Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A history of coups

Far from objecting to military coups in the Arab and Islamic world, the Muslim Brotherhood has always supported them when it is in its interests to do so, writes Haitham Abu Zeid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been casting themselves, to Western audiences in particular, as a revolutionary force fighting a military coup that overthrew the nascent democratic experiment in Egypt.

But a glance back at the Muslim Brotherhood’s own stances on military coups in the past reveals the true nature of this organisation as a reactionary movement that is antagonistic to democracy and the mechanisms of popular choice.

The Brotherhood has never been opposed to military coups in principle. Its swings between support and opposition for coups clearly prove that it determines its position on a given coup solely in terms of how it will impact on its interests.

Will the Muslim Brotherhood gain or lose from a coup? This is the crucial criterion. As for the values of freedom and democracy, these are just the slogans the Brotherhood uses as part of its scheme to dupe the public.

Following the 23 July Revolution in 1952, the Free Officers Movement led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and supported at the time by the Muslim Brotherhood, pursued extraordinary measures that included the dissolution of Egypt’s political parties.

The most prominent Brotherhood ideologue of the time, Sayyid Qutb, was the first to describe this move as “revolutionary.” He ardently encouraged the oppressive actions of the officers and ignored voices calling for their return to barracks.

In the newspaper Al-Akhbar for 8 August 1952 he wrote: “O heroes, it is not yet time to return to the barracks. The true purge has not yet begun. It requires firm steps, not half or quarter measures. The people have endured an evil and oppressive dictatorship for 15 years or more. Can it not endure a just and honourable dictatorship for six months? That is if one can even assume that your cleansing movement can be considered a dictatorship in any form.”

When workers’ demonstrations erupted in Kafr Al-Dawar, Qutb exhorted the Free Officers to repress them. Again in Al-Akhbar, he wrote: “An entire era is gasping its last breath. What is important is that we have it in our power to hasten its end. Let the knife be sharp, so that the battle does not last. Let us strike. Let us strike forcefully. Let us strike quickly. As for the people, they shall dig the graves and then fill them up again.”

Such incitement bore fruit. Two workers, Mohamed Mustafa Khamis and Mohamed Abdel-Rahman Al-Baqri, were sentenced to death after a summary military trial over which the Free Officer and Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Amin presided. All the members of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council signed the verdict, apart from three: Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Youssef Sadiq and Khaled Mohyeddin.

The 23 July Movement remained a “great revolution” in Muslim Brotherhood eyes. They cheered on its repression and applauded its excesses until a clash occurred between them and Free Officer leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Only then did the Muslim Brotherhood turn around and call the Movement a “coup”. Only then did it heap curses on it and accuse it of doing away with the democracy of the monarchical era.

When Nasser refused to give them what they wanted and refused to serve as a means for their hegemony over the Egyptian state, they turned against him and against the movement they had previously championed.

The Muslim Brotherhood response to another coup, this time in Pakistan, is also instructive. This coup occurred on 5 June 1977 and was led by general Zia ul-Haq against the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at a peak of tensions between Bhutto and the opposition.

Bhutto had come to power as Pakistani president in 1970 following free elections. In his first two years in office, he issued a number of very significant decisions. Most notably, he nationalised the banks, promoted the iron and steel industry, and succeeded in obtaining nuclear reactors from France. In 1973, following certain constitutional amendments the Pakistani parliament elected Bhutto as prime minister.

Not content with deposing Bhutto in 1977, Zia ul-Haq had him brought to trial. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to death, a sentence which was carried out on 4 April 1979. The Islamists in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular supported the coup.

The Brotherhood in Egypt, led at the time by Omar Al-Talmasani, moved to strengthen its relationship with leader of the Pakistani coup, whom they praised as an “Islamic commander” who was striving to apply Sharia law and who had championed the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The relationship between Zia ul-Haq and the Muslim Brotherhood grew so close that he personally received Brotherhood officer Zeinab Al-Ghazali at the airport in Islamabad.

In Sudan on 30 June 1989 the Islamic Salvation Front led by Brigadier General Omar Hassan Al-Bashir staged a coup against the government of the majority Umma Party led by Sadeq Al-Mahdi. Al-Mahdi had come to power as prime minister through the first democratic elections held in the country after the overthrow of the regime of Jaafar Nimeiri.

