A Seismic Assassination in Cairo

Massacred and driven underground or into exile following the 2013 coup, Egypt’s Muslim Brothers are nevertheless an extraordinarily resilient organization. But when security forces in Cairo this week killed one of the group’s most important leaders, a widening rupture between two major factions in the Brothers broke to the surface, writes Ahmed Al Tellawi in this very perceptive analysis:

 

In a Tuesday press release, the Egyptian Interior Ministry announced that it had liquidated Mohamed Kamal, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau. Kamal was one of the founders of the Higher Executive Committee which was formed in August 2013 to take charge of the organization after the events of Rabaa and Nahda Squares [in which around 1,000 anti-coup protestors were massacred].

Mohamed Kamal had emerged as leader of a dissenting faction of the Muslim Brothers following the July 2013 coup. His leadership had kept the voice of the revolution and radical change alive in the group, and reflected the views of much of the Brotherhood’s youth membership, which had become more radical in the context of the extreme violence the Egyptian state has inflicted on the Brothers, killing thousands, detaining tens of thousands of others, and pushing many others out of the country.

It might be said that the major institutions and structures of the organization would not be impacted by the sudden disappearance of individuals who run them. But in the particular case of Mohammed Kamal, it is clear that his killing will have a profound impact on the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular given the fact that he was apparently killed in a planned assassination.

For thousands of young Muslim Brothers and for the huge number of young Egyptians who yearn for revenge against the putchist military regime, Mohammed Kamal was the brightest star in a sky of existential desolation, an advocate of using methodical violence against the state, a channel for the energy of young people.

But in the eyes of many, Kamal’s real value was that he advocated the need for change inside the organization itself. He considered the transformation of the Muslim Brothers as important as the need to avenge the victims of the coup. In contrast to the Brotherhood’s old guard, the “Historic Leadership” as they are called, and their longtime strategy of ‘peaceful struggle,’ he advocated for a strategy of total confrontation with the Egyptian regime.

Kamal’s vision of transforming the Brothers centered on two demands. First, he wanted the group’s current leadership to step down, arguing that since they are all imprisoned, they cannot fill their roles at precisely the moment when they are most needed, a crucial moment in the history of both the country and the organization itself, as it faces an unprecedented campaign aimed at its eradication by the regime.

Second, he wanted the organization to hold general elections for all key posts in the Muslim Brotherhood, which he thought was the only way to put an end to internal divisions.

Kamal was among the most prominent exponents of the view that the two highest bodies of the organization should be replaced by leaders from younger generations. In his mind, the younger Brothers were more in touch with the country’s general population; they had a clearer insight into the country’s expectations, and would thus be better at mobilizing and interacting with the public. In Kamal’s view, the present situation has exposed the current leadership’s failure to keep the organization afloat; a failure in which the Brotherhood has lost all of the political gains and popularity it had accrued after the revolution of Jan. 2011.

Adding to his credibility and popularity among a large segment of the Brothers was his announcement, via a recorded voice message he released in May, 2016, that he was resigning from all his positions in the organization, followed by the release of his executive committee’s calls for general elections.

His major role in the Brotherhood was to coordinate activities between younger Muslim Brothers who had remained in Egypt following the coup, underground, and those who had left the country.

Kamal strongly advocated that the organization continue providing for families of Brotherhood detainees who oppose the idea of reconciliation or even de-escalation with the regime. This was in contrast to the historic leaders, led by acting General Guide Mahmoud Ezzat, who are said to have given instructions to prioritize financial support to the families of detainees who have upheld the organization’s principles of obedience and party discipline.

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Leaked communication between Kamal and some of his close associates indicates that he believed revolutionary armed attacks against the state were an essential tactic; the Brothers must target police, army and important political figures who had supported the coup, as well as those who helped the regime carry out its crimes against the organization, like judges and high-level officers who oversaw torture, as well as against one-time revolutionary figures who had supported the coup. The revolution, he believed, should never abandon the streets.

The Mohamed Kamal phenomenon was a natural reaction to the bloodbath of Rabaa Square and the massacres that followed it.

