Retrospections on the Arab Spring, Part 3January 31, 2013
The social and political fallout of the political phenomenon called “Arab Spring” is huge, has reshaped the Middle East, and has global repercussions. The mass media outlets have done everything to conceal or distort the true character of events, changing the storyline often from week to week and causing confusion rather than clarification.
This series of blog post is a humble attempt to diminish the confusion.
Part 1 of this series discussed the false perceptions of Western liberals about the political phenomenon called “Arab Spring”, rooted either in deceptive media reports or willful misinterpretation of the events.
Part 2 described the negative consequences for Arab women that the Arab Spring and the ensuing political changes brought.
Part 3 tries to portrait one of the big players in the drama that the Arab Spring has become (depending on mood and perspective one could equally use the terms “farce”, “show”, “theater”, “tragedy”). Part 3 is about the Muslim Brotherhood.
Disclaimer: Western liberals who instinctively applaud and cheer the destruction of Arab states (the cruise missile left) should skip this post because they could be confronted with disturbing or irritating facts. Religious persons should skip this post because it is a critical analysis of a religious organization.
The Muslim Brotherhood
By taking advantage of the Arab Spring unrest and due to Western and Gulf state funding for radical Islamic groups the Muslim Brotherhood has become the worlds dominating Islamic movement and the face of Islam.
The Brotherhood has seized power in Tunisia and Egypt (where it originated), it is still ruling in Sudan, though embattled, it has a strong base in Qatar, and systematically increases its influence in Libya. If the NATO/GCC coalition is able to defeat Syria, the Brotherhood will be in the best position to take power there.
The Muslim Brotherhood appears in many different forms, figures, and guises. It can resemble a lobby group, a network of religious organizations, a charity, a fraternity, a fundraising syndicate, an opposition movement, a political party, a militia, a terror group.
One of the most successful tactics of the Global Muslim Brotherhood is the establishment of a dizzying number of organizations and initiatives to create the impression of broad based public support when, in reality, the founders of these groups are always the same notorious individuals and the new organizations are just copies of earlier established bodies.
Most times the founders are persons who have been around for many years, they know each other well, they in a sense are part of a secretive private network. These persons have the experience and also the means to fund and promote new initiatives and make them succeed even in an unfriendly and alien environment.
The Muslim Brotherhood can be viewed as a global coalition of religious motivated groups which are united by Sunni Islam and the common goal to establish a strict version of Islam (based on the interpretations of the Quran written in the three generations following the Prophet Muhammad) and Sharia law across the world.
Sharia law is a Quran-based legal code which includes punishments like flogging, chopping off limbs (including Hudud, the cross amputation of a foot and a hand) and stoning or crucifixion as a means of execution. A central aspect of Sharia law is the implicit superiority of men and the submission of women under male rule.
The Muslim Brotherhood uses a populist language of mobilization but transcends nationalism to encompass the wider Umma of the Muslims, which clashes often with national interests. The organization took advantage of the rising religiosity after the defeat of Arab nations by Israel in 1967. This defeat was commonly seen also as a defeat of Nasser’s Islamic socialism.
The Brotherhood easily joins coalitions with other Sunni Islamic movements across the whole ideological range from Turkeys Justice and Development Party (AKP) to hardline Salafi/Wahhabi/Takfiri movements.
Turkeys AKP went through five incarnations before it found a political form and a program that voters would embrace and the military would (reluctantly) accept. This transformations though were only tactical and have not changed the basic vision which is the promotion of Islamic culture and the establishment of an autocratic theocracy. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has close personal ties with the Syrian chapter of the Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood is financial independent due to the control of companies and financial institutions in the Gulf States and because of the generous support by Qatar. This allows to create a complicated organizational network and the strategic allocation of resources. The Brotherhood is in this respect somehow similar to a multinational concern.
The Brothers are staunch capitalists, with obvious consumerist middle class appetites. They pursue an “Islamized” American Dream that appeals to the middle class muslims who want to imitate the khaliji (Gulf) life styles. Many high ranking Brotherhood members, like for instance the Egyptians Khairat el-Shater and Hassan Malek, are wealthy businessmen.
The Muslim Brotherhood speaks of charity work and kindness towards each other, but doesn’t seem to have a vision of a social welfare state.
