The Imperial Dream of the Muslim Brotherhood

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Pro-Mursi groups and Muslim Brotherhood militias attack anti-Morsi protestors at the presidential palace in Egypt.

The end will justify the means to unite the Islamic peoples into a world of virtue and prosperity to where the Muslim Brotherhood says that it will bring them. Egypt is their launching platform. The entire Islamic world is their objective.

If they were running for office in the United States or any European country on their economic platform of job creation, the sanctity of private property, and a social safety net, they will likely win. It all sounds perfect. Then, you learn that you have just voted for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Members of the movement come from the upper levels of Egyptian society. They are the businessmen, doctors, university professors, military officers, and other professionals. Over their eighty four year history, they have infiltrated every area of government, education, and industry.

If its economic policies are all there is about the movement, it would pose no threat in the public mind. What does frighten so many is the secrecy that shields the organization from scrutiny and the negative propaganda spread by worried authoritarian regimes. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that the attacks by various governments would have forced the Brotherhood to protect itself beneath a cloak of secrecy.

They have grown in societies that are authoritarian, corrupt, and have shown little inclination to invest in the development of the society. Saudi Arabia has a quarter of its youth unemployed in spite of the wealth generated by the vast oil resources. Beyond the petroleum industry, the Kingdom has done little to expand its economy in order to absorb the coming generation: and that is true of most of the region where sixty-five percent of the population is under the age of twenty-nine years.

What makes the Brotherhood different from the other movements that have emerged in the Middle East is that it has blended religion with a political and economic philosophy. Brotherhood members are missionaries in business suits who present the promise of a traditional Islamic based prosperous technically advanced society while their Salafi rival advocates in their robes offer to take people back to the seventh century in search of moral purity.

Not until the overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt has the world had an opportunity to glimpse into the souls and minds of the Brotherhood followers as they deal with the political power that was never available to them before. For the more than three generations of growth, the movement has undergone a metamorphous that has made it difficult to grasp what the philosophy really is. What that has meant is that the Brotherhood in the various countries where it has been established has adapted to the differing environments.

You could describe it as the Zen philosophy of water. Add heat and the water becomes steam. Remove the heat and the water is ice. Add one item and it is coffee. Change the ingredients and it is human blood. Whatever its outer character, it will always revert to its true nature.

What is the essence of the Muslim Brotherhood? Through much of its history, the Brotherhood has employed the use of violence against various governments. They helped to end the British rule over Egypt and were granted recognition as a nationalist force only to be outlawed later in 1954 after attempting to assassinate Gamal Nasser who introduced a military centered secular society. Osama bin Laden was a member of the Saudi organization. Ayman al-Zawahiri his chief deputy was a member of the Egyptian Brotherhood. Sayyid Qutb in 1964 and a philosopher of the Egyptian based movement wrote in Milestones, his key work, that any government that did not subscribe to Sharia Law and the strict Moslem moral code should be overthrown. His work has inspired many jihadists.

After the retaliation by Nasser in the 1950s and the Syrian massive killings in 1981, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence as an instrument to achieve power. Renouncing the use of what they did not have meant that the movement was in reality relinquishing nothing.

Instead, the Brotherhood through association with other parties or through individuals without an Open affiliation with the Brotherhood sought political office in the 1984 election. The policy was to get some people into office without appearing as a political threat. It was the cultivating of the art of maintaining insignificance That Deng Xiaoping would advocate for a newly emerging China at about the same time. The Brotherhood later summarized their actions with the slogan, “participation, not domination.”

That has been the cautious pattern followed right up to the Egyptian Revolution that saw the removal after a mere eighteen days of riots and demonstrations of President Mubarak. At first, the Brotherhood stood aside while other groups went into the streets. Only after they saw that the mobs presented a major force that had the potential of pulling down the government did the Brotherhood reveal its real muscle by ordering its own trained and armed followers from the sports clubs into the streets. Suddenly, the police were overwhelmed. Ninety-nine police stations across the country came under attack.

Satisfied that the conditions for the Brotherhood to claim power had arrived, the Freedom and Justice Party was established. Morsi, the enforcer in the governing Guidance Bureau held such a position of trust within the organization that he was granted the chairmanship of the party and was the negotiator with the security forces. Haunted by memories of prior oppression by the military and police, the Brotherhood would not make a move until they were assured that they would be granted recognition as a legitimate political party.

