Tuesday’s ruling, which was reached after consultation with Egypt’s grand mufti, underlined the Brotherhood’s shocking rise and fall. The group’s supporters, who were oppressed for decades under dictator Hosni Mubarak until his demise in 2011, heralded Morsi’s unlikely election in 2012 as a crowning achievement for the pan-Islamic political movement. They consider Sisi’s takeover just one year later to be an illegal military coup, with many clinging to the remote hope that their democratically elected leader might one day be returned to power. Executing Morsi would extinguish that prospect and, many Sisi supporters argue, close the book on the Brotherhood’s brief resurgence.
But analysts are not so sure. Many argue that turning Morsi into a martyr will only outrage and embolden the Brotherhood further, potentially spurring more peaceful or even violent protests. That narrative is favored by the Brotherhood itself, which has called for a popular uprising on Friday and declared Morsi’s latest sentence “null and void.”
Brotherhood spokesman Nader Oman, in an interview with Al Jazeera, promised resilience no matter the outcome. “The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization that has gone on for more than 80 years. Imprisoning our leaders will not stop us from fighting,” he said.
The strong-fisted Egyptian government will likely take that claim seriously. After the first sentence against Morsi was announced in May, the Brotherhood released a similar statement that portrayed him and the movement as the last defenders of Egypt’s post-Mubarak democracy. It called on supporters “to escalate revolutionary defiance activities every day until together we defeat the junta and topple the illegitimate military coup regime.” Whether that was meant as a call to arms is unclear, but just a few hours later, three Egyptian judges were gunned down in the Sinai peninsula, where a group allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has waged a string of suicide attacks on security forces.
According to Mohamad Bazzi, a professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday, “That is another danger of an authoritarian government’s demonizing all Islamists as terrorists who must be suppressed: It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sisi’s actions prove to those who advocate violence that it is the only path. Ultimately, some Islamists will conclude that the only way to protect themselves and achieve power is by taking up arms.”