Blame the Muslim Brotherhood -

Blame the Muslim Brotherhood

For years, the Brotherhood was Mubarak’s best argument for continued rule

Blame the Brothers

Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Throughout Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s many years in office, his most consistent argument for continued rule has been the warning that, should he leave, Egypt will fall into chaos at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is an Islamist political movement that was founded more than 80 years ago in Egypt and whose branches are now among the most powerful opposition groups in several Arab countries. It is formally banned but unofficially tolerated in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood candidates (running as independents due to the movement’s illegality) won 88 seats in the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, about 20 per cent of the total.

“Mubarak is a classic Egyptian secularist who hates religious extremism and interference in politics,” reports an American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. “The Muslim Brothers represent the worst, as they challenge not only Mubarak’s power, but his view of Egyptian interests.” Another leaked American cable reports Mubarak condemning the Muslim Brotherhood as “dangerous” and duplicitous.

It was no surprise, then, that when a popular uprising calling for Mubarak to resign engulfed Cairo and other Egyptian cities, the president blamed the Muslim Brotherhood—despite the fact that the movement had little visible presence during the early days of mass demonstrations. Blaming the Brotherhood is a refrain Mubarak has repeated for decades. And it’s one that resonates in America, where successive presidents sympathized with his stand against Islamic fundamentalism and rewarded the stability he has imposed with more aid money than any other country but Israel receives.

But now the Muslim Brotherhood’s fortunes in Egypt appear to be changing. It has gradually increased its presence among protesters in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square. And on Sunday, its members were among the opposition leaders invited to meet with Mubarak’s vice-president, Omar Suleiman. Such official recognition suggests the Muslim Brotherhood is stepping away from the political wilderness and will play a more prominent role in Egypt’s future. For better or for worse, Mubarak’s bluff has been called.

Those warning about the dangers of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can find plenty of evidence for their concern among the group’s often conflicting public statements.

“Islam is the solution” is the movement’s slogan. A draft political platform, published in 2007, decreed that women and non-Muslims should be excluded from senior positions in the sort of Islamic state the Brotherhood wishes to create. (Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population.) But Muhammad Mahdi Akef, “supreme guide,” or chairman, of the movement at the time the draft platform was composed, said such decisions were binding only on members of the Muslim Brotherhood, adding: “The ballot boxes will decide.”

The movement’s current chairman, Muhammad Badi, has defended jihad to “make God’s word supreme,” and pledged hostility to Jews and Israelis: “We will continue to raise the banner of jihad—two swords and a Koran—as long as the Zionists raise their flag, with two blue stripes to represent their so-called state from the Nile to the Euphrates. And the Brotherhood will continue to view the Jews and Zionists as their first and foremost enemies.” But Rashad al-Bayoumi, a leading Muslim Brother, this month told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that, should a provisional government replace Mubarak, “there is no need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel.”

Blame the Brothers

Mohamed ABD El Ghany/Reuters

The movement’s alumni also count among the world’s most radical and violent extremists. They include Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who joined the Brotherhood in Egypt when he was only 14. “The Muslim Brotherhood… has often provided the mood music to which al-Qaeda’s suicide bombers dance,” writes Ed Husain, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who, during his youth in East London, belonged to several radical Islamist groups. He grew disillusioned and has since campaigned against what he sees as the “destructive influence” of Islamist ideologies. But Husain is quick to point out that violent jihadists such as Zawahiri, who left the Brotherhood, did so because the movement was too moderate for them. It had accepted, among other sins, democracy.

The group, in short, is difficult to understand or predict. “They are not a monolith,” says Dina Guirguis, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s a diverse group with various movements within it.”

