Washington D. C., Asharq Al-Awsat- There are at least two levels of relations between the various Islamic organizations in the region; the first is on the level of ‘coordination of ideologies and positions’, which is prevalent and the information about it readily available to a large extent, and the second is the ‘coordination on an organizational, operational and financial’ level. This second level, which is rarely spoken of, clearly indicates interrelations within the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) global framework. The level of coordination and the type of relations between the different organizations is determined in accordance with a number of factors; among them are geography, ideological similitude and the political disputes – if they exist between given organizations.
As a result, the map for ‘relations within the Brotherhood’ is a complicated one. There exist old cracks and divisions that still have an impact to this day, in addition to recent conflicts that affect the MB’s interrelations today, which in turn affect its global organization and its performance.
But what exactly is the nature of this map of relations between Islamic organizations in the region, from their viewpoint, and does the existence of interaction signify the global organization’s activity and efficacy? How can one gauge the level of the international organization’s aptitude today? Can one consider it to be in a state of ‘hibernation’ and evasion of security attacks following September 11th – or is it on the brink of a real demise because of the structural problems it suffers?
First, we must establish a connection between The MB in Egypt and its international organization counterpart since the latter was born at the hands of Egyptians amidst the political and security needs pertaining to the Brotherhood in Egypt. The guide presiding over the international body is also Egyptian [General leader and supreme guide, Mohammed Mahdi Akef]. Given the difficulty of the circumstances for the MB in Egypt; affiliates are not allowed to form an official political party and restrictions are placed on members entering and exiting the country, it makes it all the more difficult for it to function efficiently, or with the necessary transparency and openness. Resultant of that, the past few years in particular have witnessed a conspicuous deterioration in the performance of the international organization, in terms of the frequency of the meetings and the role it plays in national and Islamic issues. Add to that the increased disputes (both political and ideological) between the various national MB organizations, which have largely contributed to transforming these international meetings into a place to ‘meet and vent’ rather than being an opportunity to operate within a frame that coordinates between policies and positions.
Activists in Egypt, those affiliated to the MB and others who are not, regard the international organization to be a “coordinative group” rather than an “organizational frame”, pointing out that the various political situations in the different Arab states allow the MB group in a given country to be more knowledgeable about their interests and affairs – even when they make decisions that go against the MB’s supreme guide in Egypt.
Gamal Heshmat, independent Egyptian MP and MB affiliate confirmed this and added that only opinions and guidance are exchanged, citing Algeria previously and present Iraq as examples. He confirmed that in the end, the decision falls upon the native country’s MB members. Heshmat revealed that they had been in contact with the MB affiliates in Iraq and said that they are in a very difficult situation and that the MB in Egypt was not satisfied with some of the Iraqi MB’s positions. They have been advised, he said. The core issue is the unity of Iraq and putting an end to the occupation – not participating in the government, he elaborated. According to Heshmat, this is the MB’s stance in Egypt (To not participate in a government that is representative of the occupation in Iraq) and that the Brotherhood in Iraq heard this view but had a different one. Moreover, he said that although there was a form of dialogue between MB organizations regionally, he stressed the lack of relations on an organizational level.
The Egyptian MP emphasized that there was no support for any armed operations in Iraq, although he said there was support for the resistance against the occupation – not against the people of the country. Heshmat revealed that the international organization was active in coordinating between MB groups regionally, which he said was basic, normal and logical. He added that there were relations with other parties such as Pakistan’s Jamia Islamia and Refah party in Turkey led by Najmuddin Erkaban [also known as Necmettin Erkaban], all of which are moderate trends, he said. Furthermore, Heshmat explained that coordination only takes place when it comes to international, rather than national, issues and that it takes on the form of recommendations that are not binding, such as general talk of the reform needed in the Arab world but not about a specific country. Communication and the exchange of opinions between local groups take place via the international organization, he said, but that they were not as regular or organized as needed despite the fact that the official position are fixed and the issues ongoing. He explained that this was why no regular meetings are required to reexamine the issues, adding that there are no reasons to hold regular meetings.
