Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The Muslim Brotherhood and the West

It is not difficult to discern a significant current in many Western countries, and the US and Britain in particular, that strongly supports the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. The trend manifests itself clearly in newspapers and other media in those countries while, in Egypt, various individuals and groups appear to be working in tandem. Following the 25 January Revolution, the Obama administration mobilised these forces to propel the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Egypt. Today, they are on the move again in the US in order to keep Trump from fulfilling his call to have the Muslim Brotherhood designated as a terrorist organisation. Here, in Egypt, they are resorting to other tactics, one of which is to voice arguments such as, “I’m not a Muslim Brother but they have a right to govern.”

To be fair, the phenomenon is not restricted to the previous administration in Washington, even if it had been the most flagrant in its support for the group. Many previous administrations had backed it as well. We recall how, in 1953, the Oval Office received Muslim Brotherhood leader Said Ramadan, the husband of Hassan Al-Banna’s daughter, while the US president not only never extended an invitation to President Mohamed Naguib, the first president of the Egyptian republic, but also refused to speak with him on the phone. Subsequently, the Jimmy Carter administration would be instrumental in promoting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamist movement as a whole throughout the region.

The situation with respect to Britain is qualitatively different. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was originally manufactured by the Suez Canal Company in Ismailia in 1929. Britain, which controlled the canal zone and the rest of Egypt at the time, gave Al-Banna LE500 in order to set up his organisation. The relationship between the two continued uninterruptedly since then, as has been revealed in British government documents.

How does one explain that support that has continued from one generation to the next and from one administration to the next? What motivates that pro-Muslim Brotherhood trend in Western policy from the time of its terrorist founder Hassan Al-Banna to his present day followers?

For the origins of this phenomenon we need to begin a bit further back in history. Great Britain was greatly alarmed by the 1919 Revolution, Egypt’s first grassroots uprising to demand national independence and the evacuation of British occupation forces. Egyptians were among the many people inspired by President Woodrow Wilson’s famous declaration, towards the end of World War I, of the universal right to freedom and self-determination. When they took him at his word and arose to demand the realisation of that principle in Egypt, Washington back-pedalled in support of Britain, enabling the latter to get away with the “28 February 1922 Declaration”, granting Egypt merely nominal independence. As full independence and national sovereignty was out of the question, the solution was what researchers have termed “soft occupation”. Interestingly, “soft occupation” or “deficient sovereignty” has long been an option in the strategic handbook of Western powers. It resurfaced in the wake of 11 September 2001 and was put into play in Iraq in 2003. Another version of it was introduced as a way to control the Palestinian occupied territories.

Nevertheless, the Egyptian nationalist movement, as embodied in the Wafd Party, remained a thorn in the side of the British authorities after the February Declaration. They retaliated by creating the Muslim Brotherhood to serve as a thorn in the side of the Wafd, which function the organisation willing performed in light of its founding ideology.

The Egyptian nationalist movement since Mustafa Kamel, and indeed all Arab nationalist movements, held that colonialism and foreign occupation were the source of our problems and that the solution necessarily began with the end of foreign occupation, the realisation of full and genuine independence, and the establishment of a democratic, civil and constitutional government. Hassan Al-Banna and his group preceded from entirely different premises. They claimed that the source of our problems lay in our having distanced ourselves from God and the true faith and that the solution was to return to the worship of God. Notice that they were preaching to a predominantly Muslim society and a very religious one at that. In other words, that they were effectively absolving the colonial occupation of all responsibility for our troubles. The Egyptian nationalist project had been making considerable progress in the 19th century in the era of Khedive Ismail, before it was interrupted by the British occupation of Egypt in 1882.

Al-Banna’s implied message was made explicit by an Algerian engineer, Malek Bennabi, who came to Egypt, where he moved in the circles of Al-Banna and his group. Bennabi, who wrote in French, maintained that our problems did not stem from colonialism and the occupation but rather from our being a “colonialisable” people, meaning that we were somehow inherently vulnerable to being colonised. Accordingly, it was only natural for the British to utilise that group that some British circles, to this very day, regard as one of Britain’s arms abroad. Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood has performed many services for the British. After the evacuation treaty was signed in 1954, the British felt it was time to eliminate Gamal Abdel-Nasser. What a coincidence it was that the Muslim Brotherhood staged the assassination attempt against Nasser in Alexandria’s Al-Manshiya Square at that very time!

During the 1919 Revolution the British attempted to play the sectarian card as a means of divide and rule. The Egyptian replied with the cry, “Long live the crescent with the cross!” After that failure, the sectarian baton passed to the Muslim Brotherhood which set fire to a church in Suez and another in Zaqaziq and painted offensive messages on the homes of Coptic residents in Shobra. Al-Banna’s letter to the members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s paramilitary “Secret Organisation” was filled with incitement against Christians. He instructed his followers not to go to Christian doctors, pharmacists or grocers.

The British occupation authorities’ animosity towards the Egyptian army and police is well documented. Al-Banna’s group inherited that antagonism and its offspring are venting it today with all the vehemence they can muster. This is not a coincidence. In fact, I believe it is a manifestation of a long-established coordination and division of labour.

When the colonial era ended and the Cold War era began, the Muslim Brotherhood acquired greater strategic importance to other countries. Today, we are experiencing a new and particularly intensive phase in which new players are fitting into historical roles and patterns in order to perform the same functions.

The Muslim Brotherhood component in British foreign policy was an important factor in London and other Western capitals’ relations with the Arab region in the period of the Arab Spring. Empowering the Muslim Brotherhood was their key to pressuring Arab Spring capitals and containing the revolutions, even though Western governments were aware of the Muslim Brotherhood’s close ideological, organisational and logistical links with militant jihadist and takfiri groups.

When will the West stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism? When it will stop its two-faced calls for a war against terrorism? The Egyptian and Arab peoples now see through this facade, having learned not only the lessons of history but the lessons of the present, following the collapse of Arab states and the massive displacements of peoples in the period of the “Arab autumn”.

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