He appeared to adhere carefully to the principle that violence should never target civilians, because he did not want the Brothers’ armed actions to impact the organization’s relationship with the population.

These armed actions were imbued with legitimacy and necessity, as long as they targeted ‘murderers and criminals,’ and left the Egyptian people out of the conflict with the corrupt and despotic regime.

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It is probably not too early to conclude that the killing of Kamal is going to deepen the divisions within the Muslim Brothers. This outcome has in fact already started to appear in the press and in public posts on social networks by leaders of the two factions of the Brotherhood, and in the voices of the organizations youth, following the announcement that Kamal had been killed along with his friend Yasser Shahata, who had been crucial to Kamal’s safety.

A small minority in the organization is indeed accusing the Ezzat wing of actually giving Kamal up to the Egyptian regime, in hopes of regaining full control of the organization and perhaps improving its negotiating position with the state.

More significant is the faction which accuses the historic leadership and its slogan of ‘peaceful struggle’ of having enabled the regime to continue its crimes and oppression; they have little hope that the leadership will try to avenge the blood of Kamal and his colleague, any more than they did for all the lives that were taken before.

For their part, the historic leaders of the organization have not, up until now, had a strong reaction to the killing of Kamal; though they did issue a statement-signed by the official spokesman of the Ezzat wing, Talaat Fahmi, condemning his ‘arrest.’

Adding to the tension around Kamal’s assassination were the contradictions in the accounts offered by the government to the press, with Al-Yawm al-Sabi first publishing the news that he had been arrested in Al-Qatimiya, east of Cairo, followed by the daily Al-Watan’s announcement of the “killing of two terrorists” in the in the totally different neighborhood of Al-Maadi, followed by Al-Yawm al-Sabi’s announcement of the ‘killing” of Mohamed Kamal.’

This chronology of events had followed the warning issued early on the afternoon of Monday by Mohammed Montasser, the spokesmen for Kamal’s Higher Executive Committee, that contact with Kamal had been lost. Montasser said in his press release that this probably meant Kamal had been arrested, and the organization was holding the government responsible for his safety. All indications then, are that Kamal was not killed in a shootout, but rather that he was in fact executed within just two or three hours of his arrest.

The sequence of events should have elicited a very strong reaction from the Ezzat faction, the belated statement that was actually issued on Tuesday morning angered many people, and contributed to a general feeling or expectation that Kamal’s blood will be wasted, like that of so many others who died before him.

So why was Mohamed Kamal killed now? The timing of the assassination is perhaps the most important question to raise.

In the short term, and from a security point of view, the assassination came in the context of calls for ‘revolt of the hungry’ demonstrations on Nov. 11, as well as an increase in violent actions in Cairo, like the attack on a bank in Sabtiya or the apparent attempted assassination of deputy public prosecutor Zakariya Abdelaziz in Heliopolis last week. That assassination attempt was carried out immediately after the Interior Ministry announced to the press that it had arrested 17 Muslim Brothers it claimed were planning attacks meant to shock and undermine Egyptian public opinion, including an attack on the natural gas network. A series of public spectacles meant to sow chaos, escalating toward a culmination in the Nov. 11 demonstrations.

But the assassination has wider implications, and seems to serve political purposes for both the government and the Muslim Brothers.

In some quarters, the killing is seen as a clear attempt to deepen the divisions in the Muslim Brothers, and spread suspicion within the group that there are traitors in their midst. This thesis was on display in a series of [insider]Facebook posts explaining that the regime killed Kamal in this manner because it was seeking to widen these divisions. It said that the police already knew the locations of Kamal as well as other Brotherhood leaders who are in hiding, but are planning for the right moment to arrest or kill them in order to maximize the regime’s political or partisan aims.

Readers may need no reminder of the situation the regime finds itself in at the moment, with multiple economic crises and a collapse in prestige that has followed the sinking of the Egyptian pound, which has lost sixty percent of its value over the past three years, even as the regime has failed utterly to restore security. All of which makes the Muslim Brothers good scapegoats; a convenient reason to point elsewhere for the regime’s miserable failures.

Ahmed Al Tellawi Translated from Arabic by International Boulevard