Muslim Brotherhood

From the Hudson’s Insitute’s Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World, a talk by Gilles Kepel, one of the world authorities on Islamism, regarding the Muslim Brotherhood (along with Hillel Fradkin). Link to page here. Then click the link for 9:15-11:15 talk, it’s a transcript in pdf form of the discussion.

The two discuss the MB as the first truly Islamist organization (wiki on MB here, flagged for possible neutrality issues). Founded by Hassan al Banna, a schoolteacher, in 1920s Egypt, they are massively different than the rise of al-Qaeda. al-Qaeda’s main theorist, Ayman al Zawahiri, was an Egyptian who formed Islamic Jihad (later merged with bin Laden’s AQ) as a result of thinking the MB had sold out. The Brotherhood split around the detente with Anwar Sadat after the horrors perpetrated on the MB by Gen. Nasser (including killing Sayid Qutb, the godfather of international jihad).

The MB is what Ali Eteraz helpfully calls the “Islamic right”.

Interestingly, Salafism, as Fradkin writes, began with the forerunners of the “Islamic left” (modernizing Islamic reformers): Muhammad Abduh and his disciples al-Afghani and Rashid Rida. As Eteraz has shown, this line was the dominant one until the US started supporting the Islamic Right (big time the MB, also the jihad in Afghanistan, Saudi oil money, Israel supporting Hamas against PLO) as a bulwark against Soviet communism.

But Salafism in this sense means the critiquing of the medieval clerical phase of Islam (ulema). A “Protestant” move of individuals and small groups returning to the text and idealizing the earliest phase of the religion, while simultaneously being anti-Western imperialism. Abduh, a hero of liberal Islam, was still very anti-Western colonial occupation. He wanted to reform Islam so that it could kick out the European colonizers.

It was returning to the text AND interpreting it in light of one’s own days that unites both the Islamic right and (non-socialist) left wing. The key difference coming down to the determination of what the needs are and how best to address them.

Abudh however never founded a mass movement. That belonged to Banna.

Fradkin’s quotes Banna’s formula for the MB:

Its utopianism was summed up in the model that Banna ultimately supplied to the Brotherhood, quote, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Quran is our Constitution. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

The latter two–jihad and the death cult–are the most dangerous. The death cult, as Paul Berman showed, has deep roots in European fascism and German romanticism (not to mention Biblical utopian apocalypticism).

As Fradkin notes, perhaps the most interesting thing about the MB has been its call to remain a movement and not a political party (ummah not hizb). Though of course it has political party elements–as well as paramilitary ones.

G. Kepel follows the story from 1971 (the year of Sadat’s peace offer to the Ikwhan, the Brothers) until today. Including a great deal on the rise and election of Hamas–up through its takeover of Gaza partly as a response to Western sanctioning and isolating of the regime. Hamas is the Palestinian version of the MB, though it is much more Palestinian Islamic-nationalist than internationalist.

Kepel argues that in the wake of Hamas’ isolation, the MB is intellectually, theologically, and operationally at a real crossroads. The Syrian Assad regime looks stronger than at any point in a decade. Mubarak is re-entrenched in Egypt and is pushing for his son to become the next ruler. Bush’s democracy agenda in the Middle East is moribund in the wake of the failure of the post-Saddam Iraq and the rise of Iran, pushing the US back to Sunni dictators.

This, as Kepel hints at, may be the time that the MB would be ready to deal. Maybe not though. The MB is outflanked on the right by AQ elements. And on its other flank, oppressed by the Sunni medieval autocrats. Not to mention the liberalizing influence of globalization–the MB being an illiberal mass movement.

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Published in: on November 24, 2007 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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