Assassination puts Egypt on high alert

Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s prosecutor-general, was assassinated in Cairo today when his motorcade was hit by what appears to have been a car bomb. Although there’s been no accepted claim of responsibility for the attack as far as I am aware, it’s probably safe to assume that it has something to do with all the death sentences that Egypt’s judicial system has been handing out lately to high-ranking figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, including former President Mohamed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood condemned the attack but that doesn’t mean that the person or persons who carried it out don’t have Muslim Brotherhood affiliations in their past (or present, for that matter).

In fact, attacks like this point to the folly of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood in the first place. The Brotherhood has, since its inception, had a weird relationship with using violence to achieve political aims. It has certainly practiced violence, assassinating Egyptian officials and sending its own fighters to participate in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, for example. But while it shares (via Sayyid Qutb) some elements of its ideology with groups like Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda, the Brotherhood has never embraced terrorism the way those groups have. Instead, the Brotherhood pursued its political aims via legal means, right up until the elected Brotherhood president, Morsi, was forced out of office in a coup and the group itself was outlawed. You could argue, and lots of folks have, that the Brotherhood has been blatantly hypocritical about violence for most of its existence, and you would have a point. But even if you allow that the Brotherhood has, despite its denials, been a violent organization for most of its history, the fact that it also sought to pursue change by legal, political means was important, in that it diverted at least some of its supporters toward a more peaceful means of expressing their desires and discontents. The fact that it pursued democratic reform set it apart from groups like EIJ that are more violent and reject the democratic process as an avenue for reform.

In essence, Sisi’s decision to forcibly topple the elected government discredited the idea of political participation for young, Islamist-minded Egyptians, and his decision to outlaw the Brotherhood and execute its leaders left those folks with no legal political outlet for their views and their frustrations. It was almost inevitable, given how things unfolded, that at least some of the Brotherhood’s supporters, who may once have been committed to peaceful political change, would decide that politics is for suckers and turn to violence instead.


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