Ed Husain believes it can and should be engaged. He’s not alone. It is notable that when U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in which he called for a “new beginning” between the United States and Muslims, he invited 10 Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarians to attend. That was before Mubarak teetered on the brink of collapse. But Obama’s opening to the group appears ongoing. This week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said a reformed government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors,” which can only be interpreted as a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Still, Washington’s statements on the Brotherhood have been guarded, and with good reason. Official engagement would be a sharp departure from long-standing U.S. policy. Even former British prime minister Tony Blair, now a Middle East peace envoy, is wary. In an interview with CNN, he warned against allowing “religious autocracy” in Egypt, but wouldn’t say whether this was a goal of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The truth is I don’t know and neither does anybody else,” Blair said. “And therefore what I am saying is, don’t be hysterical about it but don’t be complacent about it either.”

There are those in Egypt intimately involved with ongoing efforts to force Mubarak’s departure who resent the outside world’s focus on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the fear it evokes. Among them is Wael Abbas, a prominent Egyptian blogger and democrat who was briefly detained by Egyptian security forces during the uprising. He was among those invited to attend Obama’s speech in Cairo two years ago.

“The fear of the West is only an obstacle to our movement at the moment,” said Abbas in an interview with Maclean’s. “Their fear of the Muslim Brotherhood is crazy, and it’s destroying our revolution. We want democracy, and the Muslim Brotherhood will be included. And I don’t care about the West anymore. It’s not an Islamic revolution. We have no Khomeini in Egypt, for God’s sake,” he adds, referring to the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. “Our revolution did not start with Khomeini’s cassette tapes.”

Abbas also rejects the idea that Egyptians require a strong hand in government to keep their country stable. “We’re not cattle,” he says. “We are capable of organizing ourselves, just like the Westerners. We need no charismatic leaders, no ideologies. We need a state where there are institutions, and we already have institutions. We only need to make these institutions efficient.”

Blame the Brothers

Axel Krausel/Laif/Redux

Abbas stresses that events unfolding in Egypt will be decided by Egyptians, rather than Western governments. And it’s true that the influence of outside governments in Egypt is now limited. But Western governments, and especially Washington, must already be preparing for a shift in Egypt’s political landscape that will come to include the Muslim Brotherhood. “We should be very concerned,” says Elliott Abrams, who was deputy national security adviser for the Middle East during the George W. Bush administration. “It’s possible to say that in a free election they won’t win, and as time goes by their influence will diminish. And those things may be true. But they adhere to a set of beliefs that most of us view as anathema, when you consider their views on the role of women, or the role of Copts, or their views on Egypt’s relations with Israel.”

But Abrams, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, doesn’t think the Muslim Brotherhood should be suppressed. “As they fight a fair fight on the battlefield of ideas, I don’t think you’re going to find the majority of people going for the Muslim Brotherhood, because I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood has the answers to Egypt’s problems. When secular, moderate parties get a chance to make their case, a chance Mubarak always denied them, I think the Muslim Brotherhood’s support will be cut back.”

The Washington Institute’s Guirguis also believes it is precisely because the Muslim Brother­hood has been constrained in Egypt that it has grown so popular. Mubarak drove it underground, where it thrived in mosques and other social institutions, while more traditional political parties had no similar outlets. “If we had a genuinely competitive political landscape, you wouldn’t have seen them emerge as the strongest opposition force,” she says. “Part of their support derives from the fact that they are a protest movement. They’re the ones opposing the regime in a country where the regime is operating with little to virtually no legitimacy or support from its people. Any group that is seen as fighting that is going to be more or less welcomed by at least some sectors of the population. So we’ve seen the fruit of Mubarak’s policies in the form of religious opposition, not the opposite.”

Those who don’t wish to see an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood dominate Egyptian politics can also take comfort in the very uprising that has allowed it to assert itself. “The people demonstrating today in Tahrir Square, they’re against dictatorship,” says Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director of the Doha Center at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. “If we were to have a totalitarian regime in the future led by the Brotherhood, we would have the same people in the square again.”


Blame the Muslim Brotherhood

  1. Good article MP. Doug Saunders has written a similar piece. His writing on thisuprising and its ramifications for everyone is much to be recommended.