Successive generations in the Gulf area have, over the past eighty years, been taught by Brotherhood intellectuals and professors who control the educational sector and have developed curricula, charities and Da’wa societies around the world.
Quite a few Gulf States, especially Dubai, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, recently though became worried about the Muslim Brotherhood’s control over Egypt, Tunisia, and Sudan, and the attempts to take control in Jordan, Yemen, and Syria. The Gulf monarchs believe that there is an Egypt-Turkey-Qatar alliance behind the Muslim Brotherhood expansion which wants to control the entire region and that a “domino” effect will eventually reach their own capitals.
Kuwaiti MP Abdullah Al Tamim called for an investigation into potential Brotherhood sleeper cells, there is a growing gap in Saudi — Turkish relations, and the UAE tries to undermine Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi by supporting the Salvation Front Party. In September the UAE arrested 60 Emiratis who belong to the Brotherhood, they are still in custody. In December 11 Egyptians were arrested and accused of espionage, holding secret meetings, recruiting members, setting up front companies, and sending large amounts of money to Egypt’s Brotherhood leaders.
Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim alleged, that like the Mafia, the Muslim Brotherhood has a small decision-making core that controls everything, that is uses to seize the money allocated to charity, and that it plans to exploit the treasuries of the nations where it is in power. “What we hear about the Brotherhood reminds us of the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” he said.
Founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s original mission was to Islamize society through the promotion of Islamic law, values, and morals. From its early days on, the Brotherhood was financed generously by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which appreciated its ultra-conservative politics and its virulent hatred of Arab communists.
The British understood soon that they could use the organization as a battering ram against nationalists and communists. Notwithstanding the Brothers’ alleged Islam-based anti-imperialism, they treated them favorably and established personal ties. The Brotherhood began soon making common cause with the British colonial rulers and worked as an intelligence agency, infiltrating left-wing and nationalist groups.
The Brotherhood functioned from there on as a de facto branch of Western intelligence and that has not changed throughout the years. There is ample evidence tying the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood directly to the CIA.
According to Robert Baer, a former CIA covert operations specialist, the CIA endorsed the idea of using the Muslim Brotherhood against Nasser in Egypt. In “Sleeping With the Devil,” Baer outlines the tactics of a top-secret US effort: “At the bottom of it all was this dirty little secret in Washington: the White House looked on the Muslim Brotherhood as a secret ally, a secret weapon. This covert action started in the 1950’s with the Dulles brothers (Allen at the CIA and John Foster at the State Department) when they approved Saudi Arabia’s funding of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood against Nasser.”
Robert Dreyfuss writes in his book Devils Game:
“If Allah agreed to fight on our side, fine. If Allah decided political assassination was permissible, that was fine, too, as long as no one talked about it in polite company. Like any other truly effective covert action, this one was strictly off the books. There was no CIA finding, no memorandum notification to Congress. Not a penny came out of the Treasury to fund it. In other words, no record. All the White House had to do was give a wink and a nod to countries harboring the Muslim Brotherhood, like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”
In 1954 the group’s chief international organizer and best-known official was Said Ramadan, the son-in-law of founder Hassan al-Banna. Ramadan had come to the attention of both CIA and MI-6 and had likely been recruited as a CIA agent. Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson has extensively documented the close ties between Ramadan and various Western intelligence services.
At this time the Brotherhood was used as a weapon against Nasser and, beyond that, all Arab socialist leaders who were part of a rising tide of Arab nationalism which sought, as its ultimate goal, independence from Western imperial domination.
The Brotherhood and Salafism
Salafism was constituted in 1744 as an agreement between the patriarch of the Saudi ruling family, Muhammad bin Saud, and Muhammad ibn Abdel-Wahhab, who sought to purify the creed and religious practices of Muslims. Since then his followers, called Wahhabis or Salafists could exert their authority through the religious establishment without need to engage in politics.
Compared to the Salafists the Muslim Brotherhood had a more adaptive approach toward Islam and they also in contrast to the largely apolitical Salafists sought the creation of Islamic states to counter the rise of secular Arab nationalism.
The founding of the Egyptian republic through a military coup, which ended British rule in 1952, marked the advent of secular left-wing Arab nationalism. When the Brotherhood was banned in Egypt after a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954 many Brotherhood members fled to Saudi Arabia. The spread of Nasserism consequently led to a temporary alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi royal family.