There was within the post Mubarak regime three points of power within the chaos. The army with its tanks and guns, the disorganized secular and liberal movements, and the Muslim Brotherhood along with the supporting Salafi organizations.

The Brotherhood offered to the armed forces a structured organization with a central command in the Guidance Bureau and disciplined members. It would provide the army with the means to relinquish its unwanted role of governors of the government. For nearly sixty years, the military had ruled from the shadows and it was back to the safety of the shadows to where they sought to retreat.

What the army wanted was the status quo as far as its place in Egyptian society was concerned. That was the price that the Brotherhood would have to pay; and the Brotherhood has been willing to give the generals whatever they want as demonstrated in Articles 193 through 197 of the new constitution.

The Minister of Defense is to be selected from and by the officer corps of the armed forces and is to be the commander in chief. A National Defense Council will manage the military budget that will be beyond the jurisdiction of the parliament. The army will have as well the authority to arrest civilians whose actions threaten the armed forces.

The Brotherhood has been condemned by critics as having abandoned their principals by cutting a deal with the armed forces. Students of the characteristics of water will readily recognize the real nature of the movement. The primary objective is to acquire power peacefully and Morsi and his Brotherhood colleagues are pursuing that goal by simply adapting to the situation.

The provisions of the constitution that assure the continued privileged status of the armed force in effect remove the military from the political stage. Articles 193 through 197 grants to the Brotherhood the license to pursue its own agenda.

That agenda is revealed in Article 10 in the preamble of the new constitution.

Arab unity is a call of history and of the future, and a demand of destiny. Such unity is to be reinforced through the integration and fraternity with countries of the Nile Valley and of the Muslim world, both a natural extension borne out of the distinctiveness of Egypt’s position on the global map.

Article 4 of the constitution takes an idea one step further. For the first time in modern Egyptian constitutional history, a body separate from the legislative body has been created to review all legislation in order to determine if it complies with Sharia Law. What is also of interest is to the responsibility of the organization to carry their views beyond the frontiers, a point mentioned as well in Article 10 in the Preamble.

Al-Azhar is an encompassing independent Islamic institution, with exclusive autonomy over its own affairs, responsible for preaching Islam, theology and the Arabic language in Egypt and the world. Al-Azhar Senior Scholars are to be consulted in matters pertaining to Islamic law.

Other articles of the constitution stress the need to strengthen the Arabic languages and values. There is the view that too much foreign influence has corrupted the indigenous cultures.

Although Mohammed Morsi is the president of Egypt, he was not the firstchoice. Khairat el-Shater, the former deputy supreme guide of the Brotherhood and its de facto leader had been nominated by the Freedom and Justice Party, but was disqualified. Only at the last moment did Mohammed Morsi enter the political contest. Why this point is important is because the members of the Brotherhood outside of Egypt must swear an oath of loyalty to the Supreme Guide. If the Supreme Guide were also the president of Egypt it would have created a major point of conflict between Cairo and the other Arab states where there are Brotherhood chapters.

What is emerging in Egypt is a return to the era of gamal Nasser. He offered the principal of the “Three Circles of Power.” Those were Islam, oil, and the Suez Canal. He united Egypt and Syria briefly in the United Arab Republic.

Fifty years later, the Middle East is far wealthier than it had been during the time of Nasser, but it remains politically backward and has seen little economic or cultural growth. The Brotherhood sees itself as the means of transforming the region and accomplishing what their old enemy only dreamed of achieving. With chapters throughout the Middle East and beyond wherever there is a Moslem population, they look upon a united Islamic culture that would rival the West as it had when Moslem culture extended into Spain. During those lost days of glory, Moslem armies were spreading the Faith far beyond the region; and Arab intellectuals were making advances in the sciences, mathematics, and the arts.

Of course, all of this could change abruptly if the Brotherhood is swept from office, except that the army needs them because there is no one to replace them.

Felix Imonti, the retired director of a private equity firm currently living in Japan. This article was originally published by ISN partner,

For additional reading on this topic please see:
Sinai: The Middle East’s New Hot Spot
Shifting Sands: Security and Development for Egypt’s Sinai
Economic Policies in Egypt: Populism or Reforms?

For more information on issues and events that shape our world please visit the ISN’s featured editorial content and Security Watch.

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