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Analysts: Acts of New Government to Determine Fate of Political Islam in Egypt

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists gesture from the defendants cage as they receive sentences after they were convicted of murder, rioting, and violence in a mass trial in Alexandria, Egypt, May 19, 2014.
Egyptians on Monday are expected elect a pro-military leader as president. Analysts say the Muslim Brotherhood, once the most powerful party in Egypt may appear to be defeated and divided. But they say Islamist parties will always play a role in Egyptian politics.

For the past year, Egypt has been described in the news as “polarized,” with supporters of the military on one side and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.

This week marks the ultimate victory for the military, with the country’s de-facto leader, former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, widely expected to be elected president.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, is now banned as a "terrorist organization."

Wael Eskandar is an Egyptian blogger who focuses on human rights and politics. He said Morsi's rule was deeply unpopular and the public has not forgiven the Brotherhood.

“Right now they’re still rejected by the Egyptian public because they are a threat to their own identity. They handled the time they were in power really horribly- did not bring about any change,” said Eskandar.

He said for the Brotherhood to stay relevant it would first need to regain the public’s trust. In the current political climate, he said, this largely depended on the new government's failure or success in two main areas. He said if the new government failed to rescue Egypt’s economy or respect human rights, the public may look back to the Muslim Brotherhood for support.

“It will take failure from the state for them to sympathize with them politically because they will be the opposition they turn to when the police has arrested you, assaulted you and you cannot get what’s rightfully yours, which is justice, through the legal channels,” said Eskandar.
Presidential hopeful Abdel Fattah el-Sissi arrives to a polling site to cast his ballot on the first day of voting in Cairo, Egypt, May 26, 2014.
Presidential hopeful Abdel Fattah el-Sissi arrives to a polling site to cast his ballot on the first day of voting in Cairo, Egypt, May 26, 2014.

Under Sissi’s rule, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been killed or imprisoned. Opposition groups affiliated with the Brotherhood have been banned, journalists have been jailed and protests have been severely restricted.

Mohammad Othman is a member of the political bureau of Strong Egypt, a political party that identifies with neither the military nor the Brotherhood.

He said the crackdown on the Brotherhood could also empower the group. Even if the public were politically unsympathetic to the Brotherhood, he said, they were increasingly personally sympathetic.

However, alliances in Egypt are shifting, with Islamist party Al-Nour and Coptic Christian leaders supporting Sissi. The Muslim Brotherhood, along with some non-Islamist parties, have called for members to boycott the elections.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher who specializes in religious freedom issues for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said Sissi’s popularity has been waning in recent months. But, he said these divisions could help cement his power base.

Ibrahim siad while political Islam had and would always play a role in Egyptian politics, the Brotherhood also needed to re-shape its image if it wanted to gather allies.

In 2011, youth activists groups partnered with the Brotherhood in the revolution. But after the disappointment of Morsi’s rule, many youth activists initially supported Sissi. Nowadays, many of these same activists have since changed their minds, saying they support neither the military, nor the Islamists.