In Egypt meanwhile Sayyid Qutb, a prominent member of the Brotherhood, laid down the ideological grounds for the use of jihad, or armed struggle, against the Nasser regime and beyond. Qutb’s writings, in particular his 1964 work Milestones, has provided the intellectual and theological underpinnings for the founders of numerous militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. Extremist leaders often quote Qutb to argue that governments not ruled by sharia are apostate and therefore legitimate targets of jihad. Sayyid Qutb was executed in Egypt in 1966.
Some of the world’s most famous terrorists were once Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, including Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
An exchange of ideas was almost inevitable, as Salafists and Brotherhood Islamists joined in fighting Soviet-backed Nasserism throughout the Islamic world, resulting in some degree of synthesis of thought. This meant that Salafists became political active and Brotherhood followers adapted a more austere and puritanical interpretation of Islam.
Throughout the 1990s, Saudi Arabia could contain the politicization trend at home and was relieved to see the Brotherhood kept under control in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, but after the 9/11 attacks Saudi Arabia was in an urgent need to drastically reform Salafism in the kingdom to both keep the royal family standing and crush the jihadist threat.
The same religious, tribal, security and commercial channels that al Qaeda relied on to build its network were turned on the group when religious leaders, aligned with the royal family, led a campaign to expose al Qaeda’s ideological deviance from traditional Salafist thought and rapidly undercut the legitimacy of the jihadist movement in the kingdom.
The Muslim Brotherhood used the rise of al Qaeda to distinguish itself as the legitimate Islamist mainstream while labeling the Salafists, al Qaeda, and their affiliates as the radical fringe. Having outmaneuvered their Islamic competitors and with covert support of the West they dramatically increased their influence.
In 2002 alone, Brotherhood-connected Islamist political forces in Turkey, Morocco and Pakistan made substantial gains in polls. In 2005 candidates from the still-banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, running as independents, won 25 percent of the parliamentary seats. In the same year the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood took the majority of seats won by Sunnis in the second post-Saddam Hussein parliamentary elections. Even a militant strand of Brotherhood ideology, Hamas, swept the polls in the Gaza Strip when it made its electoral debut in 2006.
After the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia was subjected to more and more restrictions the movement had to look for a new base. A few Brotherhood leaders moved to Qatar, they were welcomed and pleased with what they found and they paved the way for more to follow.
The relationship between Qatar and the Brotherhood was formed and is maintained largely through personal ties, which play a vital role. In the last two decades the emirate has hosted activists from many Arab countries, providing them with refuge and employment.
Sheik Yusif Al Qaradawi, a Qatari national and resident of Egyptian origin, is a good example. He was among a group of Muslim Brotherhood leaders who immigrated to Qatar during the Nasser era and set up a branch in the Gulf state. Now he is the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and his television program on Islamic laws and principles has made him a star on Al Jazeera.
Another example of personal ties involves Rafiq Abdulsalaam, Tunisia’s foreign minister. He is the son-in-law of Rashid Al Ghanouchi, the head of Ennahda, Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood party. Mr Abdulasalaam was formerly the head of the Research and Studies Division in the Al Jazeera Centre in Doha.
Qatar sees the Brotherhood as a platform to exponentially increase its regional and global influence. There is no doubt that Qatar’s global significance has multiplied through piggybacking on Egypt’s stature and the regional influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar dissolved itself in 1999 and is not anymore involved in Qatari domestic affairs. Jasim Sultan — a former member of the Qatari Brotherhood — explained in a television interview that this decision was justified because the state was carrying out its religious duties.
Qatar’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood are multi-pronged. On the media front, Qatar has dedicated Al Jazeera, the country’s most prized non-financial asset, to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood and turned it into a mouthpiece for the Islamists. The channel has in turn been repeatedly praised by the Brotherhood for its “neutrality.”
Key staff members of Al Jazeera have had (and still maintain) close connections to the Brotherhood. These include the previous general manager, Waddah Khanfar, the head of the Amman office, Yasser Abu Hillaleh, and the Egyptian TV presenter Ahmad Mansur.
Qatar has also been very generous with the income from its gas wealth and is the Muslim Brotherhood’s financier, bankrolling its budget and investing heavily in the group’s projects.
