"We realized the only way to get into executive power to maintain the democratic process was for us to field a candidate," says Amr Darrag, a senior Brotherhood member and secretary general of the constituent assembly that drafted the 2012 Constitution who most recently served as minister of planning and international cooperation. "My personal opinion is that it was the right decision to take at that time."
Shater would eventually be disqualified from running for office by the presidential election commission due to his prior criminal convictions, thrusting the group’s less charismatic backup candidate, Mohamed Morsi, into the limelight. On July 1, the day after the popular uprising against Morsi, the military issued a forty-eight-hour deadline for the political crisis to be resolved. According to state-run daily Al-Ahram, the Guidance Bureau met the same day and considered holding a national referendum on Morsi's presidency. It was Shater who strongly opposed the idea, seeing it as a potential defeat from which the Brotherhood would not recover for fifty years.
"They are conservative in terms of their ideological views and religious understanding," says Anani, the Durham University scholar, of the hardliners within the Brotherhood. "But also they don’t believe much in reaching out to the opposition genuinely and realistically." He adds, "They were arrogant, they had a lot of misperceptions and a lot of miscalculation. I think this was one of the underlying factors behind the removal of Morsi."
"We are ready to die"
In Cairo, the sit-in at the Rabaa el-Adeweya mosque in the eastern neighborhood of Nasr City has taken on the feel of a permanent encampment, complete with hundreds of tents, several field hospitals, a media center and a commandeered satellite broadcast truck. From the main stage, pro-Morsi speakers vow to stay until their demands are met. Tens of thousands of supporters of the ousted president endure the summer heat while fasting from sunrise to sunset to observe the holy month of Ramadan.
At night, the crowds swell and Morsi supporters have taken to marching through neighborhoods across the capital, at times blocking major thoroughfares and sparking fierce clashes with local residents and security forces.
"If you look at the people who are protesting right now in the streets — millions of people — it is getting larger and larger everyday," Darrag says. "I believe this is going to be spreading and increasing until those who took over realize that it is impossible to run the country this way and the only way for stability is to restore democracy."
The Brotherhood leadership has repeatedly insisted the military’s intervention be reversed and the ousted president reinstated as a precondition for negotiations or participation in the political process. Yet by most accounts, the reinstatement of Morsi, who has been held incommunicado without charge since July 3, is a long shot.
Analysts say the call for continued street protests and the president's return maintain the group’s unity and cohesiveness, as well as potentially strengthening their hand at the negotiating table.
"The Brotherhood is caught between a rock and a hard place," says Anani. "On the one hand, they know that Morsi cannot be reinstated. On the other hand they cannot stop calling for this because they might face a lot of discontent and dissent within the movement itself over who should be accountable for what happened and what led to the removal of Morsi after only one year."
While the group has repeatedly denied it is involved in any talks with the military, Brotherhood sources say senior member Mohamed Ali Bishr — a former minister under Morsi — has had direct meetings.
Meanwhile, the country's military-backed interim leaders have moved quickly to assert their legitimacy, naming an interim president, a thirty-four-member government that includes no Islamists, and announcing plans to amend the constitution followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.
The military has shown no signs of backing down. Instead, security forces have initiated a crackdown on the Brotherhood, arresting hundreds, including the top leadership, freezing their assets, shutting down sympathetic TV channels and killing dozens of their supporters in clashes outside the Republican Guard headquarters. The situation has been described as the most severe crisis for the Brotherhood since 1954, when Gamal Abdel Nasser’s military regime arrested thousands of members, sending them to desert internment camps, into exile or to execution.
"The military is really going out full force to give them a body blow," El-Ghobashy says. "What has persistently happened in the Brotherhood’s history is that they rally around and dig in and increase their solidarity so that will forestall change within the organization if there’s heavy repression."
The coming days may prove to be pivotal in shaping the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, both within the organization and the broader Egyptian body politic. For now, they are choosing to remain defiant and in the streets, as the army — their historical adversary — backs them into a corner.
"I feel like they aren’t treating Morsi and the Islamic current as citizens," says Ihab El-Sayed, 36, who traveled from Mahalla, an industrial town on the Nile Delta, to take part in the Rabaa sit-in. His brother, 31 year-old Salah, was shot dead on July 8, one of at least fifty-three Morsi supporters killed outside the Republican Guard headquarters in one of the bloodiest days since the fall of Mubarak. "Whatever they do, kill us, imprison us, there is no president other than Morsi. We are ready to die."