by Mordechai Kedar
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Angelo Pezzana)
Since its founding in 1928, the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood has been "Islam is the Solution", meaning that it is forbidden for Muslims to adopt any Western solution, like socialism, nationalism, patriotism, liberalism, pluralism, or any other "ism" of European creation, and that they must abide by the solutions found within the Islamic sources: the Qur'an and the tradition of the prophet Mohammed, peace and prayers be upon him. According to their approach, "The Qur'an is our constitution, the prophet is our leader, jihad is our way and death for the sake of Allah is our hope". This was all very well when they were fighting the evil forces of Gamal Abd el-Naser, Anwar al-Saadat and Husni Mubarak, who were not averse to using any means of oppression and torture for the Muslim Brotherhood, which took upon itself the responsibility of caring for the tens of millions of Egyptians living in unplanned slums, without flowing water, sewage, electricity or telephone.
Since the beginning of the revolution of the 25th of January, the Muslim Brotherhood has had to address the question of whether they should exploit the popular sympathy that was created towards them as a result of the community activities that they engaged in for many years, and turn it into political terms such as seats in the People's Council, the government and the presidency. Regarding the People's Council, a positive answer was easily taken, because the Brotherhood has held these seats since the days of Mubarak, when they took upon themselves the rules of the political game, because that was the only game on the field. In the first fair elections that were held in Egypt, at the end of 2011, the Brotherhood won almost half of the seats in the parliament, and together with the Salafis, the Islamic bloc makes up about 70 percent of the parliament. The important question confronting them today is whether or not to try for the president's seat as well. The considerations that guide them in this matter are:
- The results of the elections for parliament have demonstrated the popularity of the Brotherhood among the population; therefore their candidate will win the post of president of the state. This would be a golden opportunity for them to prove that indeed "Islam is the solution", and to establish for the first time, religious leadership. They are encouraged by the [previously secular] Turkish model, because even in Turkey, Islamism now rules the parliament, government and presidency.
- Conquest of the presidency will turn the Islamists into a "Sulta" - government - that will not be able to avoid using force against the population, and this will cause them to lose public sympathy.
- An Islamic president will be in continual conflict with the military, whose leaders may become angry, disperse the parliament and cancel the results of the elections, as occurred in Algeria in 1992.
- The Brotherhood will be identified with both the successes and the failures of the state, and the current condition of Egypt does not herald success.
- The secular groups will feel as if they are "out of the game" politically, so they will act against the rule of the Brotherhood even if it harms the state, its economy and its stability.
- The Islamic image of the state will put off the tourists and investors, and will make economic recovery difficult. The American civil (food) and military (weapons) support will also be endangered.
- The international atmosphere regarding Islamophobia will cause them to be the focus of monitoring and scrutiny by the international community.
- To run a modern state they will have to compromise on some important aspects of Islam, such as implementation of Islamic Shari'a, and difficult questions will immediately arise regarding such issues as the status of the (Christian) Copts, the serving of alcohol in restaurants, the raising of pigs by Copts, the obligation for women to dress modestly, decapitation of murderers, cutting off the hands of thieves, stoning adulteresses and flogging adulterers. Failure to implement Shari'a fully and strictly will bring embarrassing criticism by the Salafis upon the Brotherhood.
- The Brotherhood will need to take difficult decisions regarding the continuation of the peace with Israel. Keeping the treaty is against Islam, but canceling it will make them seem like dangerous agents for the stability of the region and the world. And they don't want to be in Iran’s position, regarding international opinion.
- The Brotherhood will have to wage an all-out war with the radical jihad organizations whose representatives are in Egypt, principally in Sinai, and the Muslim fundamentalists, both inside and outside of Egypt, will criticize them for this.
- The government of the Brotherhood will need to manage a relationship with Hamas, in such a way as not to put it in the negative light of cooperating with a terror organization.
In light of all of these negative considerations, the Shura Council of the Brotherhood decided last year not to propose a candidate for the presidency from among its ranks. Objections were so strong that in June of 2011 the movement expelled Abd al Mun'im abu al Futuh, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood, because he dared to propose himself as an independent candidate for the presidency, contrary to the wishes of the Brotherhood's leadership. However, things have changed since then. The fact that they won almost half of the seats of parliament caused many of the mid-level leaders to begin to think: They think that now they have the power and the ability to realize the dream of many years: to establish and run an Islamic state from bottom to top.