  2. are you people kidding me? mubarak was the only thing keeping things calm. now if egypt goes militant (and it looks like it is) all the arab nations will feel the scale tip in their favor and will not be able to resist attacking . and the united states military has all of iran on our rear. thanks to george bush's war, for him and his friends to get rich. , the american public, and world, have just witnessed the greatest lie and the largest ever boon for the "international bankers" and we all know who they are.

  3. The west's latest boogeyman…the MB….which has been around since 1928.

    It's because of boogeymen….first communists, then drug lords and now 'muslims' that we've supported dictator/butchers all these years.

    In spite of all our fine words about 'spreading democracy'

    Seems we were spreading something rather more smelly instead.

    • ever heard of a man named haj amin al-husayni? he was the grand mufti of jerusalem from 1921 – 1948 and one of the founding members of the muslim brotherhood, he was also known as “the fuhrer of the arab world” due to his close relationship with hitler.,_Amin_al_Husseini_und_Adolf_Hitler.jpg

      al-husayni was one of the driving forces behind the 1929 palestine riots, the 1936 arab revolt and countless other smaller massacres of jewish civillians throughout the 1920s and 30s.

      in the 1940s, when he was wanted by the british army, he fled to nazi germany where he helped set up the 13th waffen SS division, a muslim nazi division which participated in the capture and murder of tens of thousands of jews in eastern europe.,_Amin_al_Husseini_bei_bosnischen_SS-Freiwilligen.jpg

      this is the organization you are defending, who did you say was “supporting dictators/butchers” again?

    • i see the islamist apologists on here take the same approach as muslims when presented with facts about violence and atrocities commited by popular/prominent islamic figures, organizations and governments… just ignore it and continue living in an alternate reality where islam is perfect and muslims can do no wrong.

      “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana

  4. "They've been around since 1928"

    Was the most popular baby boy name in England "Mohammad" in 1928?

    Was Iran ruled by a rabid theocracy racing to aquire nuclear weapons in 1928?

    Was there a vast network of terrorists, having successfully taken down the World Trade towers, and multiple other plots to destroy infidels, sponsored by Theocratic states, in 1928?

    Let us all take comfort in where the MB was in 1928, so says the usual apologists.

    • Well since Mohammed has been around since 570 CE, it only stands to reason that occasionally you're gonna hear about Islam, chet. Kinda like having kids named Jesus.

      Iran was one of those butchering dictatorships under the Shah that the US was propping up. The US, in fact, gave the Shah nuclear technology.

      There is no 'vast network of terrorists', nor any 'plot' to take out infidels.

      Israel is a theocratic state.

      The MB only scares you because it has the word 'muslim' in it.

      Swear ta gawd, if somebody came up behind you and yelled 'Muslim', you'd dive under the nearest bed. LOL

      • think you need to go and read the definition of the word “theocracy”.

        israel is ruled by a parlimentary system and their legal system is based on the british judical system, exactly like canada.

        just because you wish it to be so doesn’t make it true.

        • It's a country based on, and run by religion. Theocracy.

          • so you believe canada, australia, new zealand, india and britain are all theocracies?

            again, go read the definition. israel doesn’t have a religious figurehead they call “supreme leader”, they don’t have an absolute monarch that claims to rule by the will of god. there is nothing theocratic about the israeli parlimentary democracy, your animosity doesn’t change that.

          • Israel was specifically created to be a homeland for a religion….Judaism

            The nations you list were not set up to be a homeland for any religion….instead most of them try to practice strict separation of church and state.

            Statements are fact are not 'animosity', they're just statements of fact.

    • And who supports these radical fundamentalists?

      "An American jihadist who set up the terrorist training camp where the leader of the 2005 London suicide bombers learned how to manufacture explosives, has been quietly released after serving only four and a half years of a possible 70-year sentence, a Guardian investigation has learned.

