The Muslim Brotherhood In Ruins, Split Between Peace And Jihad

The bloody dispersal of Cairo's sit-ins two years ago marked a decisive end to the Muslim Brotherhood's political ascendancy. The group now is in crisis, its membership divided over its ultimate direction.

Anti Muslim Brotherhood protests in Mansoura, in Egypt's Dakahlia Governorate
Anti Muslim Brotherhood protests in Mansoura, in Egypt's Dakahlia Governorate
Omar Said

CAIRO â€" Since more than 1,000 people were killed at protest camps in August 2013, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has become the subject of a state-sponsored crackdown. Labeled a terrorist group, the Brotherhood has become public enemy No. 1, singled out for mass arrests, en masse death sentences, lethal security raids and media scrutiny.

Over the past several months, public and private media outlets have predicted the implosion of the more than 85-year-old organization, citing debilitating internal divisions in ideology since former President Mohamed Morsi's military-backed ouster.

More sympathetic media outlets, such as the privately owned dailies Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed and Masr al-Arabiya, have reported that the group’s more peaceful old guard has perpetrated a "coup" against the new leadership.

For its part, Turkey's Anadolu news agency published a lengthy piece entitled, "Peacefulness and violence spark a legitimacy crisis among the two leaderships of the Egyptian Brotherhood."

In turn, Egyptian newspapers seized upon this news as a basis for claims that the organization is in ruins.

While the conflict is nothing new, the public nature of the disagreement has raised many questions. It drew the media's attention in May 2015, when a leader of the old guard, Mahmoud Ghozlan, published an article calling for peaceful protest. The Brotherhood's spokesperson, known by the pseudonym Mohamed Montasar, responded to Ghozlan's article and similar statements by other members of the old guard with a sharp retort: Only elected members of the organization can speak with any authority on its behalf.

Meanwhile, inside sources have pointed to the election of new leaders to manage the crisis.

Trouble on the inside

Though the Brotherhood's inner workings remain shrouded in secrecy, the crackdown on the group over the past two years has led to division and crisis. According to social movement researcher Ahmed Abdel-Hameed Hussein, the prevailing discourse among the Brotherhood's rank and file changed suddenly, as many rejected what they saw as failed and ineffectual tactics, especially non-violent resistance.

The overriding belief, Abdel-Hameed Hussein says, was, "We tried it, and we got nothing but bloodshed and a coup against legitimacy."

This conviction, he continues, was only strengthened as the organization's top leadership either escaped or were arrested. Youth members became increasingly disgruntled, blaming those leaders for the group's plight.

Abdel-Hameed Hussein holds that a clear split has formed between longstanding members, who control all the most critical aspects of the organization â€" such as international relations and funding â€" and the new leadership, which was elected by a membership that has lost faith in leaders who seem less invested in seeking retribution.

Three hardliners named Mahmoud â€" Ezzat, Ghozlan and Hussein, respectively â€" have recently emerged as influential, in addition to Abdel-Azim el-Sharqawi and Mohamed Wahdan, both of whom were recently arrested with Ghozlan.

Ezzat, Ghozlan and Hussein have all served as Brotherhood secretaries general. Ghozlan also served as the official spokesperson, while Hussein took over several responsibilities, most notably communications with the Muslim Brotherhood abroad. Hussein was the subject of a recent controversy stemming from allegations that he traveled to Iran, which he categorically denied. Press sources went on to claim that the visit was the reason for Hussein's removal from the group's crisis management body known as the Guidance Bureau.

Ezzat seems to be the most prominent of them all, as he recently published an article signed as the acting supreme guide.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Brotherhood youth member who is active in one of the Delta provinces says that while things are far from clear on the ground, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's disagreement among the leadership.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is a large organization with diverse factions," the member says. "But it is also a durable organization that security crackdowns haven't been able to destroy until now. What I can say for sure is that no one in the leadership disagrees with our belief that we need to continue to fight the coup and the police in every way possible, at any time, in any place."