However, their intoxication with power places them between two hostile groups, the military and the liberals, each one hostile for its own reasons. The military fears that the Brotherhood intends to do what Erdogan did to the Turkish military, which was supposed to be a watchdog for the secular character of Turkey: to subjugate it. Under the auspices of Mubarak and his predecessors, the officers turned the Egyptian military into an independent economic empire that conducts itself without regard to the budget of the state, and it fears that the civil government will force it to divest itself from its economic assets. Officers of the military, most of whom are secular up to their ears, fear that a government that is colored with the Islamic green will force them to resign in order to turn their positions over to "our people".
There is also the important question of how correct it is for the United States to arm and equip the military of a state with an Islamic character such as that of the Muslim Brotherhood, and if the United States declines to continue its support, the military will quickly become useless. But the greatest reason that the military objects to the rule of the Brotherhood is that the civil government will put the military in its place and will disband the High Military Council, which apparently has become infatuated with power since February of 2011.
On the other hand, the liberal and secular groups also object to the Brotherhood having so much power, because they fear that this regime will limit their individual freedoms, shut the mouths of its detractors, force the secular women to dress in wide capes according to the Islamic dress code, forbid women to work in some professions (medicine, for instance) where they come into too close contact with men, impose censorship upon the press, books, films and plays, impose corporal punishment for religious trespasses, forbid the sale of alcohol, and break up political parties and organizations that do not meet with their approval.
The Copts are especially anxious, because they know very well that the intensification of Islamist trends will likewise increase the acts of harassment towards them, as individuals and as a group, and their lives, which are difficult to begin with, will become intolerable. Too many Muslims see Copts, with the wine that they drink and the pigs that they eat, to be the cause of Egypt's sufferings, and there are those among the Muslims, who think that the economic troubles that have settled upon the country during the last year, mainly the disappearance of tourism and investments, are a divine punishment for Egypt continuing to host the Christian Copts within its bosom, enabling them to conduct religious rituals and their way of life freely. The fact that the Copts are the indigenous people of Egypt and the Muslims are the descendants of Bedouins of the desert that invaded Egypt only in the seventh century and imposed Islam on part of its people, is not important in the eyes of the Muslims.
The question which naturally arises is: What caused the change in the position of the Brotherhood not to put forward a candidate for the presidency? The answer has to do with the deterioration of relations between the High Military Council and the Brotherhood, after the Brotherhood won a clear majority in the parliament. The Brotherhood fears that the temporary government under El-Ganzouri, who was named by the officers, will rig the elections for presidency in order to set up an anti-Islamic president who will be acceptable to the military. Therefore the Brotherhood demands to change the temporary government that was appointed by the military for a permanent government that will be chosen by the People's Council, which was elected democratically. The military objects and threatens to disperse the parliament and cancel the results of the elections. The suspicion of the Brotherhood is that the remnants of the old regime - military officers and some of the candidates for the presidency - are trying to cancel the achievements of the revolution, first and foremost the legitimate parliament that was elected democratically. Therefore the Brotherhood demands that the parliament form a new government to protect the revolution from" the tails of the old regime that continue to wag despite the fact that the head has been cut off" as one of them said in an interview on the BBC radio channel. Therefore the Brotherhood has decided to take a pre-emptive step and put up their own candidate, whose wide public support will be clear and it will be difficult to rig the elections.
The Question of the Constitution
The constitution is supposed to be the script according to which the government will conduct itself, dividing responsibilities and authorities between the parliament with its two houses, the president, the government, the prime minister, the legal system and the military. It is clear to all that it is impossible to continue acting according to the constitution that Mubarak established because it is designed to perpetuate his regime. In order to write a new constitution, the parliament chose a committee of one hundred members: fifty from the parliament and fifty community activists, at whose head is the president of the parliament, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Mahmud al Katatni. The structure of the committee and its composition has an Islamic character, and the secular minority fears that its members were selected only because they will give a seal of approval to a constitution with clear Islamic attributes. Because of this fear, the secular members of the committee have begun in recent days to resign from the committee one after another.
