Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Rising to the occasion

What happened to the Muslim Brotherhood? Ammar Ali Hassan plots the demise of an ideal

Al-Ahram Weekly

For 80 years the Muslim Brotherhood has been dreaming of power. Once it achieved its goal it began its precipitous slide. One might say it had a meteoric rise to a precipice. Now in the public glare the Muslim Brothers betrayed their lack of expertise, their mismanagement and other long hidden flaws. It is equally evident that far from being “reformists”, as they had cast themselves before the revolution, they are for the most part “hardliners”, true to the ideas of Sayed Qutb. Their “window dressing” did not display what was inside the “workshop”.

In the course of my studies in the mid-1980s I read the works of Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. I also read the writings of Sayed Qutb in his three phases: critic and poet, Islamic thinker who advocated social justice and the aesthetics of the Quranic text, and a bitter, resentful brooder who viewed the world from the eye of a needle or from the niche of the cell in which he languished until they took him to the gallows.

Egyptian and Arabic literary circles honoured the Qutb of the first phase with gratitude, not least for his role in introducing Naguib Mahfouz. Political moderates hailed the Qutb of the second phase and lauded his Social Justice in Islam as a peerless monograph. Sadly his disciples overlook these two phases and instead celebrate his final phase, quoting approvingly what were reportedly among his last words: “I do not want to be remembered for anything that I have written apart from Milestones on the Road and In the Shade of the Quran.”

At the time I was reading the works of Al-Banna the head of the MB was Omar Al-Telmesani, a splendid, mild-mannered moderate. Although I did not follow news of him closely people spoke well of him and I admired him. It came as a disappointment after he died to see the MB shift back from “preachers” to “judges”. This was the point that the group began to relinquish the education and training that aspires to lofty morals and spiritual fulfilment in favour of political ambitions and all the craftiness, lies and deception involved therein. Although, to me at least, Al-Banna was a brilliant “organiser” rather than a great “theorist”, I was impressed by his discussions of gradual social and moral reform as much as by his ability to build a cohesive social network on the foundations of a rigidly disciplined organisation. I knew why the Muslim Brothers initially rejected Qutb’s ideas. They found too great a gulf between Qutb and Al-Banna. Al-Banna worked to promote change through the dissemination of “wisdom and sound counsel”. Qutb advocated a precipitous leap to power. He was impatient and longed to see the vision in which he believed made concrete.

Over subsequent decades the Muslim Brotherhood mutated. The organisation became the “golden calf” and its soldiers, who admired the experience of their predecessors in the “special wing”, gradually gained ascendancy. Eventually they wrested full control of the leadership of the Gamaa (group), its money, hierarchical structures and its dogma. These new commanders, who were at heart disciples of Qutb regardless of the lip service they paid to Al-Banna, gradually marginalised and ousted anyone among their ranks who differed with their views and methods.

The current Muslim Brotherhood leadership has no qualms about pouncing on power. They were in such a rush that they did not bother to ask themselves three questions: is society fully prepared to accept what they stand for and thereby willing to give them its loyalty and support, as Al-Banna once dreamed? Could their performance impact negatively on the image of the Muslim Brotherhood which, under Hosni Mubarak, had acquired much popular sympathy? Might the level of religious observance and even faith decline in Egypt now that the elites of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been popularly regarded as “men of God” or “godly souls”, have taken off their masks and are behaving exactly like those they used to condemn for deviating from God’s law?

If the past five months of the Morsi government has told us anything it is that the performance of the Muslim Brothers is no different to that of the regime they have been so desperate to replace. Here they go, borrowing from the IMF, promoting loyalists and lackeys over experts and professionals, attacking their adversaries through rumour campaigns, insinuation and e-mail assaults, breaking promises and commitments left, right and centre. They have availed themselves of every Machiavellian trick as they ingratiated themselves with Washington and worked to keep Egypt tied to Western skirt tails, embraced figures from the Mubarak regime and offered them ministerial posts, favoured the interests of the monopolistic superrich at the expense of the vast majority struggling to put bread on their tables. The appalling gap between what they say and what they do exposes the Muslim Brotherhood’s immorality to all.

Many people voted for Muslim Brotherhood candidates in parliamentary elections not because of the specifics of their platform but because they believed they were trustworthy and could help Egypt out of the state of confusion that prevailed after the revolution. Most of the people who voted for Mohamed Morsi in the presidential elections did not do so out of love for him or his ideas, but to spite SCAF and because they feared the return of the Mubarak regime. The Brotherhood’s leadership knew this which is why their propaganda machine, in the run up to the second round of the elections, advised people to swallow the bitter pill and vote for their candidate. What this signifies is that they also knew that the seedling Al-Banna had planted and hoped would be nurtured into a luxuriant tree had not matured. Rather, it had developed into a frail plant that bent before the wind and whose fruits may have been boosted by doses of artificial fertilisers but which were still inedible.