This was not just a coup supported by the Muslim Brotherhood: it was a coup engineered and carried out by Brotherhood members, and its mastermind was Brotherhood ideologue Hassan Al-Turabi.

In a display of the degree of Brotherhood duplicity and deception, Al-Bashir had Al-Turabi arrested only to subsequently release him to enable him to ascend in the political hierarchy until he had become speaker of the parliament. Eventually, it became clear that Al-Turabi was in control, that he had in fact masterminded the coup, and that the coup leaders were all Islamists who had nothing but contempt for democracy and the rotation of power through free and fair elections.

The support by the Islamists in the Arab and Islamic world for the Islamist coup in Sudan was overwhelming. Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt visited Khartoum, and Brotherhood preachers and pundits defended the Islamist government against international condemnation.

The mouthpiece of the Islamist Labour Party defended all the decisions and policies of the Al-Bashir government. In the meantime, the Muslim Brotherhood had gained total control over the party and its newspaper of course.

The Muslim Brothers subscribe to “Kleenex democracy”  to be used once and then thrown away  and Al-Bashir remains in power in Sudan today. In his quarter of a century of rule, he has outmanoeuvred and defeated all attempts to overthrow his regime or to restore democracy and democratic processes.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been a staunch supporter of the Al-Bashir regime, and Al-Bashir has been instrumental in facilitating the escape of Muslim Brothers from Egypt following the 30 June Revolution.

Another example is Algeria where in the late 1980s a massive grassroots movement forced the authorities to make way for multiparty elections. Local elections were held in January 1990 and legislative elections in December the same year.

To the surprise of observers around the world, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) swept the elections, this being made up of Islamists not belonging to the Algerian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood whose political facade in Algeria was the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP).

The FIS won 82 per cent of the seats in the Algerian parliament in the first round of the elections, but after that things began to fall apart. Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid was forced to resign, the High Council of State assumed power and military commanders took control of the government under the leadership of Defence Minister Khaled Nezzar. On 12 January 1992, Nezzar cancelled the elections, declared a state of emergency and had thousands of FIS members arrested.

In spite of the fact that this was a flagrant military coup that overthrew the president of the state and abrogated the results of the first multiparty elections in Algeria since its independence in 1962, and the fact that the victors were Islamists who advocated the application of Sharia law, the Muslim Brotherhood in Algeria moved to accommodate itself with the coup leaders.

The MSP, led by Sheikh Mahfouz Nahnah, took part in all the subsequent elections that followed the cancellation of the FIS victory and even fielded its leader in the 1995 presidential elections in which he came in second with 3.2 million votes.

The Algerian Muslim Brothers obviously saw that it was in their interests to take part in the political process and avoid a clash with the authorities. After all, the winners in the 1990 elections had not belonged to their organisation and therefore did not fall under their command.

In addition to taking part in the elections following the coup, they even shared power with the coup leaders. In 1996, the MSP was awarded two government portfolios: the Ministry of Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises and the Ministry of State for Fisheries. A year later, this figure rose to seven cabinet seats.

A last example is Gaza where Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Palestine, staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, offering the feeblest of excuses to justify its military takeover of the Strip.

Naturally, Muslim Brotherhood organisations around the world applauded the Hamas coup and supported its military control and permanent appropriation of the will of the people of Gaza through its refusal to hold elections which it knows will not come out in its favour again if they are held freely and fairly.

In addition to imposing its political and military hegemony over Gaza, Hamas has also forced its theological dogma on the people of the Strip, intervening in every detail of their personal lives, from the way they dress to the way they marry or bury their dead.

As can be seen from these examples, the Muslim Brotherhood has no moral stance on military coups. Its position is determined solely by its assessment of what it has to gain or lose. It has no regard for national welfare, stability and security, territorial integrity or the social fabric.

It considers only itself. It will accept nothing less than full control, and it persists in its hostile equation: either we rule you or we destroy you; either you restore us to power or we tear down the country around you.

As a final point, it should be mentioned that the Muslim Brothers in Iraq took part in the elections held under the US occupation of that country after having also taken part in the Governing Council headed by US administrator Paul Bremer. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt either remained silent about this piece of collusion or they offered theological justifications for it.


The writer is a political analyst.

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