To help the Brotherhood solidify its rule in Egypt, Qatar announced plans to invest 18 billion US$ in the next five years and it already transferred five billion US$ since August (one billion in grants and four billion in Central Bank deposits) to help Egypt meet its urgent financial obligations and prevent the pound from sliding down further. Qatar’s prime minister pledged that his country would not allow Egypt to go bankrupt.
Qatar is taking a giant leap of faith with the Brotherhood, something it is not unknown to do before when it built ties simultaneously with Hamas and Israel, Iran and the US, the Taliban and the West. This time Qatar will be hoping that its Muslim Brotherhood allies succeed in their political and economic project and, since it is so heavily invested in them, they may also hope that their hold on power lasts for some time.
Qatar will also, at minimum, expect Egypt’s Brotherhood to be a loyal friend in return, although many who have dealt with the Brotherhood may advise Doha to read about the group’s record of keeping promises and alliances when they are no longer beneficial.
The Brotherhoods Ties with the West
The USA and the EU are among the 30 members of the GCTF (Global Counterterrorism Forum) which is solely directed at al-Qaeda and gives the Brotherhood a platform via the members Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
ENORB (European Network On Religion and Belief) is a new EU sponsored interfaith organization that includes the FIOE (Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe) as its Islamic component. The FIOE is an umbrella group that has strong personal links with the European Muslim Brotherhood (Karim Chemial, Anas Al-Tikriti, Cordoba Foundation).
Egypt’s Rose El-Youssef magazine reported that six American Islamist activists who work with the Obama administration are Muslim Brotherhood operatives who enjoy strong influence and have turned the USA into the worlds second largest (after Qatar) supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The six men are:
Arif Alikhan, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for policy development. Alikhan is a founder of the World Islamic Organization, an alleged Brotherhood subsidiary.
Mohammed Elibiary, member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Elibiary earlier endorsed the ideas of radical Muslim Brotherhood luminary Sayyid Qutb.
Rashad Hussain, US special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain maintained close ties with people and groups that comprise the Muslim Brotherhood network in America. He attended the June 2002 annual conference of the American Muslim Council and was in the organizing committee for “Critical Islamic Reflection.”
Salam al-Marayati, co-founder of MPAC (Muslim Public Affairs Council). There are many personal ties between MPAC and the Brotherhood.
Imam Mohamed Magid, who gives speeches and organizes conferences on US Middle East policy at the State Department. He is also an adviser to the FBI. Magid is president of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), which was founded by Brotherhood members.
Eboo Patel, member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. Patel maintains a close relationship with Hani Ramadan, the grandson of Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, and is member of the MSA (Muslim Students Association), another Brotherhood subsidiary.
The Brotherhood started the MSA in 1963 and the organization has now 160 chapters at colleges and universities across the USA. Several MSA leaders were connected with terrorist activities, including Abdurahman Alamoudi, an MSA national president who was al-Qaeda’s top financier in the USA, Omar Shafik Hammami. who is currently the most most wanted terrorist by the US government. Ali Asad Chandia, Tarek Mehanna, Omar Hammami (aka Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki), Hassan Alrefae, Jaber Al-Thukair, and others.
Huma Abedin, one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton top advisers and deputy chief of staff, has many personal connections with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 1997, at a time when Huma Abedin was an intern at the Clinton White House, she also was on the executive board of the MSA at George Washington University. Anwar al-Awlaki (later killed in a drone strike) and Mohamed Omeish were chaplains at the university.
The brother of Mohamed Omeish, Dr. Esam Omeish, headed the MAS (Muslim American Society), which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s quasi-official branch in the USA.
In 2004, as President of the MAS, Dr. Omeish wrote a letter to the Washington Post in which he took issue with “inaccuracies” in the definition of the Muslim Brotherhood published by the paper. He argued:
“The moderate school of thought prevalent in the Muslim Brotherhood represents a significant trend in Islamic activism in the United States and the West, and we in MAS accordingly have been influenced by that moderate Islamic school of thought as it applies to our American identity and relevance for our American reality.”
In 2009 Dr. Esam Omeish was invited to a conference call that the State Department organized to discuss relations between the US government and the Muslim community.
Huma Abedin’s parents were involved in many Islamic organizations with ties to the Brotherhood, like the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs.
