The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group appears to be benefiting the most from the tensions blighting the region. The organization has taken on the role of ‘savior’ and has proven to be extremely flexible about changing positions whilst alternating between smiley and stony faces without incurring the slightest accusation of being contradictory.
The MB in Iraq has reached an understanding with the American ‘aggressor’ via the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) while the Syrian wing of the group has displayed its animosity towards America’s enemy; namely, the Syrian regime – so long as the Syrian-US antagonism prevails and in the case of the failure of Syria’s maneuvers towards Washington. Moreover, the MB is coordinating against [Syrian President Bashar] al Assad’s regime and is supported by Western and international backing – American in particular.
However elsewhere, the MB is America and the West’s archenemy, as epitomized by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. This sentiment has become exceedingly more pronounced since the recent appointment of the ‘Hawk’ Hammam Said [as the General Guide in Jordan]. In Egypt, the position ranges between Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akif’s scowl and the pragmatism of Abdel-Moniem Abou al Fotouh and Essam al Erian [senior figures and members of the Executive Bureau].
Some might say, so what’s the harm in that? Isn’t politics “the art of the possible”? And is it not true that the circumstances are different for the MB from one state to another? Isn’t wisdom about taking into account the conditions and circumstances of a given situation? The brotherhood practices politics in its most overt form, so why is that deemed wrong?
The truth is that there is no harm or shame in that so long as the group does not mix good deeds with bad ones or the divine with the profane etc. If from the outset the Muslim Brotherhood had introduced itself to the public and emerged on the scene as a conservative party that seeks to protect the society’s conservative values, in addition to formulating a political, social and economic agenda based on these values, then perhaps the situation would have been very different. Perhaps the group would have entered the political sphere since the 1940s.
But the reality is different; from the beginning since the MB announced itself; it proclaimed that it was the bearer of the divine message and that its members were guardians entitled with the execution of God’s commands on earth. And this is precisely where the hidden disease of the MB lies and it is what afflicts the Arab culture. However; it also marks the group’s ingenuity in exploiting the MB’s capabilities and maneuvers and efforts, including money and academic degrees for the sake of protecting their principal idea which is that the solution lies in the establishment of a religious state. The Muslim Brotherhood’s famous slogan is: Islam is the solution.
And yet, what is puzzling about the MB is that whilst practicing the utmost pragmatism and bedding the ‘satanic’ US or Israel, it always gives such actions or behavior ‘divine immunity’ – upon the consideration that such cunning shrewdness is required of believers (to recognize interests from harm) and deems it perfectly ‘legitimate policy’. And yet when it comes to its Arab political opponents, no such excuses are available; instead, everyone is deemed treacherous and subservient to the Zionists and Americans if they sit with them to hold discussions or sign agreements.
But, the discussion here does not revolve around the present inclination among a large portion of the public or the political and intellectual spheres that surround the MB to ‘join the brotherhood’, rather; it is about the tendency to interpret and understand the Arab rational and psychological prolapse under a divine banner while raising the slogan “Islam is the solution”. Such discourse and its details are difficult and trying to the minds and souls of the people because they hit a nerve in our deep wounds.
But this extended talk is not about interpreting the indignation and resentment harbored by the “Everyman” towards the government; such resentment leads to the emergence of oppositional trends – on top of which is the Muslim Brotherhood. In most cases, the public does not rail against the authority over the lack of democracy or the unjust constitutional amendments etc – these are matters that concern the intellectual politicized elite. The ordinary people, however, have three concerns: livelihood, security and the broad, very broad, guidelines to the general legitimacy of the state.
No, the objective of this discussion is to highlight a new scene in which the MB, or the politicized religious groups, are engaged in a game of political tactics and maneuvers and a tug-of-war with Arab governments. The spotlight is on Egypt in this case, which is the origin of the Muslim Brotherhood. Recently, there has been a outright altercation between the Secretary-General of the National Democratic Party’s Policy Committee, Gamal Mubarak, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
In an interview with a French foreign policy magazine, Gamal Mubarak stated that the MB’s growing influence is a problem that the government is taking very seriously and added, “religion is one of the most important components of our society and culture but there are some groups that employ it as a means to develop their subversive ideas.”