      The unreported sentencing of Mohammed Junaid Babar to "time served" because of what a New York judge described as "exceptional co-operation" that began even before his arrest has raised questions over whether Babar was a US informer at the time he was helping to train the ringleader of the 7 July tube and bus bombings."

  5. As for flippantly calling "communisism" some manufactured boogyman,

    communism killed tens of millions in last century (hundreds of millions if you include China's communism).

    To those who still have memories of their parents being dragged off an killed in a Soviet gulag, on behalf of this comment board, I apologize.

    • Communism is an economic system chet, no worse than the others. You have confused a political system with it, and made a boogeyman out of it.

      • There "is" no such economic system called " communism", except as an ideology, in academia, and in books. Real or de facto Communism has always been – and still is – an oppressive political system and, indeed, a real boogeyman.

        • A minority [of one] opinion.

          • No, not a minority. Communism is a philosophy of failure.

          • Yes, a minority…. of people who don't know what they're talking about.

  6. I also apologize, on behalf of this comment board,

    to the relatives of the millions of Ukrainians who starved to death, watched their neighbors wither away and die, contemplated eating the corpses of their children to stay alive, at the hands of the communist "utopia" of Soviet state collective farms,

    for the flippant mockery of such a horror displayed on this site.

    • Again, you have confused it with a political system….communism didn't do that, Stalin the dictator did.

      Apologizing for your ignorance would be a better idea

      • Right, so communism did the good stuff, and the dictators did the bad stuff. Even in the same countries. Got it.

        • Your confusion is your problem, no one elses.

    • Scratch a "Liberal", find an anti-semite, and a closet commie.

      • And the preceding Beck follower has confused a nation, a religion, a political philosophy, and an economic system

  7. One more (it will be the last, as the need for apologies appear endless given the commentariate):

    To the families of the 3,000 men, women and children who perished on 9-11, the victims of the cole bombings, the Madrid massacre, the many who were beheaded (including on TV), and the thousands and thousands of other acts of violence done by Al Qaeda, and other related Muslim terror organizations,

    I apologize on behalf of this comment board.

    To say "there is no 'vast network of terrorists', nor any 'plot' to take out infidels"

    in the face of such obvious horror, bespeaks the worst sort of terrorist apologism one can imagine – one that not only denies their acts of atrocity, but their very existence, thereby telling the world that the horrible suffering of all of those victims and their families, was a lie.

    My sincerest apologies.

    • Stop watching Glenn Beck.

    • Ping

    • "Loud indignation against vice often stands for virtue in the eyes of bigots."

      • The only true "terror" in the eyes of a "progressive" leftist is the Capitalist Western system.

        Thus the perverse results of the feminist left, standing by mute (or even tacitly supporting) radical Islam's barbarsim against women, gays and other movements hijacked by the left for purely political reasons. Thus the reflexive cries of racism/bigotry used to silence the critique of such barbarism (a tool they use often in many other contexts) and their use of moderate, peace loving Muslims as shields for their defence of the virulant radical variety.

        The left's religious-like all encompassing belief that the root of all evil is the Western capitalist system allows its adherents to defend the worst of the worst as being mere wayward victims of what they have defined as the one true evil.

        Understand that, and the grotesque defence of those who will cut off our heads on camera, makes more sense.

        • Change the channel, chet.

        • Chet, are you sure you know what "left" is? You are spouting the usual, comfortable, misinformation that those ignorant individuals within the "right" like to cling to.

          • Usually chet precedes "left" with "tolerant progressive", so I guess at least its that.

            BTW chet you're slipping, you haven't used "tolerant progressive left" (TM) for a while now . . . we've come to expect it, like "Don't have a cow, man" or "Dyn-o-mite".

  8. Emily, Emily, I don't know where you received your education, but whoever taught you should be fired if you truly believe the comments you have written. You are living proof that there are some who should not open their mouths thus proving to the world they are fools.