Abedin’s mother, Dr. Saleha Mahmood Abedin is one of the founding members of the Muslim Sisterhood and a long-time chairperson of the IICWC (International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child). The IICWC is part of the Union for Good, which is a formally designated international terrorist organization and is led by the already mentioned Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Huma Abedin herself was until late 2008, a member of IMMA (Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs), another of her mother’s Islamist organizations.
IMMA was started in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s by Huma Abedin’s parents with the help of Abdullah Omar Naseef, a former secretary-general of the Muslim World League, which has long been the Brotherhood’s principal vehicle for the international propagation of Islamic ideology.
Huma Abedin’s brother, Hassan Abedin, besides also being member of IMMA, was a fellow at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. On the board at the Oxford Center in his time where the Brotherhood luminaries Sheikh Qaradawi and Abdullah Omar Naseef.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
The liberal forces in Egypt were able to topple Mubarak with public protests but they are a diverse, unexperienced, and poorly organized movement. It was easy for the Muslim Brotherhood to dupe and outwit them.
The Brotherhood gained power in an election process who’s fairness is disputed, and it succeeded with a push for a new constitution which reduced the Supreme Constitutional Court by 7 members (from 18). President Mohammed Morsi has accumulated unrivaled political power, but the Egyptian secular institutions (state-run media, judiciary, police, the military) are not cooperating. The Egyptian state is permeated by a deep distrust against the Islamists and the widespread resistance could prevent the Islamists from consolidating their power.
When Morsi took office, the holdover staff was destroying his faxes and mail in small acts of sabotage and most state employees remain openly antagonistic to the Islamists. During the contentious run-up to the constitutional vote the police failed to increase security outside Brotherhood offices as one after another were vandalized and burned.
In one of his first official statements the president promised to push ahead with talks on a 3.2 billion US$ IMF loan, which will surely be conditioned on the implementation of drastic austerity measures, like ending subsidies for staple foods, labor regulations, and other “market restrictions.”
When President Morsi delivered an enthusiastic speech before the newly assembled upper house of parliament, his answer to Egypt’s economic problems, the one million street children, the high youth unemployment of 30 percent was, that “God is the Provider” and one day Egyptians will have their God-given income. He also downplayed Egypt’s debts (224 billion US$), saying that the debt is just 87 percent of the GDP for 2012 (which as most economists agree is dangerously high) and he failed to mention that 65 percent of the population is illiterate and nearly half of the people live under or just above the poverty line.
There was also not a word about the hostility and the discrimination directed at Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. After the tumults in January 2011 and the rise of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups, attacks on Christians sharply increased and many churches have been burned down. In October 2011 armored military vehicles drove into peaceful Coptic protesters, killing more than 20.
Abdel-Jalil el-Sharnoubi, a former Brotherhood official describes Morsi as a “master of disguise” and claims, that Morsi was against opening the organization and against making it more transparent.
Sharnoubi’s vision of a future Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is bleak. “They will infiltrate all areas of society: Government offices and ministries, schools and universities, as well as the police and the military. They will eliminate their enemies.”
There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood intents to convert Egypt into an Islamic state.
Sheikh Yasser Borhamy, a leading member of the constitution drafting committee, said proudly in a meeting with Salafi scholars and preachers that the “constitution imposes complete restrictions that have never before been imposed by any Egyptian constitution.”
Another member of the drafting committee, Islamist lawyer Selim al-Awa, helped to write Sudan’s constitution which paved the way for Sharia law.
The Brotherhood will reach their goal not easily because the secular factions of Egypt’s society and the religious minorities will resist the Islamization. After severe unrest which cause the death of 60 people President Morsi had to declare a state of emergency in the cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismalia.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan
Sudan has been governed by the Muslim Brotherhood for 23 years. Sudans president Omar Hassan al-Bashir took power in a coup in June 1989, planned and organized by Hasan al-Turabi, one of the pre-eminent Islamist theologians and political theorists of the past decades.
One of their first political acts of the Brotherhood government was to end promising peace negotiations between North and South Sudan, which had been at war off and on since 1956. Turabi publicly announced his strategy of Arabizing and Islamizing both South Sudan and sub-Sahara Africa using Sudan as the base of the envisioned transformation.
