Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Revisions revisited

Assessing the likelihood of an ideological U-turn by the Muslim Brotherhood

       Muslim Brotherhood leaders behind bars
Muslim Brotherhood leaders behind bars

Two years ago there was talk of the Muslim Brotherhood engaging in a process of ideological revision and a complete overhaul of the Guidance Bureau. The move was spearheaded by a wing of Brotherhood youth led by Gamal Hishmat, Essam Talima, Hamza Zawbaa, Yehia Hamed and Abdallah Al-Haddad, opposed to Deputy Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat and Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein.

Other internal campaigns for ideological revision followed, the most recent announced by the Youth Leadership Front led by Mohamed Kamal. According to the group, its leaders have produced a preliminary text for the revision which it claims is a product of conclusions drawn from studies, research and workshops conducted by specialists in sociology, politics, law and Sharia. The document, the group said in a statement, is a result of collaboration with Muslim Brotherhood members at home and abroad.

The statement cited a number of Quranic verses and Prophetic sayings testifying to the divine commands ordaining self-revision and reform. It also stated that the front submitted the document to more than 100 intellectuals, politicians, opinion-makers, public figures and scholars concerned with Brotherhood affairs to solicit their opinion, advice and constructive criticism.

The statement stressed the need for an objective assessment process. “We will not address matters beyond this framework, presidential, ministerial or parliamentary decrees in particular… The product will be scientific and governed by the constraints of the evaluative process.”

The “product” will be presented to the public through various media outlets after the more than 100 individuals whose input was solicited return their copies with comments and annotations. Their opinions will then be compiled and examined “so that the product can be finalised as a comprehensive scientific document”.

“These statements are matters that we believe are critical at this point in the life of our group, our nation and our people,” the statement concluded. It stressed that the purpose of the revision process is not to settle scores or level criticism at any particular individual regardless of his position in the group.

Some Brotherhood circles greeted the statement with censure. Ibrahim Mounir, secretary-general of the International Brotherhood and a member of the Mahmoud Ezzat front, said that he “knows nothing of a revision process” and stressed that since Ezzat was the only official in the organisation mandated to issue official statements, any statements that did not pass by his desk could not be attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood. Mounir also told the press that differences within the ranks over management were “only natural”.

Brotherhood media spokesman Talaat Fahmi denied that the Brotherhood had produced any documents related to a process of ideological revision. The purpose of statements such as the one issued by the Youth Leadership Front was to “divide the organisation’s ranks”, he said.

Zawbaa, in contrast, declared his approval of the statement. “We have to acknowledge the mistakes of the past,” he said.
Sources within the Brotherhood say Youssef Al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Federation of Muslim Ulema, has asked Brotherhood leaders to listen to the initiative of the Youth Leadership Front and said he, too, believed that the Brotherhood needed to conduct an ideological revision.

The idea of revision and self-criticism occurred to every sensible member of the Muslim Brotherhood following 30 June 2013, said Brotherhood youth member Essam Talima. He said that a group of young Brothers contacted Mohamed Ali Bishr at the time but were outpaced by events. Talima went on to relate that he met Ibrahim Mounir during his visit to the Shura Council in Turkey two years ago and asked: “Isn’t it time to examine our experience since the revolution and formulate a plan and a vision?” Mounir responded that the former minister of information Salah Abdel-Maksoud had begun to draft an account of his experiences and this was a good start. A new plan would be ready within a month, and the process of soliciting and incorporating remarks would take another month.

Talima told Mounir, “Take three months, if you like.” Talima then added: “Two years have gone by since then and there has been no sign of a plan or revision.”

“The idea of criticism and assessment is not alien to the thinking of the Brotherhood, though it is alien to a segment inside the group which opposes and fights it.”

Talima explains that there were two camps in the Brotherhood: “The first follows the approach of subjecting ideas and performance to critical revision, acknowledging mistakes and studying how to avoid them in the future. The second prefers to confer an aura of sanctity and infallibility on their ideas and stances and will never admit to error.”

