Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

The end of political Islam?

The Egyptian people’s decision to end Brotherhood rule in Egypt has meant the end of the three-decade sway of political Islam, writes Galal Nassar

Al-Ahram Weekly

In writing this column I would first of all like to reiterate my message to foreign observers of the situation in Egypt by saying that the Egyptian army has once again chosen to side with a popular revolution that has the same spirit and aims of its predecessor two-and-a-half years ago. This time the revolution was motivated by opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to assert its hegemony over the state and society by packing the ministries and other branches of government with its own men. Its chief instrument in this “Brotherhoodisation” of the state was former president Mohamed Morsi, who consistently acted not as a president for all Egyptians but as a president only for the Muslim Brotherhood from which he hailed.

During the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, the economic crisis, one of the prime causes of the revolution against the former Mubarak regime, went from bad to worse and the security situation continued to deteriorate. Perhaps a main reason for this was the incredible indulgence shown to proven terrorist elements during Brotherhood rule, these being not only released from prison but also handed important posts in government. The most notorious example of this was the assassin of the late writer and human rights activist Farag Foda. Immediately upon his release, this murderer appeared on various satellite TV shows to boast of his crime, contributing his share to the inflammation of sectarian and religious hatred that was one of the hallmarks of the Morsi era.

In their previous revolution that began on 25 January 2011, the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear. They learned that by marching together, armed only with their faith in the justice of their cause, they would be capable of breaking iniquitous bonds and asserting their will. On 30 June this year, they put these lessons into practice once again in legendary marches by peaceful multitudes that were of a magnitude never experienced anywhere else in the world. These marches showed that the Egyptian people were determined to break free from a cage of illusions and superstitions, to reconnect with today’s world, and to progress into the future.

However, the purpose of this article is not to discuss the future of Egypt. There will be plenty of time for that as we grapple with the issues and challenges before us. Instead, the aim of this column is to focus on the significance of the 30 June Revolution. This was important because it freed the Egyptian people from the rule of an exclusivist and despotic regime that had made a disaster of the opportunity it had been given to govern. Yet, the significance of the revolution extends even beyond this, for it marked the end of a grim, four decade-long period that was characterised by the increasingly suffocating effects of radical political Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood was established as a religious association in Ismailia in 1928. Its founder, Hassan Al-Banna, served as its supreme guide until he was assassinated in 1949. While the organisation has passed through many different phases, perhaps the most salient constant has been its hostility and active resistance to the civil state.

The Brotherhood was also founded at a curious time, five years into the era that had been ushered in by the 1923 constitution, which, in turn, had been made possible by the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 that had called for liberty, independence and democracy. The political clout and influence of the Wafd Party, the pioneering nationalist party, was growing at this time, and some historians have suggested that one of the reasons why the Muslim Brotherhood was founded was precisely in order to undermine the Wafd’s struggle against the British occupation.

Reports that the Suez Canal Company supported the group financially sustain this hypothesis. In any case, what is certain is that the Muslim Brotherhood threw its weight behind the Ismail Sidki government that came to power in 1930 and that was notorious for its suspension of the 1923 constitution, its assault on civil rights and liberties and its close ties with the British occupation authorities. It was in the interests of the latter that the Sidki government systematically clamped down on the Wafd Party, then at the forefront of the independence drive. The Muslim Brotherhood had already begun to display the characteristics that would later continue to define its behaviour.

The Muslim Brothers at this time justified their support for the Sidki government in spite of the popular struggle to defend a democratic constitution on the grounds that they had decided to dedicate themselves to the affairs of the Islamic world as a whole since their political mission was universal, rather than national. If by this they meant that their universal mission had set them above and apart from the concerns of the people’s movement, or that they were religiously bound to obey the ruler, the argument did not withstand the test of time. By the late 1940s, the Brotherhood was openly clashing with the Mohamed Al-Nukrashi government, and in 1948 a member of the Brotherhood’s paramilitary wing assassinated the prime minister. Al-Nukrashi was succeeded by Ibrahim Abdel-Hadi, during whose premiership Al-Banna was killed in a revenge assassination, delivering the first major setback to the Brotherhood since its establishment some 20 years beforehand.

The Muslim Brotherhood behaved in a similar manner following the 23 July 1952 Revolution. It took it a few days before it declared its support for the Free Officers Movement, but even then the Brotherhood refused to join the popular resistance against the British who still controlled the Suez Canal Zone. Its excuse, conveyed at the time by supreme guide Hassan Al-Hodeibi to president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, was that the liberation of Suez was a purely national concern, while the Muslim Brotherhood was taking part in a global mission. “You have your priorities and we have ours, and the Suez Canal is not one of ours,” he was reported to have said.

However, the Brotherhood did support Abdel-Nasser’s subsequent decision to dissolve the country’s political parties. It banked on the fact that it would be the only effective faction left in the political game as a result, but what it did not factor into its calculations was the repercussions of its betrayal of the 1952 Revolution and, even less, of its assassination attempt against Nasser in 1954 while he was addressing a crowd at Manshiya in Alexandria.

This assassination attempt ushered in one of the most gruelling periods in the Muslim Brotherhood’s history. Several of its leaders were sentenced to death, many were sent to prison, and those who could fled abroad. Then, a decade later, the Brotherhood was accused of an attempted coup, leading to another sweep of arrests. Foremost among those arrested at this time was Sayed Qutb, the Brotherhood’s radical ideologue, who was noted in particular for his elaboration of the religio-political concept of “the house of Islam” versus “the house of heresy”. Qutb was sentenced to death and executed in 1966, but his thinking, termed “Qutbist”, remained an inspiration to Islamist extremists.

With Egypt’s defeat in 1967, the Egyptian and Arab nationalist movement fell into sharp decline, as did the Egyptian liberals and leftists and other advocates of the civil state. While Arab nationalist and leftist thought then slumbered for more than three decades, the Arab region saw the rise of what has been termed the “Islamist awakening”. During this period, the Muslim Brotherhood was reborn and became increasingly active and influential in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab region and the Islamic world. It also became increasingly under the grip of Qutbist thought, which bred a plethora of jihadist and takfiri terrorist organisations, such as the Takfir wal-Higra group that was responsible for a number of bombings and kidnappings in Egypt and for the assassination of former president Anwar Al-Sadat. The Al-Qaeda organisation and its various affiliates were a culmination of this trend.

In tandem with the growth and spread of the Islamist organisations, the values of rationality, freedom, and of the civil state fell into decline, while myths and fabrications spread, fanaticism, intolerance and hatred gained the ascendancy, and horizons grew ominously dark and narrow. However, today the Egyptian people have chosen to reverse this trend. Their decision to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt, which they carried out with the Tamarod petition drive that culminated in the 30 June demonstrations, started the countdown to the end of the era of the sway of radical political Islam, in all its manifestations, in the Arab region.

Simultaneously, the removal of the Brotherhood from power in Egypt has ushered in a new era, in which horizons have begun to clear and in which the Arab people are now able to reset their compasses towards the future and the resumption of a civilisational project that entails the construction of a state for all citizens that is founded on the rule of law, the principles of justice, equality and freedom, and the spirit of openness, tolerance and creativity.

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