A news item, published in this paper, stated that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is considering changing its famous slogan ‘Islam is the solution’ as a precaution against obstacles that it might face from the government, especially as articles within the constitution emphasise the danger of practicing politics based on religion. The news item adds that the Muslim Brotherhood is currently looking into the idea of adopting other slogans instead of or as well as ‘Islam is the solution.’ According to the news item, the Muslim Brotherhood said that “this slogan caused there to be many legal and political reservations.” Muslim Brotherhood students at Egyptian universities had anticipated the MB’s official idea or to be more specific, the MB’s new position by using an alternative slogan, ‘we hope for the best for Egypt’ during the university student elections. They argued, as the news item indicates, that they coined that new slogan to alleviate security pressures.
What was the position of the reformist figure in the Brotherhood leadership hierarchy, Essam al Eryan, towards this new youthful slogan? Al Eryan “decreed” that the new student slogan does not contradict the most cherished and sacred slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘Islam is the solution.’ He believes that the new slogan is part of a larger and more comprehensive slogan, namely, ‘Islam is the solution.’ It doesn’t stop there. The Brotherhood mediator amazed us even further by stating that “every stage requires a different slogan.” Al Eryan maintained that the slogan ‘Islam is the solution’ represents the identity of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Of course the Muslim Brotherhood has its own way of interpreting this flagrant religious slogan and normalizing it within the civil state and I am talking about the constitution here not the regime because the MB is feeling this constitutional dilemma that lies at the core of these slogans and it came up with the following solution or ploy: whoever says that the ‘Islam is the solution’ slogan contradicts the constitution of the Egyptian state is wrong. These are the words of former Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Chairman Mohammed Habib. He believes that rejecting this slogan means rejecting the Egyptian constitution, the second article of which states that Islam is the official state religion. Habib says that those who oppose the slogan ‘Islam is the solution’ are actually “opposing and protesting the public order of the state.” But, Mohammed Hassan Shaban, the journalist who wrote this news item, cleverly pointed out that Habib did not refer to the fifth clause of the constitution that he cited from that outlaws practicing politics based on religion.
This controversy will never end; the theorists and politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood will always find a way out; they will always try verbal, emotional and constitutional tricks as well. This is not unusual with the Muslim Brotherhood and other bodies. We all remember how the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq dropped the word ‘revolution’ and opted for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. The then party leader Abdul Aziz al Hakim defended that change after securing enough votes for his party in the Iraqi parliament.
We also recall how the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, after the war of liberation in 1991, called itself the Islamic Constitutional Movement in order to ride the wave of increasing Kuwaiti patriotism and demanding a return to the constitution and parliamentary life in Kuwait after the invasion. Also in Iraq today, the State of Law Coalition headed by Nouri al Maliki is nothing but a façade for the fundamentalist Dawaa Party.
Let us return to Egypt; perhaps all this can be understood in light of the vehemence of political rivalry for power and rule in Egypt, especially as parliamentary elections are drawing closer.
The war of words intensifies and arguments are being debated by rivals in a climate of electoral and political conflict.
My goal is not to recommend one Arab political party over another in Egypt or elsewhere as that is another topic altogether. Rather, the aim here is to reflect specifically on this clear “flexibility” in changing and altering slogans that are meant to be sacred and irrevocable, as their guardians have always claimed.
What the Muslim Brotherhood is doing in Egypt and elsewhere is political manoeuvring and the person carrying out these manoeuvres is open to change and transformation. Even Essam al Eryan, in the middle of defending the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan change and its durability, acknowledged that there was flexibility and willingness towards change if the position of its rival, i.e. the Egyptian authorities, forces them to adopt that approach. If the authorities show tolerance, the Muslim Brotherhood would introduce their sacred slogan unabashed. But if the authorities show vigilance and strictness then the MB would search for another slogan that is suitable to that stage and its requirements, and does not negate the basis of the main slogan.
