turned to the Brotherhood as allies in an effort to control the revolt.
Scaf negotiated a deal with the Brotherhood—it would set up the electoral system to give the Islamists the best possible chance of success.
One outcome was the election in 2012 of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi as president.
Mursi failed Scaf. Under his presidency the workers’ movement grew rapidly in confidence with a record number of strikes.
Mursi promised the people that he would improve everyday life and guarantee basic rights, but he failed to deliver. He made his own supporters regional governors and senior judges.
The revolutionary movement turned on him. In April this year the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign began to collect signatures demanding he stand down. Millions signed.
Alarmed at this further phase of radicalisation, Scaf resolved to reintroduce the army to frontline politics. Together with businessmen and media moguls the army backed Tamarod.
Days after the mass demonstration of 30 June the army removed Mursi and began an intensive propaganda campaign against the Brotherhood.
They were no longer partners with the military to try to control the mass movement. They were “murderers” and “terrorists”.
There is every sign that, as Mursi lost authority, the generals and their advisers in the US and the Gulf decided to intervene. This was before the people’s demands for “bread, freedom, social justice” took the revolution into a new phase.
Scaf hopes to direct people’s frustration over the struggles of everyday life exclusively onto the Brotherhood. Its eventual aim is to restore a Mubarak-type order.
El-Sisi claims to be acting in the national interest. But this is an attempt to bring the whole revolutionary movement under military control.