Arab Spring lifted, then crushed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Cairo (AFP) –

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The Arab Spring a decade ago gave Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood a brief shot at power, but today many of its followers are dead, in jail or in exile.

Still, the Muslim Brothers vow to be back one day, and few observers write off the almost century-old Sunni mass movement that has spawned offshoots across the region.

In the turmoil that followed Egypt's 2011 mass protests and ouster of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Morsi was elected president.

But he was ousted after a turbulent year by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who outlawed the group and has since ruled with an iron grip over the Arab world's most populous nation.

"No injustice can last forever," argued Talaat Fahmy, the Muslim Brotherhood's official spokesman, from Istanbul.

"People's patience and ability to tolerate what is happening is not eternal. A street uprising is inevitable, although I cannot predict a precise date."

Cairo University political science professor Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed said "I don't think the organisation has ended," pointing at the remaining base of supporters.

"But it is difficult for them to make public appearances in Egypt under the current regime."

- Labelled 'terrorists' -

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna as a pan-Islamic religious, social and charitable movement with the core message "Islam is the solution".

Long denied a role in Egyptian mainstream politics, it emerged as a major popular force in the conservative Muslim country after the mass protests.

It went on to score ballot-box victories that propelled members of its allied Freedom and Justice Party into parliament, and Morsi to the presidency.

However, his government soon came under fire for its perceived incompetence, which sparked yet more street protests, even as its defenders blamed obstruction from a hostile bureaucracy and security sector.

Morsi's short-lived rule ended with his ouster in 2013 by Sisi, whose security forces violently dispersed a sit-in protest in support of Morsi that left some 800 people dead.

Human Rights Watch labelled the crackdown of the Rabaa sit-in a "massacre" and one of "the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history".

Senior Brotherhood leaders and thousands of members have been jailed or fled to Qatar and Turkey, the two regional players that backed Morsi's rule.

Egypt's Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates meanwhile went on to also outlaw the Brotherhood as terrorists, deepening a rift with Ankara and Doha.

- 'Existential battle' -

The Brotherhood has gone through "an unprecedented disruption on all levels," said political scientist Kamal Habib.

"The current regime's relationship with the organisation has become an existential battle. It is no longer just a political dispute."

Habib argued that the group's one year in power "shook its image" and laid bare its "incapacity to rule".

The group had relied heavily on its historic legacy but "this ancient heritage no longer fits the modern generation," he said.

Lebanese Middle East researcher Hadi Wahab argued that during its brief rule, the Brotherhood failed to "present an alternative economic or political project".

Following Morsi's ouster, militant attacks have surged across Egypt, targeting security personnel, high-profile figures and tourists.

The worst unrest has rocked the restive North Sinai, where an affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group remains active.

Egyptian authorities have blamed the Brotherhood for the violence -- a charge the group has always denied.

Last year, Sisi said he would not "reconcile with those who want to destroy my country and harm my people and my children", condemning militants as having "no conscience, humanity or religion".

After Joe Biden won the US presidential election against Sisi-ally Donald Trump, the Brotherhood urged Washington "to review the policies of supporting dictatorships".

Analysts however do not see the Biden administration change the status quo in Egypt.

Habib said it may work toward the goal of "improving the human rights situation... (but) not the Brotherhood's return".