For his part, Ali Abul Sokar the MB representative of the Brotherhood in Jordan confirmed that there was coordination among the MB organizations in the region, however he says that this is by reason of the common ideological thread that runs through al of them. Abul Sokar said that although it [the movement] all generates from the same origin and Hassan al Banna is acknowledged as the founder of the MB, the fact that the movement has branched to include many countries means that every country’s national leadership faces different problems. He stressed his point by saying that despite the lack of an organizational bond to tie the MB in Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, for example, that they were still bound by an ideological bond. Abul Sokar affirmed that there was coordination amongst the MB organizations over the public issues and subsequently the meetings that take place in different countries deal with such matters. He stated that because the international organization does not represent an organizational dimension it meant that some regional members could participate with the MB’s supreme leader and that this does not satisfy the ambitions and needs of the various states. Abul Sokar said that he believed that the MB affiliates throughout the different countries were looking for a real and correlated organizational set up – which is lacking.
This belief is not only one shared by MB members internationally, even Deputy Guide of the MB, Mohamed Habib, said that there were no organizational connections but rather ideological and doctrinal bonds, which he believes lends the required flexibility needed to manage the affairs in each country. He added that the Brotherhood organizations are semi-autonomous entities united by ideology and method and that this decentralization allows for flexibility in movement, which operates according to the given country’s internal circumstances. And yet, the common ground that unites the multiple MB organizations may not be a constant factor – it is known that there exist conflicts between the Brotherhood’s affiliates in Egypt and those in Iraq as has been aforementioned. There are also disputes between the MB members in Kuwait and Egypt over the second Gulf War. Habib explained that in some cases there were discrepancies over general matters facing the Islamic nation, in terms of major challenges. International organization implies that there is a physical connection and an organizational structure responsible for regulating the pace, conduct and practices on the movement on a level that includes all the countries, he said and added that there were attempt towards a unity in ideology, objective and method. However, he stressed that every country has its own views, opinions and decisions regarding its own situation internally.
It is perhaps by virtue of these common bonds such sharing the same origin and the ideological similarities that are responsible for making some MB organizations in the region regard themselves to be part of the whole Islamic phenomenon, however there are some other organizations who perceive of themselves, by reason of their different ideologies, to be forming “a new Islamic ideology” that is not part of the current MB ideologies and thereby far removed from the international ties that would connect them to the Brotherhood. One of these organizations is the Parti de la Justice et du Développement (PJD – Justice and Development Party) in Morocco, which considers itself to be part of a growing trend among Islamic orientations in the region, ‘democratic Islam’, which also denies all organizational links to the Brotherhood.
Parliamentary representative of the PJD and prominent figure in the party, Mustafa al Ramid, denied any organizational relations or otherwise with the MB and added that the party is not branch of the Brotherhood nor does it coordinate with it. He stated that it was a common knowledge that the PJD is not concerned with any position that the MB assumes. We adopt stances in accordance with our own political framework, he said, confirming that the PJD does not base its positions on any organization whether internal or foreign. Al Ramid explained that the PJD was originally affiliated with the Mouvement unité et réforme (MUR – unity and reform movement), which he also stresses is not affiliated to the MB in any way. Al Ramid said that there might be an ideological relation; the PJD followed a special school that was the result of an interaction between various schools, regardless of whether these schools were related to the MB’s school of thought or other schools and that by virtue of these interactions the PJD has emerged with its own discipline. Communications and exchange are not regular and when they occur they take place during times when conferences are held, such as the Arab Summit [annual summit held in Beirut], he said.
But if the Islamists of the PJD are not involved with the MB by reason of historical considerations and ideological differences, the Kuwait’s Islamic Constitution Movement (ICM) is disassociated primarily because of political reasons. There are a number of factors involved such as the method of electing the supreme guide and the issue of centralization. Regarding the latter Mohamed al Dalal, a senior member of the ICM said that he didn’t know the boundaries of the meetings or the role of the international MB organization. He revealed that there was a sentiment that it does not fulfill the required role in supporting the Arab and Islamic causes. This is a prevalent feeling in the ICM, he said. Al Dalal explained that in his view the joint Islamist efforts on the whole, whether the MB international formation or any other types of coordination have yet to reach the necessary stage whether between trends that adopt the MB ideology worldwide or among the mainstream Islamic ideologies, he said. Additionally, he believes that this mechanism is in need of development, actualization and further openness, even in dealing with others among the Islamic trends and the national social movements.