The military is also involved with writing the constitution, in order to assure that the civil regime will not harm its status; therefore it is not clear if the constitution will ever be completed. The general leader of the Brotherhood, Dr. Muhammad Badi’ said lately that the media are "Pharaoh's magicians, and Satan has allowed them to attack the Brotherhood, so it is the Brotherhood who should write the constitution." What he meant is that the new constitution must assure that the media say only that which the Brotherhood will allow them to say.
The Criticism of the Opposition
Mudkhat Qlada, a Coptic Egyptian intellectual who lives in Switzerland and writes frequently in the Egyptian press, writes this week: The problem of the general leader is the difference between him and Mubarak. Mubarak was a fascist regarding security matters and the leader of the Brotherhood is a religious fascist, and therefore all of his underlings must act according to "We will do and we will listen" to his instructions. His egoism has increased lately to the point where it has reached the level of an obsession and he thinks that he is the dictator of Egypt with a crown upon his head. He has begun to take out his bitterness on the media people who defended him and the Brotherhood during the challenges of the previous regime, and now he accuses them of heresy and says that they have sold their souls to the devil. He relates to the Brotherhood and those who serve them as if they are as holy as Moshe ben Amram, after he divided Egypt into two parts: the camp of believers and the camp of infidels. The Muslim Brotherhood has contracted and subsumed G-d within the Brotherhood and the angels of Islam are above all (while the others live on Earth, beneath). The general leader has become the supervisor in charge of soul-searching, and the lord of the Constitutional Council. His group will produce a constitution for Egypt and the head of parliament will act as Fathi Sorour (head of the parliament under Mubarak). However he is better than Sorour because he has folded Allah within his cape. If the general leader doesn't apologize for his words, why, there is no doubt that he is walking in the ways of Mubarak, because Mubarak belittled the people and the [general] leader belittles the political power of others".
These words express, - more than anything – the fear and anxiety of the seculars and the Copts for the future of Egypt, since it has become clear to the Egyptians that they have exchanged a secular dictatorship for a religious dictatorship. A similar thing happened in Iran in 1979.
Al Tahrir Square Awaits Them
Where the Superpowers Stand
It would have been interesting to hear the representatives of the United States and Russia react to the move of the Muslim Brotherhood regarding the presidency of Egypt. Hilary Clinton, the Secretary of State, declared that the United States will carefully investigate whether the Islamic regime in Egypt stands up to acceptable democratic standards, human rights, minority rights, and right of the political opposition. The woman who conducts the foreign policy of the United States could not have made a worse choice of words because the words that she said are insulting, offensive and humiliating to every Egyptian; as if Egypt is a small child whom the American kindergarten teacher interrogates as to what he did and to whom. The average Egyptian is well aware of Egypt's long history of thousands of years, just as he is aware of the achievements of the ancients, mainly in architecture and engineering. Is he willing to accept a "lesson" from a state that was established less than three hundred years ago? With her words, Clinton arouses hostility and suspicion, and pushes the Brotherhood beyond the sphere of American influence. There are other, more discrete and less harmful ways to convince the Brotherhood to relate with honor to the minorities, women, secular people and even to Israel and to its peace agreement with her.
On the other hand, we heard again this week from Yevgeny Primakov, who was the prime minister of Russia and fulfilled various intelligence functions in the past which were connected to the Middle East. (According to Batsi Gidowitz, he is a Jew whose original name was Yona Finklestein.) He claims that the support that the United States gives to Islamic organizations brings radical Muslims to power in the Arab world. The examples that he brings are Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria; states which, in every case, were involved with the West to a greater or lesser degree, openly or discreetly, and the result in every case is the emergence of political Islam from under the carpet to the political light of day. Russia, in its support of Asad, tries to retain the previous political order in which Islam was in the mosque, and the state was "normal", according to the Russian standards, of course, which were demonstrated in Chechnya, for example. According to his approach, the United States is guilty of raising the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt. Interesting.
Happy holiday to all the people of Israel.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally.
Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:
- Radical Islam in Africa
- Mordechai Kedar: What's Really Going on in Gaza?
- The Alternative Homeland
- The Real Thing
- The Division of Syria
- The Death Throes of the Lion
- An Old Governmental System in Formation
- Frustration and Extortion
- Thank You, Hamas
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.