Egypt's confused ban on Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian poet and political intellectual, Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, who writes for the Jerusalem post among others, says the Egyptian government's effective ban on the Muslim Brotherhood shows how little they understand the Brotherhood, and their own country's politics

Egypt blamed Brotherhood for Mansoura blast; but al-Qaeda said it did it
Ahmed Abdel-Raheem
On 26 December 2013 13:36

Only hours after a deadly suicide car bombing that targeted a police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, the Egyptian government blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack and declared the group as a terrorist organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, denied involvement in the bombing, and an al Qaeda-linked group based in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed 16 people.

Though the Muslim Brotherhood is not connected to that group and there is no direct evidence of the Brotherhood's involvement, the military-backed government said it made the decision because of the Brotherhood's "serious escalation in the use of violence against Egypt and Egyptians.''

One question is, violence by whom and against whom?

Thousands of anti-coup activists have been killed at the hands of the army and police. Personally, two of my best friends were killed in Raba where the army and police broke up the sit-ins. The first was a 38-year-old computer engineer and owner of a localization company; the second was a 30-year-old journalist at the national newspaper Akhbar El-Youm.

Furthermore, almost all leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have been detained since last July. So who are the masterminds of the alleged bombing?

In addition, if the judicial authority in Egypt is respected, why didn't the government wait for investigations and trials? Another main question is, will the government declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group have any effect on the popularity of the group?

Two months ago, an Egyptian court banned ''all activities'' of the Muslim Brotherhood. One senior security official has been quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, ''The plan is to drain the sources of funding, break the joints of the group, and dismantle the podiums from which they deliver their message.''

The Egyptian authorities miss two things: they tend not to understand how messaging works; and the difference between systemic causation and direct causation.

The government views messaging as short-term and issue-based, rather than long-term and morally-based. In cognitive science, however, messages employ words. The words evoke frames. Effective messaging requires existing, strong, high-level, long-term, morally-based frame systems. 

The Muslim Brotherhood's messaging system has existed and has been extended and strengthened over 85 years. In other words, like politically-strategic groups in the West, MB activists have, over a long period of time, consistently and patiently strengthened their "moral" worldviews, prototypes, and (to many perverted) versions of vital political concepts (e.g., Life, Freedom, Responsibility, Government, Accountability, Responsibility, Equality, Fairness, Property, Security, etc.).

This is merely to explain their strategic view of themselves and their messaging, not in any way whatsoever to excuse their appalling extremist views on so many issues.

As a result of their long-term strategy, the MB's language is constantly heard in many parts of Egypt, especially inside universities, schools, mosques, etc. Such language automatically and unconsciously evokes the groups' frames and the high-level framing systems they are part of.

On this view, the Muslim Brotherhood has a large effect on the public even when they're out of office. Importantly, their communication system is never out of scene. It is already deep in the minds of bi-conceptuals, those who are partly Islamist and partly secular. As a result, there is always a chance for the group's moral system to be activated.

This would explain why the group, through its long history, has successfully fought off every threat to its existence. It also explains why the MB can win elections, and changes policies even without winning elections.

The MB activists very much understand this. So they are unlikely to take up arms against the state (though analysts would be foolish to rule anything out in the chaos that now runs through Egyptian political society, and a certain amount of violence is probably certain. We shall see).

The second point is that the government doesn't understand the difference between systemic and direct causation.

Bombing a hospital and destroying it and killing those inside is direct causation. Any local application of force that produces a local effect in place and time is direct causation.

Systemic causation, in contrast, goes beyond the immediate local situation. A systemic cause, as George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, states, may be one of many. It may need some special conditions, and may be indirect, working via a network of more direct causes.

We drill a lot more oil, burn a lot more gas, put a lot more carbon dioxide in the air, the atmosphere of the earth heats up, more moisture evaporates from the oceans producing bigger storms in some places and more droughts and fires in other places: systemic causation.

The coup in Egypt has led to pro-legitimacy sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahdah. Breaking up the sit-ins by force has resulted in two things: (1) violence in Sinai against the army and police; and (2) protests across the country asking for revenge for the killings of the sit-ins' protesters.

Violence and demonstrations led to the announcement of the state of emergency in the country for a month and then for two more months. Declaring the state of emergency has undermined the economy, making no foreign investor want to come, disrupted the tourism industry, and stifled freedoms. And so on.

To the government, the crisis is still primarily about direct causation. To them, the problem is the direct ''terror'' of the Muslim Brotherhood. When the media reports on Egypt, it reports that direct ''terror.''

If the army Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is understood as addressing the ''Muslim Brotherhood,'' and he proposes directly bombing the Muslim Brotherhood, the natural question is whether that eliminates the daily direct ''terror'' and improves the country's economic health?

When the government admits it does not, and extends the state of emergency for two more months, the question naturally arises, ''Why bomb when it won't solve the direct problem, but would result in more problems?

The government doesn't understand these two points at all, and continues its demonization of the opposition (democratic and radical); stifling freedoms, while proposing no real initiatives to get out of the crisis.

The writer is an Egyptian poet and political intellectual. He is also a contributor to the Jerusalem Post, and a former lecturer at Um Al-Qura University, mecca, Saudi Arabia

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