Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Myth and reality of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood was uniquely well-positioned following the end of the Mubarak regime, but now it must make good on its promises, writes Mohamed Moustafa Orfy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Perhaps more than any other group worldwide, the Muslim Brotherhood has become a legend, since it has proven its incomparable ability to survive the widespread oppression, either legally or illegally, or justifiable or unjustifiable, of successive ruling regimes in Egypt over the past 80 years and from the time of the monarchy to the first three presidents of the republic.

Certainly, the oppression varied from period to period according to many factors, among which have been the calculations of mutual political expediency between the regime and the group, the way the group defied redlines drawn up by the government, and whether or not the group chose to resort to violence. But strikingly not only has the group survived, but it has now also taken power, winning the first parliamentary and presidential elections in post 25 January Egypt.

The oppression and the repeated imprisonments Brotherhood members suffered granted the group considerable public sympathy across the length and breadth of the country. What has deepened and widened this “affinity” has been the fact that quite a number of Muslim Brotherhood members have also shown, as individuals, a high degree of civility and respect in their dealings with others. Among them are prominent figures in various fields, including business, medicine, trade and science. Many members of this group have presented through their ethical behaviour and professional success prominent examples to be followed by young people.

However, this does not mean that the Brotherhood is made up of angels in human form. It is true that among the Muslim Brotherhood, as in any other group, there are those who have sought to wear the religious cloak to achieve a number of social and/or political aims. More importantly, the Brotherhood also successfully replaced the role of state, which had failed in providing the necessities of life to large parts of the population, particularly as regards medical care, education and daily supplies. This was true for the deprived and poorer societal layers that constitute more than 40 per cent of the total population, according to the most optimistic estimates. These voluntary actions granted the group social momentum that surpassed that of any other group in Egypt.

Yet, the decisive factor that explains the Brotherhood’s coming to power following the collapse of the Mubarak regime was the political vacuum that followed it. The previous regime had long been playing a game of political blackmail with internal as well as external parties, done by weakening the country’s political life and presenting the future as a choice between “them or us”. This formula succeeded in deterring many inside and outside Egypt from contemplating the departure of the regime. Not surprisingly, there was no organised force but the Muslim Brotherhood to take power as a result after the 25 January Revolution.

Throughout recent decades, many people, either from the intelligentsia or sympathisers with the group, expressed their support for granting the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to work lawfully within the existing political structure as long as it was ready to adopt democratic norms. The logic was that the continuing rejection of the Brotherhood would lead it to work behind the scenes and underground, and the issue was whether the group was or was not supportive of violence since all factions of so-called political Islam emanate from it. This last question has been difficult to answer, since all the existing literature has been influenced in one way or another by the ideological, religious and political orientations and backgrounds of its authors.

Despite these factors, the Brotherhood was not fully accepted by the elites or the political mainstream, from the far right to the extreme left, for a number of reasons, among them those outlined below.

First, the identification of the group as the “Muslim Brotherhood” means denying others from making the same or similar claims. Automatically, the group has divided society into members and non-members of the group and subsequently into those willing or unwilling to deal with it. Some argue that the creation of such an exclusive group in any case contradicts the call of unity and non-discrimination found in the Quran and Sunna, the latter being the Prophet Mohamed’s teachings and statements.

Second, one of the main rules of Islamic teaching since the emergence of Islam has been that Islam does not recognise any forms of intermediary between God and his creation. Islam does not recognise the “man of religion”, though it does acknowledge the existence of religious scholars from whom people can draw knowledge. However, this does not allow or entitle such scholars to play the role of guardians or practice any form of censorship over others. Accordingly, many people cannot accept the idea of having a “supreme guide”, as is the case at the top of the Brotherhood, to whom members of the group swear allegiance, since this is not a practice really consistent with the principles of Islam.

Third, Islam clearly states that God does not accept any good action unless the intention behind it is dedicated to Him. However, many relate the good deeds of the Muslim Brotherhood in poor areas as actions having political ends and not actions that are done purely for the sake of goodness alone or actions dedicated to God. To put it more bluntly, the Brotherhood’s assistance has been perceived as a sort of hypocrisy that has exploited human needs in order to pave the way towards attaining political objectives.

Fourth, the mixing of religion and politics has always been seen as a recipe for disaster. This has frequently been proven by historical experience and geographical examples. In my view, Islam by nature puts limits to what should or should not be handled by religious rules. Evidence is provided here by the saying of the Prophet Mohamed that indicates that “you know better your worldly affairs”, which means in essence that Muslims should seek guidance by identifying the national interests of their country.

The situation of the Prophet Mohamed, for whom the head of state was at the same time the religious guide, was a unique one, and it is one that cannot be repeated. It should be acknowledged that there is some sort of impossibility in achieving a complete separation between religion and politics in Islam, as in the Western-style secular system, due to the nature of Muslim society and the Islamic message itself. However, mixing the two more than is necessary paints everything with a religious brush, and this creates a sort of religious mania that is not in the interests of the whole of society.

Finally, making promises and then failing to respect them will automatically undermine or at least harm the credibility of the group. This has been very evident in the group’s practices over the past two years. Credibility can be hard to regain once it is lost in the eyes of others. The Muslim Brotherhood badly needs to embrace others, since the existing challenges require and necessitate national consensus and devotion.

In doing so, the group could refute the long-standing accusation, long echoed by its critics, that the worst thing about the Brotherhood is that its allegiance to the group and its ideological project is of paramount importance to the extent that it might surpass its loyalty to Egypt and its commitment to the national interest.

The Brotherhood needs to maximise its efforts to refute this accusation very soon, or otherwise it could be in danger of coming true.

The writer is a political analyst.


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