Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood running out of options
The Brotherhood's only reliable partners now are other Islamist groups whose members may be more willing to use violent or radical tactics
The Muslim Brotherhood is facing a crisis that could shape its identity for years to come, as it continues its quest to reinstate President Mohammed Mursi.
For all its stated commitment to democracy and non-violence, the Brotherhood's only reliable partners now are other Islamist groups whose members may be more willing to use violent or radical tactics - partners that would tar the Brotherhood's identity as a more pragmatic movement with a broader base.
"Now there is just one big Islamist camp on one side and the military on the other, and the differences between the Brotherhood and other Islamists are blurred," said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements and Egyptian politics at Durham University in England. "It's a populist confrontation on both sides, driven by hatred."
Even the Brotherhood's own members may prove harder to control after the bloody street clashes that took place just outside the sit-in early Saturday, leaving at least 72 Brotherhood supporters dead.
The Brotherhood is now preparing for the possibility that their vast sit-in protest will be forcibly dispersed by the police and that the organisation will be driven underground.
With much of its leadership - including Mursi - held incommunicado, the Brotherhood has been unable to conduct any high-level internal dialogue about what to do. Backing down would also violate the group's understanding of Islamic law, under which no decision to undercut Mursi can be made without consulting him, according to Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman.
In a sense, the Brotherhood's struggle in recent weeks has been a return to painfully familiar ground. Banned for decades under President Hosni Mubarak and his predecessors, the group grew and matured under the pressure of constant police harassment. Its top leaders were shaped by long years in prison, and many of them were arrested again in early July when the military deposed Mursi.
Most of the group's remaining leaders are now effectively confined to the main protest sit-in, in a broad intersection around a towering white mosque in a residential area of northeast Cairo known as Nasr City.
Yesterday, Egyptian police continued their crackdown, arresting two more prominent figures of a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned party as the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was to meet with officials in Cairo in an attempt to mediate an end to the political deadlock.
A core group of Brotherhood leaders who have not been arrested meet daily at the sit-in to discuss tactics, Haddad said. "They go around, each one presenting his analysis of the situation; then they narrow it down … and they vote."
Many Islamists from a variety of factions seem to believe that if the Brotherhood falls, they will fall with it.
"What is strange is that we followed the democratic game very well," said Yahya Abdelsamia, a member of Gamaa al-Islamiya, which renounced violence a decade ago. "We joined the elections, we did what they wanted us to. Then we're faced with military force. Game over."