Talima recounts a dispute that erupted over a single point related to assessment and accountability within the Brotherhood. “We insisted on applying a regulation drawn up by the Brotherhood in Turkey against the wishes of the Muslim Brotherhood Organisation which only approved it very grudgingly. The regulation calls for a general assembly meeting to be convened every year in which the executive board presents an account of its performance over the preceding 12 months. On the basis of an appraisal of this performance, the general assembly votes to renew or withdraw confidence in the board. We also insisted that the performance presentation include an account of all funds, where they came from and how they were spent. All hell broke loose. The regulations came under attack, general assembly meetings were cancelled and all efforts to promote reconciliation between the two sides were wrecked by the administration’s insistence that there could be no general assembly meetings, no withdrawal of confidence and no account oversight. In sum, two approaches have locked horns inside the Brotherhood. One advocates review and accountability and the other resists these processes. This explains why a certain faction and certain individuals have attacked the ideological revisions.”

In conclusion, Talima stated: “My message to those who reject the efforts on the part of their brothers in the organisation is the following: You agreed to join ranks with those — civil forces in the January revolution alliance — who do not subscribe to your approach. These were praiseworthy actions. So why do you reject efforts undertaken by your brothers in the organisation which serve to promote its calling and the revolution? If your slogan is ‘Our end is to serve God,’ then prove it by deeds not idle words and look at the ideological revision from the perspective: ‘God praise he who guided me to my flaws’.”

While efforts to promote the Brotherhood revisions were in progress, former Egyptian Jihad leader Nabil Naim issued remarks that raised questions concerning revisions that many believe may lead to a cessation in the confrontations between the government and the Brotherhood. Naim revealed details about a meeting he had with presidential security advisor General Ahmed Gamaleddin at which the creation of a committee of religious thinkers to counter extremist thought was discussed. According to Naim, the committee Gamaleddin has in mind would include Osama Al-Azhari, secretary of the parliament’s Religious Affairs Committee, Ali Gomaa, former grand imam of Egypt, and senior officials from Al-Azhar, the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) and the Office of the Grand Mufti. Stressing the importance of the creation of an independent body of Al-Azhar scholars and religious leaders to counter extremist ideas Naim underscored the need to address realities on the ground, adding that the official religious institutions have yet to deliver an effective response to terrorism.

General Fouad Allam, former deputy director of State Security Intelligence who has experience of ideological revisions undertaken by jihadist leaders in prison in the past, says any ideological revision process among imprisoned Muslims would require the assembling of a corpus scriptural texts to counter those on which extremists base their ideas.

But can such revisions actually be achieved? And if so, will they pave the way to genuine reconciliation?

Some observers of Islamist affairs answer yes to both questions while others believe such expectations are unrealistic.

There is, too, a third perspective.

Former Brotherhood official Haitham Abu Khalil drew attention on his Facebook page to a 2009 article by Essam Al-Arian advocating the dismantling of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, disengagement from politics and full-time devotion to proselytising activities. Al-Arian argued the continued existence of the organisation promoted a tendency to fanaticism, intransigence and extremism instead of flexibility, centrism and moderation.

Abu Khalil wrote: “Essam Al-Arian’s call, in 2009, for the dismantling of the organisation was perhaps the most important and significant thing he has written. Unfortunately, he did not follow through. He was put through the mills and intricacies of the organisation which eventually engulfed him entirely after he joined the Guidance Bureau.”

Ibrahim Al-Zafrani, a onetime Brotherhood official who served on the group’s Shura Council, repeated the appeal that the group leave politics.

“The Brotherhood should take a sincere decision to abandon the quest for political power and devote itself to proselytising work. I hope to hear clear responses to this vision from the Brotherhood’s leaders. If they have alternative ideas they should voice them clearly and publicly.”

Sameh Eid, a former Brotherhood leader who broke away from the group, points out that the young Brothers who belong to the Mohamed Kamal front which issued the statement on revision are the members of the group most inclined to violence and extremism in their dealings with the regime. “The militant Hasm movement emerged from this front... The revisions leaked via some Brotherhood websites do not bode well as they are all inclined to violence. These revisions do not seek a rapprochement with the state though they may seek a rapprochement with opposition groups such as the 6 April Movement.”

Eid added that the Brotherhood’s reluctance to pursue reconciliation stemmed from its fear of triggering anger among its supporters after so many of them have been killed or detained. The Brotherhood has no other option but to reach a settlement if it wants to survive but the notion of abandoning politics is inconceivable given “the aim is to establish an Islamic government”.

Eid urged the government to set clear conditions for any reconciliation which should include a ban on any Muslim Brother running for parliament in the next five years. Eid argues reconciliation would work in favour of the government by alleviating international pressure based on allegations of human rights violations. It might also help reduce economic pressures on the state since “the Brotherhood commands significant economic resources”.

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