The Immoderate Brothers

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt recently announced that it had established an independent political party—the Freedom and Justice Party—to represent the group in the next elections. Clearly named in an attempt to keep pace with the current phase of popular uprisings, brotherhood member, Mohamed Morsy, said in his first statement as party head: “The [Muslim Brotherhood] Shura Council discussed many issues, and issued these decisions which we hope will be in the interest of Egypt, in light of the constitution and laws we hope will serve Egyptians.” He added that, “the party will be completely independent from the group [Muslim Brotherhood] in every way.”

How can the new party be independent from the Muslim Brotherhood?

How can the new party be independent from the Muslim Brotherhood? This is a legitimate question, for what is the need that prompts a group that is nearly 80 years old to establish a new [political] party that is administratively and politically independent from it? Those who know the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood justify this action under the pretext that the (amended) constitution still prohibits the establishment of [political] parties based upon religious platforms, which it does so in Article V.

But all that this means is that the oldest religious party in the region does not want to change its principle of politically exploiting religion, or re-draft its constitution to comply with the civil requirements of the national constitution. In other words this new party will be nothing more than a “front” for the old party. In truth, we do not know how a party can raise civil slogans whilst being owned by another party that raises religious ones, or how anybody can justify this legally and constitutionally. If the new party refers its establishment back to a decision made by the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood, which raises a religious slogan, then the party by necessity is based on a religious platform that differentiates between citizens.

For more than six decades, writers and researchers have argued that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party is made up of doves and hawks, and that reforming—or developing—the party is being prohibited by a group of the old guard. However, even after the latest change of names and faces, the party remains the same, along with its literature which was formulated in an atmosphere of conflict with now obsolete parties and clashes with former governments. Yet despite this, the brotherhood continues to garner new supporters.

The Muslim Brotherhood argues that they are “missionaries, not judges,” and that they stand against all forms of violence. This is relatively true in that the group has no recognized armed wing, but the problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is not whether it is armed or not, but that it promotes a fundamentalist culture that is at odds with the civil world. Meanwhile, the group has a supreme guide to whom all members must pledge allegiance.

The culture of the brotherhood is that there is only one path to take, namely “the Islamic solution,” or in other words, the totalitarian rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which teaches its cadres religious extremism and fundamentalist discourse. In the end, however, the group says that it does not believe in bearing arms, and that this is part of the fiqh principle of ijtihad (making a decision based upon personal effort independent of any school of jurisprudence). The hadith, or words and deeds, of the Prophet claim that somebody who engages in ijtihad and reaches the correct conclusion receives two rewards [from God], whilst somebody who reaches a wrong conclusion nevertheless receives one reward.

 The culture of the brotherhood is that there is only one path to take, namely “the Islamic solution,” or in other words, the totalitarian rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which teaches its cadres religious extremism and fundamentalist discourse.

Each time the Muslim Brotherhood addresses a crisis there is a reference to a speech here, or an interview there, made by a member (a dove) of the group saying that in its forthcoming program his party will move towards democracy, or respecting civil rights, or women’s rights, or freedom of expression, or rights for minorities. However, it is not long before another member (a hawk) comes out to release a statement invalidating all those rosy and idealistic statements, and the result is that the group changes its tactical positions, or political maneuvers, but nothing happens to suggest there is a genuine intellectual effort to change its (radical) ideology in order to become a civil party. Anyone who exerts a genuine effort ends up leaving the party, because the Muslim Brotherhood allows reform within its branches but not its foundations.

Some are optimistic that the brotherhood will have to change in a democratic or civil sense because of the “revolution” against tyranny that is currently dominant in the region, and by providing an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in political activity without restrictions, this will enhance its chances of becoming a civil entity after it has experienced power, and people will be able to judge the Muslim Brotherhood based on its performance, not its rhetoric. Yet these people forget they are talking about a D’awa group that believes people are straying off the righteous track, a group that has not changed its slogans until this day, so how could it accept the terms of the democratic game that are only available in a secular or civil climate? Why should the head of a totalitarian party take power immediately, whilst others must wait for to be granted their “freedom” and “justice?”!

First published in Asharq Alawsat Newspaper on 04/05/2011.

About altoraifi
Al Toraifi is the current Editor-in-Chief of Al Majalla, the leading Arab magazine. A specialist on Saudi foreign policy, he is recognized as a commentator and participant in televised programs for CNN, NBC, BBC and Al-Arabia TV. Awarded the post-graduate International Conflict Prize 2008 from Kingston University for outstanding work, Mr Al-Toraifi is currently a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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