Mubarak went on to accuse the MB of exploiting internal crises, such as poverty and unemployment so as to put pressure on the regime and introduce the group as an alternative to the ruling party. “These groups are attempting to invest in the hardships that are hitting the country to serve their own interest,” he said.
Of course these statements caused an unexpected shock for the group, even for the more doveish amongst them, prompting the head of the MB’s politburo Essam al Erian to describe the statements as nonsense. He then questioned: “What is the (political) appropriation of religion in a state that is already religious?” Al Erian then pointed out that, “the Muslim Brotherhood truly believes in its ideology – otherwise it would not have paid the price by their souls, money and freedom.”
Gamal Mubarak’s emphasis of the MB’s exploitation of the Egyptian economic situation with the intention of inciting the public against the government is significant since he is one of the main proponents supporting liberal economic reform in the Egyptian economy and raising the growth rate and decreasing governmental subsidies so as to decrease the pressure on the treasury. Of course these proposals are unpopular and have received a cold reception in the state in light of the difficulties and needs, in addition to the low wages.
Prior to the economic crisis, the regime’s opponents exploited the opportunity to increase pressure on both the government and the regime due to reasons solely related to rivalry over power. This practice of exploiting any weakness or loophole to maximize political gains is understandable; however in the Muslim’s Brotherhood’s case, it take on an artificial divine luster that does not stem from earthly politics.
It is surprising that the MB’s position was not fully compatible with Nasserite and Leftist groups that joined the Kefaya movement, which was formed in mid-2004 mainly to contest the system of succession [hereditary transfer of power] in Egypt. Kefaya developed its discourse and demands into a revolutionary political rhetoric both internally and externally. The group seeks to renege on Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel and revolutionize Egyptian politics, steering the regime towards the more radical regimes prevalent in our region.
Although it’s true that both Essam al Erian and Abdel-Moniem Abou al Fotouh acted as signatories on Kefaya’s manifest, it was not sufficient enough to reassure the powerful Nasserist and Leftist groups about the purity of MB’s intentions towards its aspirations for power and in politics.
This is what led to Kefaya spokesman, Abdel Halim Qandil, to harbor doubts as to the MB’s intentions and position towards the system of succession and dealing with Israel – if the group shares a stake in the government.
Qandil quoted the statements made by al Erian in October 2007 in which he said, “Should the Muslim Brotherhood rise to power; it will recognize Israel and respect the treaties signed with it.”
The pragmatic ‘margins’ that distinguish the MB from Kefaya can be interpreted as such: Firstly, they are the outcome of discrepancies in positions, ideological basis and the ruling culture, particularly since the concept of hereditary succession is not entirely rejected by Sunni political thought, according to [Abu al Hasan] al Mawardi and others. If the MB’s position towards the principle of hereditary succession is subject to fluctuations depending on where the group’s interests lie, then if they reject it, they make Kefaya movement and the mainstream international democracy supporters happy, but if they accept it, then it is a bargaining chip that could be used to negotiate its position and future. The brotherhoods future, however, follows an established rule of jurisprudential political inheritance.
Secondly, the presence of such margins within the MB when it comes to Kefaya movement is because the Muslim Brotherhood stands to lose and gain a lot in politics and its members have their clout and standing on the ground and in the parliament – as opposed to Kefaya’s intellectuals who only have their inkwells and pulpits.
In the end, we do not bear a grudge against the Muslim Brotherhood for its political games and maneuvers as long as it has its public’s support and presence and its parliamentary seats – the group even fulfills its slogans! The brotherhood deserves credit for that; however, what is rejected is the group’s exploitation of religion in the worldly game of politics.