Perhaps it can be said that the divisions among the Islamist trends in and of itself is capable of shedding light on the real reasons behind the ineffectiveness of the international MB organization. One of the conspicuous cases of discord is that of the Sudanese MB with its Egyptian counterpart, of which the result was the severance of all ties between the Egyptian MB and the main trend in the Sudanese Islamist movement. Abdullah Hassan Ahmed, a member of the National Congress Party (NCP) leadership said that the MB in Sudan has been embroiled in conflict with the international MB organization for a long time and has nearly completely disassociated themselves from it and members no longer attend its meetings or heed its decisions. However, he pointed out that the relationship could be summed up as one of friendship and as Islamist organizations striving for their causes in the same field. The senior member of the NCP explained that this signified the exchange of opinions and ideas over public issues and that in some cases the positions are compatible without prior coordination or meetings.
And yet according to Ahmed, an international MB organization existed in the sixties and NCP affiliates attended meetings to which they were invited in Lebanon, Jordan, or any other country where these meetings were held and that they would invariably participate in these meetings. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat he revealed that the NCP had a disagreement with the MB’s supreme leader at the end of the sixties and that prior to that, they had attended meetings and conventions. One of the disputes revolved around the fact that the Sudanese MB is founded on elections, citing the example that the NCP elects its own secretary-general and that this was practiced even when it operated under the name ‘Muslim Brotherhood’. We used to say that the secretary-general is not concerned with the center of operations in Egypt, he said. He added that the dominant tradition then was that the Egyptian supreme guide who heads Egypt’s MB was the one to appoint the secretary-generals in Sudan, Syria and Jordan in the same way he appointed Brotherhood officials in the Egyptian governorates, such as Tanta and az-Zaqaziq for example. Ahmed added that the groups in Arab countries were considered to be organizations inside Egypt, in the Egyptian governorates. We objected to this and said that our secretary-general or supreme guide or whatever that title may be, must be elected in Sudan.
According to Ahmed, the other bone of contention lies in the secrecy that surrounds the supreme leader. The Egyptian MB considered that the general guide to be a figure that should not be publicly known, you had no right to inquire as to his identity nor elect him and his name remained undisclosed, he said. Regarding the efficacy of the international MB international, Ahmed sees that it has fallen short by virtue of only including Arab Islamic organizations and that the ones that were no longer part of the international MB organization have the advantage of having established relations with all the Islamic movements outside of the Arab world, in Asia, Africa, and Europe. He sees that the second shortcoming is the lack of a real and effective counsel, which would enable every group to have its freedom in its native country to follow the discipline of its choice, which is something that is unavailable to the members of the Islamic movements that are part of the international organization.
The senior member of the NCP acknowledges that another reason for discontent is the fact that the leadership has always been in Egypt, by reason of it being the place of inception he believes, however he uses the analogy of a father and son to say that when the former ages it is possible for the latter to take over. Ahmed said that this was the reason behind the Islamic movements outside of Egypt sensing that the leadership was being monopolized. He added that it was also what prompted the Islamic movement in Sudan to distance itself from the international organization. Perhaps an understanding could have been reached, but the Brotherhood in Egypt felt that the Sudanese Islamic movement’s opinions were influencing the rest of the Islamic movements within the larger international organization, especially since the Islamic movement in Sudan employs a different approach – one that got it to power making it the first Islamic movement in the world to come to power, he said.
The scarceness of meetings between the leaderships of the MB’s international organization and the lack of information that surrounds it is a conspicuous matter. The majority of the sources interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat did not have any knowledge about the meetings held by the international body. Abul-ela Madi, the founder of the Wasat (Center) party, which is currently still in the making and a former Brotherhood veteran confirmed the presence of the MB’s international body but said that its role, size and whether its strength was declining or was on the rise, is unclear. Sometimes the MB denies meetings, or else they announce coordination meetings and simplify matters but I still think the organization exists, he said. He added that it was alleged that the leaderships had met during the last Hajj (Muslim pilgrimage) season in Mecca but that he could no confirm this information. The organization is careful not to announce any information, he said.
Inasmuch as there is an ambiguity that surrounds meetings and conferences, so there is surrounding the issues of financial backing. All the senior MB figures that Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with stated that they did not know much regarding matters of funding. Ibrahim al Senoussi, deputy secretary-general of Sudan’s NCP and deputy to Hassan Abdallah al Turabi pointed out that the financial matter was not the cause of dispute with the international organization at the beginning. He explained that in the early days there was no need for a budget because the movement was self-funded and expended money on its own projects, thus there was no need for the international organization to have its own funds. He said that when they [the Sudanese MB members] were part of the larger organization they did not hear of its own funding or of any reasons to establish companies or financial institutions. Since we stopped being a part of it, we no longer know anything about it, al Senoussi concluded.