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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke

Last Build Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2007 00:14:00 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood

Fri, 30 Mar 2007 00:14:00 -0600

Over the past year, we have met with dozens of Brotherhood leaders and activists from Egypt, France, Jordan, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. In long and sometimes heated discussions, we explored the Brotherhood's stance on democracy and jihad, Israel and Iraq, the United States, and what sort of society the group seeks to create. The Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy. There is also a current within the Brotherhood willing to engage with the United States. In the past several decades, this current -- along with the realities of practical politics -- has pushed much of the Brotherhood toward moderation. U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington's tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood -- and the Islamist movement as a whole -- as a monolith. Policymakers should instead analyze each national and local group independently and seek out those that are open to engagement. In the anxious and often fruitless search for Muslim moderates, policymakers should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood presents a notable opportunity. BIG BROTHERS Since its founding in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has sought to fuse religious revival with anti-imperialism -- resistance to foreign domination through the exaltation of Islam. At its beginning, the Brotherhood differed from earlier reformers by combining a profoundly Islamic ideology with modern grass-roots political activism. The Brotherhood pursued an Islamic society through "tarbiyya" (preaching and educating), concentrating first on changing the outlook of individuals, then families, and finally societies. Although the Brotherhood's origins were lower-middle class, it soon pushed Islamization into the local bourgeoisie and then clear to the palace. At the same time, it formed the armed Special Apparatus, replicating Young Egypt's Greenshirts, the Wafd's Blueshirts, nascent Nazi Brownshirts, and other paramilitary organizations that were rife in the Middle East at the time. In 1948, with civil strife looming, the Egyptian government dissolved the Brotherhood. Later that year, a number of Brothers were implicated in the murder of the prime minister. Despite his public denunciation of the assassins, Hasan al-Banna, the Brotherhood's founder, was soon assassinated as well -- leaving the factionalized Brothers squabbling over a successor. In a gesture of conciliation to the palace (and also to prevent a single faction from dominating), the Brotherhood chose an outsider, the respected judge Hasan al-Hudaybi, to succeed Banna as its leader. Hudaybi's selection coincided with the military coup that toppled the Egyptian monarchy. The Free Officers Movement, led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and his successor, Anwar al-Sadat, had worked closely with the Muslim Brothers, who were attracted by the soldiers' nationalist stance and Islamic rhetoric. But the Free Officers' promise to Islamize the new constitution soon proved illusory. An embittered member of the Brotherhood's paramilitary Special Apparatus emptied a pistol at Nasser during a speech, prompting the new regime to herd into Nasser's squalid jails much of the organization, few members of which had any inkling of the hair-brained assassination adventure. Nasser, uninjured and unfazed, emerged as a stoic hero, the Brotherhood's notorious Special Apparatus as the gang that could not shoot straight. In prison, the guards applied the kind of torture that would make Arab nationalism infamous, in Egypt as well as in Iraq and Syria. The Brothers' wounds throbbed with fateful questions: How could those who stood shoulder to shoulder with us against the British and the king now set their dogs on us? Can those tormenting devout Muslims really be Muslims themselves? Sayyid Qutb, then the Ikhwan's most profound thinker, produced an answer that would echo into the twenty-first century: these were the acts of apostates, "ka[...]