A more nuanced view

A researcher of Islamic movements, who also wishes to remain anonymous, disagrees with the idea that there are two factions â€" an old guard committed to peace and a new generation pushing for militant action.

"First, in the new chain of command, no more than 30% are under the age of 40," the researcher says. "Second, all of the elected leadership were already present in the organizational hierarchy, and sooner or later they would have risen to the first rank anyway. It's just that the vast campaign of arrests accelerated this. Third, the depiction of the struggle as occurring between those who want jihad and those who see peace as the only solution is false."

According to the researcher, this isn't the Brotherhood's first such crisis. In February 2014, the group's Guidance Bureau held an emergency meeting in Egypt and abroad, and the only item on the agenda was the dismissal of Mahmoud Hussein.

The deadlock originated from a disagreement between prominent leaders in the group's upper echelons. One faction, headed by Wahdan and Gamal Heshamat, believed that they could compromise a bit on Morsi's legitimacy, while the other side, led by Mahmoud Hussein, disagreed. The pragmatists seem to have won out, becoming members of the crisis management group.

"Add to this the fact that the rest of the crisis management group is definitely not keen on violence," the researcher says. "We're talking about a group of businessmen not accustomed to pushing the conflict to zero-sum stakes."

Beyond Morsi

There are two different paths, the researcher says. "The first sees the completion of a protest track, but in a less bloody framework than the one imposed by the current regime, and at the same time not opposing, or at least remaining silent about, a truce."

The second track, the source says, moves beyond the legitimacy of Morsi and engages in a broader framework that plans to "save the state from what the Brotherhood expects will be a collapse of the economy and basic services, followed by a collapse of the idea of the state itself as a result of internal conflicts within its institutions."

Abdel-Hameed Hussein believes that it's difficult to understand the group's current dynamics without considering the two main factions that have vied for primacy throughout its history.

While the contemporaries and followers of founder Hassan al-Banna have held more pragmatic political and evangelical agendas, another faction â€" which Hussein says has been called at various times "the Qutbis," "the inner circle," "the militant Brotherhood" or "Khairat al-Shater's men" â€" took the path of political assassinations and security operations.

The group's temporary leader Mahmoud Ezzat and its Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein are both considered members of the "inner circle," and adherents of pro-jihad Islamic scholar Sayyid Qutb. On the other end of the spectrum were individuals like Abdel-Moneim Abol-Fotouh and Essam al-Erian.

Abdel-Hameed Hussein explains that the aforementioned Shater was a key player in establishing "the militant Brotherhood" as the dominant faction. He was assisted by then-secretary general Ezzat, who presided over the promotion of members and the group's political mobilization. The most prominent of these were Morsi, Saad al-Katatny and other municipal leaders.

This group would remain in control until the months preceding the January 25 uprising.

But another source close to the Brotherhood asserts that the issue isn't about peacefulness versus violence. The faction of the "three Mahmouds" has no problem with violent means. There are many reasons that this faction could be pushed toward considering peacefulness. "Perhaps in the context of the Turkish-Saudi attempt to find a political solution out of the crisis, or if the faction tried to distance itself from the "Call of Egypt" statement, or maybe only to deliver the message that "we've returned after being on the run." Perhaps all of the above."

The "Call of Egypt" statement was issued in late May by representatives of various Islamic institutions. It stated that "Judges, officers, soldiers, muftis, journalists, politicians and all of those who've been proven beyond certainty to have participated â€" even through incitement â€" in the shedding of innocent blood and unjustified loss of life … they are killers according to Sharia, and they are subject to the punishment of a killer in accordance with Sharia."

This statement has been widely read as a call to target such officials.

Accounts of what is currently happening in the Brotherhood may vary, but the group is clearly faced with a choice between supporting the political game and eradicating internal inclinations toward violent confrontation, or taking the conflict to the extreme and eliminating any hope of political reconciliation. The state's current and future policies will have an important role in influencing which of these factions will triumph.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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