Bashir and Turabi changed the nature of the Sudanese state by replacing most civil servants and military officers with Islamists. They created the Popular Defense Force as a tribal militia parallel to the regular army and invited radical Islamic groups, including al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, to move their headquarters and training camps to Sudan (though they had to subsequently expel them under pressure of the West).
Turabi, a legal scholar trained at the Sorbonne who later became Dean of the University of Khartoum Law School, designed the Special Courts Act which created a parallel Islamic court system to aggressively enforce Sharia law. The respected Sudanese Bar Association, which had been a defender of democracy and human rights, was abolished.
Turabi once said that legislation and elected legislative bodies would not be needed in an Islamic society as the Quran and Sharia law contained all the guidance needed to govern.
Turabi masterminded the policies of the government for 10 years until he and Bashir fell out in 1999. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood made several unsuccessful attempts to heal the breach between the two men and their followers.
The Brotherhood government initially had a reputation of being corruption-free but that changed when oil revenues started pouring into the national treasury and President Bashir and his party have since been accused of stealing 9 billion US$.
The government reportedly spends 8.5 billion Sudanese pounds (about 1.5 billion US$) for security and defense (which is more than 70 percent of the budget) and only one billion pounds (about 280 million US$) for health and education.
The regimes brutal repression of political opposition, the destruction of state institutions, the culture of corruption, and a mismanagement of the oil resources have lead to open public discontent and ongoing protests have shaken the ruling NCP (National Congress Party) of President Bashir to its core.
There has been sporadic news of clashes and reports about at least three failed coup attempts. Authorities have arrested docens of officers in the armed forces. Severe street protests erupted in response to austerity measures which increased prices for food and oil by 50 percent. The rate of inflation is more than 100 percent.
Right now Bashir still can cling to power because all the important players fear that the collapse of his government could lead to the collapse of the Sudanese state itself.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia
Tunisia was the most secular country in the Arab world, but this could change after Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali took office in late 2011. His Ennahda Party, a branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, repeatedly assured Tunisians that it did not intend to introduce Islamic law or curtail the rights of women, but has distanced itself from that position in the meantime.
The Muslim Brotherhood enjoys a plurality in the assembly, but not the absolute majority needed to push through amendments to the constitution. This forces the delegates to compromise in a process that involves grueling discussions over the identity of the new Tunisia. The Ennahda delegates, for example, want to see the “equality” between men and women guaranteed in the constitution replaced by “complementarity.”
Many Tunisians fear that their country is on its way to becoming a theocracy because the Ennahda Party has repeatedly shown sympathy for radical Islamists. Ennahda founder Rachid Ghannouchi even encouraged “our young Salafists” to patiently embark on a long march. “Why the hurry?” he said in a video of a meeting with Salafists. “The Islamists must fill the country with their organizations, establish Quran schools everywhere and invite religious imams.”
Former interior minister Essebsi, who headed the transitional government after the Jasmine Revolution and who organized the October 2011 election has founded Nida Tunis (Tunisia’s Call), a coalition movement intended to bring together opponents of the Islamists while there is still time to act.
Essebsi believes that Salafists and the Brotherhood are part of the same family. Essebsi insists that: “Rachid Ghannouchi is a Salafist. He doesn’t accept that someone doesn’t believe in God.”
Despite the creeping power grab of the Brotherhood Essebsi is confident that the Islamists will have to step down again soon. “First, they are incapable of governing,” he explains. “Second, thanks to Bourguiba, we have a high level of education. Illiterate people can be manipulated, but not our Tunisians.”
The Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq
The Brotherhood lost the 2010 elections as their supporters defected to the al-Iraqiya list, which is led by a secular Shiite. Some of the representatives of al-Iraqiya were former Brotherhood members who withdrew from the Islamic Party, which represents the Brotherhood in Iraq.
The Islamic Party also lost in local elections and a group of group of senior leaders, including Tariq al-Hashemi, left the party.
The Brotherhood tries now to revive its fortune with demonstrations that recently broke out in Sunni dominated cities in Anbar province (Ramadi, Fallujah). The protests began in mid-December shortly after the arrest of several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, who is the most high-profile Sunni Arab in the Iraqi cabinet.
These protests at first addressed popular Sunni grievances but when the people had gathered the organizers introduced sectarian slogans, tribesmen and politicians stopped addressing the protesters, and clerics who belonged to the Iraqi Brotherhood, took over and spoke to the crowds.