What does that mean? It means that the slogan is not the goal here but rather what the slogan leads to, in other words, power and rule by exploiting public sentiment and riding the wave of religion. It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has always been clever at switching positions quickly. It forged an alliance with the liberal Wafd party of Egypt at a certain period because it was working secretly. However, a few years ago, it allied with the rest of the leftists and the Nasserist party under the banner of Kefaya, the Egyptian Movement for Change. Kefaya originally emerged in 2004 with the goal of fighting inheritance of power. It then developed its demands and its discourse towards revolutionary political discourse, both internally and externally, and aims to cancel the peace treaties with Israel and revolutionize the Egyptian political orientation so as to turn the Egyptian regime into a radical, revolutionary regime.
It is true that the two Muslim Brotherhood figures Essam al Eryan and Abdul Monim Abu al Futuh were among the signatories of Kefaya’s manifesto but that was not enough to reassure Nasserist and Leftist patriarchs of the Muslim Brotherhood’s renunciation of political ambitions to assume power. This prompted Abdul Halim Qandil, a Kefaya hawk, at some point and on several occasions, to express scepticism regarding the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood towards the issue of inheritance of power and communication with Israel if the MB were ever rise to power. Qandil cited Essam al Eryan who said in an article published in October 2007 that “If the MB reached power it would recognize the state of Israel and honour the treaties signed by Egypt.” To tell the truth, we cannot confirm what Qandil attributed to al Eryan. It is not important whether it is true or not. What really matters here is how a Nasserist figure from Kefaya now views the position of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sometimes it is far more important to know how others view you rather than focusing on how you view yourself.
These pragmatic margins, with which the Muslim Brotherhood, unlike Kefaya, has distinguished itself, can be explained as follows:
Firstly, the fundamentals and the cultural and ideological foundations upon which the MB is based, particularly with respect to the issue of inheritance of power, is not far removed from the political Sunni notion, consistent with the theories of al Mawardi and others. The Muslim Brotherhood position on the issue of inheritance of power is equally open to rejection or acceptance. Serving its immediate interests is what determines its official position. If the MB declares a rejection then that would please the Kefaya movement and the international democratic culture just as much as it would vex the supporters of this. If they declare an acceptance, that might be the trump card the Muslim Brotherhood will play to win its future position, considering that the issue of inheritance of power is well established in the political juristic heritage.
Secondly, the Muslim Brotherhood has a lot to win or lose in the political arena. Unlike the intellectuals of Kefaya who are backed by some figures in the press and other mediums, the Muslim Brotherhood has considerable weight on the ground and in parliament. I have previously analyzed the relationship between Kefaya and the Muslim Brotherhood in an article published on August 5, 2008 and I believe this analysis is still useful in interpreting the conduct of the Egyptian and non-Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood towards the contradiction between requirements of politics on the one hand and the obligations of the central doctrine on the other.
The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood, and all Islamist political movements, is that they are two-faced entities that speak two languages. If they are politically embarrassed or are asked to make certain concessions, they seek refuge in the immunity of religion and start to remind others of how dangerous it is to abandon the constants of religion. On the other hand, if someone attacks them from the angle of religion and asks them how they could forgo Jihad and fighting for the sake of God (just like Jihadist movements are doing to Hamas now) or how they could fall back with respect to the issues of women, entertainment and arts etc they worm their way out of it by using the excuse of political necessity and legitimate interests. The Muslim Brotherhood would then win over the religious camp and the political camp and enjoy heaven on earth and paradise in the afterlife.
What caused all this chaos? I think the Arab political life and its predominant culture are the main reasons that such movements flourish as they develop amid an environment of frustration, cultural illiteracy and lack of criticism. If there had been actual development and progress in science and criticism and if there had been an economic foundation and a solid and just judicial system, we wouldn’t be experiencing a period of stagnation and psychological frustration. It is the perfect environment for the growth of movements that promote hope in the afterlife and salvation. A saviour would then emerge and eliminate all sorts of injustice. This is what the Muslim Brotherhood slogan ‘Islam is the solution’ implies.
The slogan is reminiscent of the one adopted by the Abbasids to overpower the Ummayads: ‘Pledge allegiance to Imam Reda from the family of the Prophet (PBUH), who will fill the world with equality and justice.’ Such slogans aim to sell promises that are never fulfilled just until the makers of such promises rise to power.
I wish the Muslim Brotherhood would come up with another slogan that might serve them well in other circumstances such as ‘Muslims are the solution,’ as human beings are the centre and target of any activity on this planet…I think!