Egypt crackdown may not demolish powerful Muslim Brotherhood

By Michael Georgy ,Reuters

CAIRO — Until Monday night, Farid Ismail was one of the few Muslim Brotherhood leaders who still answered his phone, even when many of his associates had been arrested or gone underground. By Tuesday morning Ismail was nowhere to be found after the authorities seized the group’s chief, Mohamed Badie, overnight. The army seems determined to decapitate the Middle East’s oldest and arguably most resilient Islamist movement, to prevent it from preparing a political comeback after President Mohammed Morsi, one of its senior leaders, was ousted on July 3. Badie’s arrest means the Brotherhood’s most experienced and respected leaders are now behind bars. Others such as Ismail, if he remains free, must now be focused on staying out of jail. The military’s strategy appears clear: remove the top of a pyramid-shaped organization in hopes that the rest will crumble. Brotherhood members take their orders from the 120-member consultative Shura Council and 18-member Guidance Office, which send directives down via several layers of deputies. The army’s disruption tactics have already paid dividends.

The Brotherhood, which for six weeks managed to keep large protest camps going in Cairo to demand Morsi’s reinstatement, is now struggling to get people onto the streets. The authorities, meanwhile, have tightened their grip with dusk-to-dawn curfews. “To some extent they have succeeded. Turnout in the street is low,” said Khalil Anani, an expert on Islamic movements. “For the short term the Brotherhood has received a major blow.” The army-backed administration has indicated it will show no mercy, taking a much tougher line than most past Egyptian governments. The Brotherhood saw its leaders and members locked up over decades, but it never faced such a wave of bloodshed.