The protests have increased after five protesters died in clashes with soldiers and it remains to be seen if the government can defuse the crisis and avoid a sectarian showdown. Leading Sunni cleric Abdul Malek al-Saadi does not support negotiations with the government and al-Iraqiya boycotted a parliamentary committee charged with reviewing the protesters’ demands.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Libya
The Justice and Construction party, which is the Libyan branch of the Brotherhood, won only 17 out of 80 seats in an election last July, but the party is rapidly building a sophisticated organization with offices across the country, including a seven-floor tower in Benghazi, and half of the 120 parliament members which were elected as independent candidates have joined the Brotherhood.
With Qatari help the Brotherhood also established a book publishing company and a television station.
The Brothers are represented in many local councils and are most times the best-organized group. In Misrata, they were able to oust the elected mayor. As in most other Arab nation they co-operate with the bigger secular parties to establish and solidify their base and wait for a chance to take over.
They will maybe have to wait very long, as Libya sinks deeper and deeper into chaos. Sheikh Mohamed bin Othman, a leading Muslim Brotherhood official and member of the local council of Misrata, was shot dead as he left a mosque after prayers. Othman was a founding member of the Justice and Construction Party.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria
The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria constituted itself at the end of World War II, but was banned by the government after the 1963 Ba’ath party coup. The Brotherhood played a major role in the mainly Sunni-based resistance movement that opposed the Ba’ath Party and membership in the Brotherhood in Syria became a capital offense in 1980.
Following the Hama uprising of 1982, where thousands were killed by the military, the group was almost annihilated as an active political force until the demonstrations in 2011 gave it new life.
The Brotherhood was at the very center of the “popular uprising.” The NSF (National Salvation Front), which includes the Brotherhood, was in contact with the US State Department and a Washington-based consulting firm in fact assisted the NSF in organizing the first rallies.
Since the beginning of the crisis the Brotherhood has called for foreign intervention as the only possible solution to the Syrian conflict.
The Western approved opposition NSC (National Syrian Council) and its more recent US-enforced reincarnation, the “National Coalition” are both dominated by Brotherhood members or sympathizers.
Former Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddine stated regarding the NSC: “We chose this face, accepted by the West…We nominated Ghalioun as a front for national action. We are not moving now as the Brotherhood but as part of a front that includes all currents.”
Muslim Brotherhood General Supervisor Riad Al-Shaqfa accused Western countries of attempting to outmaneuver his organization and stressed that these attempts had failed. It seems indeed that the Brotherhood is still in charge and can depend on enough supporters who are not officially declared members to dominate the National Coalition in the same way as they had dominated the NSC.
The National Coalition’s headquarters will conveniently be located in Cairo.
The Supreme Military Council in Turkey, which was established one month after the National Coalition, includes 30 militants representing most of the armed groups (mainly FSA). 19 of the 30 council members, who were elected at a meeting in Antalya by 550 rebel commanders, are associated with the Brotherhood.
The NY Times reported in June 2012, “CIA officers are operating secretly in Southern Turkey helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms…by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.”
In Gaza Hamas won a free election in 2006. From the start the movement encountered enormous difficulties, caused not only by the Israeli blockade but also because most civil servants and security personnel refraining from resuming their work in public office. Many of those workers were also expelled from their work by the Hamas government itself.
Hamas banned all Fatah activities in the Gaza Strip in response to a similar ban on Hamas imposed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank shortly after the violent division in 2007.
As Israeli pressure increased, Hamas rule became more dictatorial and repressive, representing more a totalitarian regime than a peoples movement. The government is accountable only to the institutions of the Hamas movement and there is no oversight of the security apparatus. Corruption and human rights violations are the norm, there are frequent executions of alleged traitors without trial.
In 2009 Hamas as well as Lebanon´s Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiya covertly realigned themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. Hamas left the Damascus office in late 2011 and the movements leader Khaled Mashal announced his support for the Syrian rebels.
In October 2012 Qatar’s Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and a strong Qatari delegation visited Gaza, promising increased investments and development help.
Hamas’s failure to provide a decent life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after nearly six years in power make many people feel it is time for change, but a week and corruption plagued Fatah will not be able to defeat Hamas in the near future.
