Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Muslim Brothers - not all that fraternal

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the fundamentalist Islamist organisation, influential enough in the Middle East before the Arab Spring, has been riding high ever since. The revolutionary forest fire that has swept across the region has provided the MB with a golden opportunity to increase its influence − an opportunity it has seized in a whole clutch of states.

Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, saw the MB − in the guise of the Ennhada party − win overwhelming power in October 2011. In support of Libya’s new Islamist party, the Party of Reform and Development, and capitalising on the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, the MB held its first public conference on Libyan soil in November 2011. In Yemen the MB became ever bolder in stirring up opposition to the presidency of Ali Abdullah Saleh, and eventually forced his resignation. And of course Egypt, the birthplace of the Brotherhood, elected its post-revolution President from the ranks of the MB.

Governments affected adversely by the MB’s current upsurge in confidence include Kuwait, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – to name only some. Wherever it manifests itself – and its stretch is far from confined to the Middle East − the MB is dedicated to the tenets set out originally by its founder, Hassan al-Banna, in 1928. He declared, quite simply: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”

Seeking to bring about this Islamic aspiration, the MB’s official motto is: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. And death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our ambitions.”

These high-flown aspirations, which might be defined as the organisation’s long-term strategy, may indeed be common to the MB in all its various national manifestations. When it comes down to tactics, however, a different picture begins to emerge.

Take the relationship between Egypt and Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza. Mohammed Morsi of the MB had no sooner taken over as President in Egypt, than the leaders of Hamas, itself an offspring of the MB, approached him with a half-baked plan to declare Gaza an independent Islamist state in its own right. But becoming complicit in Hamas’s continued indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli citizens was far from what the new Egyptian president had in mind.

On the contrary, just one week after his meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Morsi caused a real brouhaha in Egypt when it was revealed that he had written to Israel’s President, Shimon Peres: "I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East peace process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including the Israeli people."

So is Morsi MB enough? Perhaps not, for only last week, one day after Morsi had mediated the cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians to end the eight days of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, Mohammed Badie, the top leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, denounced peace efforts with Israel and urged holy war to liberate Palestinian territories.

The anomalies abound, but the evidence suggests that Morsi knows where Egypt’s best interests lie and will not go too far, at least for the present, in the direction of extreme Islamist political action. The country is relying on a new $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and a $6.4 billion support package from the EU, to say nothing of a hefty package of loans and grants from the USA.

On the other hand, there is nothing more typical of MB tactics than Morsi’s recent crude grab for autocratic powers that has landed him with the makings of a second revolution. This demonstrates, as nothing could more clearly, the inherent anti-democratic extremism of the MB, and its long-term agenda. For example, the Arab Spring has not so far greatly penetrated the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf Arab monarchies, thanks to cradle-to-grave welfare systems funded by their boundless oil revenues, but these governments regard the rise of the MB on the back of the revolutionary movement with alarm. Dubai’s police chief, Dhahi Khalfan, is on record as saying that the MB was fomenting an “international plot” against the Gulf States.

When the UAE foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, declared that Gulf Arab countries should work together to stop the MB plotting to undermine governments in the region, Mahmoud Hussein, the MB secretary-general, responded: “Members of the Muslim Brotherhood respect their hosting nations, and do not call for bringing down any system of governance in the countries they live in.”

If you believe that, as the old saying goes, you will believe anything. For the statement runs clean counter to the basic underlying principles of the MB, which are that ideas such as democracy and human rights are products of Jewish influence and Western decadence, and that Islam must work towards restoring the lost caliphate and eventually, through violent jihad, take over the entire world.

A grim prospect, indeed, for the world. A brotherhood the MB may be, but it is scarcely compatible with the brotherhood of man. There is little in the MB’s view of the future by way of Liberty, Equality or, indeed, Fraternity.

Published in the on-line Jerusalem Post magazine, 4 December 2012:

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