Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Temple run

Sirr Al-Ma’bad: Al-Asrar Al-Khafiyya Li Jama’it Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimiin (Mystery of the Temple: The Hidden Secrets of the Muslim Brotherhood), Tharwat Al-Khirbawy, Cairo: Dar Nahdet Masr, 2012

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“They feel they are the sun, while their followers and devotees are the planets that supposedly orbit them.” Thus Tharwat Al-Khirbawy’s book Sirr Al-Ma’bad (Mystery of the Temple), published in November 2012 and now in its eighth edition. According to Al-Khirbawy, this is an accurate assessment of the perception of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members of themselves and their relations to the rest of society. Sirr Al-Ma’bad generated controversy in cultural and political contexts due to greater public interest in the more or less secret society that was founded in 1939 by Hassan Al-Banna, after Mohamed Morsi — a leading member of the MB — won the presidential elections in June 2012. This is no doubt also fuelled by growing political engagement since the revolution, especially as regards political Islam.
Al-Khirbawy, a lawyer who devoted many years to defending detained members of the MB, was first involved with the group in his twenties, becoming an official active member in 1985. Since vocally leaving the MB in 2002, Al-Khirbawy has written frequently critiquing the organisation, initially publishing articles in Sawt Al-Umma newspaper. His first book on the subject, Qalb Al-Ikhwan (Heart of the Brotherhood), was well received by writers and intellectuals. Sirr Al-Ma’bad is an autobiography/memoir-type book in which Al-Khirbawy recalls his personal experience with the MB, recounting upheavals and conflicts on his long journey searching for truth, which ended with his final departure. Not only did Al-Khirbawy leave the MB, he also decided to divulge a number of their – supposed – secrets, something that raises the question of why he has not been subject to pressure with no attempt being made to stop him from revealing those secrets.
In “Voice of Freedom,” the first chapter of Sirr Al-Ma’bad, Al-Khirbawy conveys his experience of the revolution starting on 28 January, 2011, when he was beaten by pro-regime thugs. With the second chapter he embarks on his 25-year-long history with the MB, reviewing both positive and negative experiences. Al-Khirbawy uses the Greek myth of Icarus to illustrate his initial abortive attempts at escaping from the metaphorical Crete, which he eventually manages by fixing two wings out of feathers with wax — only to die once the wax melted as Icarus approached the sun. In the same context, he explains how the MB demonises the opposition since it is inherently incapable of accepting any but the received opinion even within itself; MB leaders have repeatedly declared their openness to opposition but, as Al-Khirbawy puts it, “words come easily”, for — among many essential faults — they perceive Christians as sub-citizens without the same rights as Muslims.
In 1995 and 1996 many leading members of the MB were arrested: Essam Al-Erian, Khairat Al-Shater, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Abdel-Hamid Al-Ghazali, Lashein Abu-Shanab, Gomaa Amin, Rashad Al-Bayoumi, Mohamed Habib, Mahmoud Ezzat, Mahdi Aekef, Ibrahim Al-Zafarani, Saad Al-Husseini, Hassan Al-Gamal, Mohsen Radi and Abul-Ela Madi. No response from the higher ranks of the MB was forthcoming in which looked like an arrangement with the regime. Al-Khirbawy could tell that the MB strayed from the visionary path of Hassan Al-Banna. During that time Al-Khirbawy was defending MB prisoners as he continued to search for the truth inside the MB. He objected to the founding of a political party to be run along the same lines as the organisations, since it would unfairly win elections on the basis of religious bias.
Ostensibly, Al-Khirbawy explains, the programme and aims of the MB differ from those of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP): the MB’s major interest is da’wah (the rough equivalent of missionary work), while that of the FJP is to run in elections, raising the slogan “Islam is the solution”. Al-Khirbawy feels the vision of the MB today is closer to Sayid Qutb, a leading Islamist executed under Gamal Abdel Nasser, than to its founder Hassan Al-Banna. He registers between the MB and Freemasonry: fraternity, secrecy and aspects of imagery and practise; perhaps all secret organisations have aspects in common, with the ambition to a day of glory being the most obvious. MB leaders have always perceived their day of glory as that on which they will have the power to rule — something, Al-Khirbawy says, they will do anything to achieve, even those things that go against the values and principles on which they were brought up by the MB.
At the end of 357 pages, Al-Khirbawy includes documents such as diaries in the handwriting of MB members during their years in prison and rare photographs of, among others, Sameh Ashour, Mukhtar Nouh, Mohamed Mahsoub and Al-Khirbawy himself. It is as if he has reached the end of his temple run.

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