The Muslim Brotherhood in other Arab countries
In Jordan the Islamic Action Front, which is the political wing of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted parliamentary elections, disputing the fairness of the election process and accusing the authorities of vote-buying and fake voting cards. The Brotherhood hopes to take advantage of the frustration about growing poverty, corruption, and skyrocketing gas and food prices, which has led to regular protests since January 2011.
Many people were injured in riots after the elections, which has brought a victory for tribal forces. Protesters were setting fire to schools, government buildings, and banks in cities across the country and the police dispersed demonstrators with teargas in Irbid and Karak province. Hundreds of supporters of defeated candidates rallied in Amman and Mafraq to demand a partial recount.
In Morocco the Justice and Development Party rules since elections in November 2011, where it won 107 of the 395 parliamentary seats. The party is the political wing of the Uniqueness and Reform movement which represents the Muslim Brotherhood in Morocco.
The brotherhood yet was not successful until now in islamizing the country. When the kingdom was shocked in March 2012 by the suicide of Amina Filali, 16, who was forced to marry the man who raped her, the Islamist government agreed to repeal the section of the law that allows a rapist to remain a free man if he marries his victim.
Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid also said he was prepared to go further than scrapping the paragraph on marriage, suggesting harsher punishments for those who rape minors, including up to 30 years in jail rather than the current stipulated five years.
In Yemen the opposition party Al-Islah is an umbrella party of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, former head of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, has been associated with Anwar al-Awlaki. The USA designated Zindani as a terrorist.
The conservative wing of the Al-Islah party announced, that it will establish a religious police to combat “vice and debauchery” in the country. Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkul Karman is a member of Al-Islah, she recently has received a death threat from Islamic militants for alleged blasphemy.
US-imposed President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi (vice president under Saleh) tries to reform the military and remove Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the 1st Armored Division. Ahmar enjoys a solid and historic alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has formed the bulk of his support base during and after the revolution. Qatari help has been especially significant and Doha has expressed public support for Ahmar via numerous invitations to visit Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Interestingly al-Ahmar is also supported by Saudi Arabia, who regard him as an important ally against the Houthis and Iranian influence in Yemen.
The retrograde visions of the Muslim Brotherhood will separate the countries where it reigns even further from the international community, which on one hand is positive because it curbs globalization and the influence of World Bank, IMF, and multinational corporations. Iran for instance has rather benefitted from a similar self inflicted isolation and is now in a much better state than many of its neighbors who fully embraced globalization.
On the other hand the retrograde visions will hinder the adaption of useful technologies and impede adequate responses to today’s challenges, which are environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and overpopulation.
One has to keep in mind, that all countries, where the Brotherhood is gaining influence now, suffer from ecological devastation (desertification, deforestation, drought), from overpopulation, from a lack of infrastructure, from an inadequate education system. Where corrupt secular regimes failed to meet the needs and the expectations of the people, the Brotherhood will most likely fail too.
Could they change and survive like the Islamists in Iran?
Khomeini’s Islamic revolution started also as a theocracy and morphed over time into a syncretic political system which combines elements of a modern Islamic theocracy with democratic institutions. The Iranian leaders were realistic enough to let pragmatism overrule their religious doctrines.
The Muslim Brotherhood is different, it is not a nationalist movement for independence but rather a secretive syndicate which operates around the world, trying to gain influence. In this respect the Brotherhood is indeed, as some critics claim, similar to a crime syndicate.
This very aspect together with the obvious ideological inflexibility and a well documented vulnerability to corruption and cronyism does not bode well for the nations where the Brotherhood was able to seize power, and the example of Sudan, governed by the Brotherhood for 23 years, seems to confirm the increasing uneasiness and fear of intellectuals, of academics, artists, and journalists in Egypt, Tunisia, and Gaza.
As I wrote already before, the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Islamic fundamentalism in general will cement the patriarchal social structures, will strengthen or reinstall a basically feudal system, will perpetuate sectarian and ethnic divisions in Arabic nations.
The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and the toppling of secular regimes (Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya) which tried to modernize their countries based on socialist principles is the best thing that can happen to the neocolonial powers and will allow them to exploit the resources of Arab nations for a pittance as long as there is any drop of oil or water left in the ground.
Whoever ever wondered about the fond feelings for and the kind treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood by Western leaders…
This is the answer.