 The clique that controls the Muslim Brotherhood is perfectly free to assassinate Hassan Al-Banna once again, this time with the pen of Qutb. After all, they are in charge. What I fear, though, is that they will make the whole of Egyptian society pay the exorbitant price of their experiment.

Moral collapse precedes political collapse. This is one of the lessons of history. I imagine that if Al-Banna returned to life and saw the people who are sitting smugly at the head of the organisation he struggled to build and for which he died, he would tell them, “You’ve ruined me.” As he turned away he would reiterate the words he famously directed at the members of the “secret organisation” that abandoned proselytising in favour of bloodshed: “Those are not brothers. They are not Muslims!”

While the Muslim Brotherhood was absorbed in their opportunist obsession with how to grab total power others have been grappling with a more crucial question: will the Muslim Brotherhood soon be consigned to the annals of history? The situation on the ground makes it clear the Gamaa is in a historic crucible and its continued cohesion, social influence and political presence can no longer be taken for granted.

Not that long ago, on one memorable Friday in Tahrir Square, many Salafis joined the revolutionaries in chants accusing the Muslim Brothers of seeking power at the expense of the revolution, bartering away the blood of the martyrs in their secret negotiations with SCAF. Today a large segment of the Salafis are siding with the Muslim Brotherhood against the “secularist” boogieman that the Muslim Brothers are using to secure their support until they accomplish their immediate aims. The Salafis are in for a rude awakening. The history of the Muslim Brotherhood tells us time and again that once they get what they want they turn against their provisional allies. At least one Salafi leader may already be well aware of this, judging from the statements and interviews of Sheikh Yasser Burhami.

Within the Muslim Brotherhood fold there is visible discomfort at the sight of MB gangs being set against President Morsi’s critics. The gap between the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and the supporters of Abul-Fotouh is broadening by the day and large segments of MB youth are increasingly torn by doubts. Some more senior members have begun to question whether they have, indeed, reached the pinnacle of “comfortable empowerment” after decades of “wretchedness” in the wilderness. They had been so confident following the parliamentary and presidential elections. Now all around them more and more people are eyeing them as ideologically bankrupt, as unable to solve society’s problems, as too inept to manage the affairs of the state. In the past five months, the Muslim Brothers have succeeded only in winning themselves enemies. Now they feel that their only route to survival is to “win” at whatever cost. This is the beginning of the road to ignominious defeat.

Pride comes before a fall. Megalomaniacs draw censor from all quarters and inspire joy and relief when they go. The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood had envisioned that the people’s love for them would carry them to the helm and that everyone would kiss the hand of the supreme guide and venerate him. He would never have imagined that people would jeer at this leader and his entire entourage.

Before the revolution, any Muslim Brotherhood member you spoke with would be openly proud of his political affiliation. He could be sure that you saw him as a fighter, someone struggling for a righteous cause, a potential martyr. Today a young person in Tahrir Square or on the Internet with some residual sympathy for the Muslim Brothers will prelude his remarks with “I’m not an Ikhwani, but...” Or, if a young man admits to his MB affiliation, he will readily agree that the group’s leaders are wrong and confess that he is fearful and uncertain of what the future holds. None of them feel that the truncheons they held while defending Muslim Brotherhood headquarters and offices from angry mobs should remain in their hands for ever, and it worries them that their leaders have chosen the path of confrontation.

The leaders of the “special wing” and the “Qutbists” who now dominate the Muslim Brotherhood miscalculated. They imagined that Egyptians had voted for the MB “project” and that the time of complete and perpetual power had come. They thought that the generals who had no political experience and the divided and squabbling “secular” forces could never stand in their way. So they swaggered about dismissive of anyone who did not try to curry their favour. They dispatched delegations to convince the world that their era of rule was just around the corner, and offered concessions and compromises at the expense of Egypt’s interests, as occurred in the “Gaza truce”.

They were wrong. The “secularists”, as fragmented as they may be, have proven that they can be effective. The army has not receded from the domestic field; it has preserved all its privileges. All that happened is that the clock has turned back to 24 January 2011, with Morsi in the presidential palace instead of Mubarak. Morsi knows that the men at the head of the army are far from stupid, so he has given them every reassurance with regard to their status and money. The networks of the old regime were never dismantled. In their haste to hijack the revolution and monopolise power, the Muslim Brotherhood gave them an unexpected kiss of life by striking up a marriage of convenience. The Hisham Kandil cabinet boasts eight members of Gamal Mubarak’s policies committee.

Religious political organisations and groups, especially those with political agendas and ambitions for power, are born, pass from infancy into adolescence, then after a period of adulthood they begin to age and fade away. Such are the laws of life, sociology and politics, which is why Abdel-Moneim Al-Hifni was able to fill a huge volume with stories of Islamic sects, some of whose political stars appeared momentarily in the skies but which have long since faded without trace.

The writer is a political analyst.

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