Muslim Brotherhood that came into existence and prominence after the fall of Ottoman empire with a stated aim to re-establish an Islamic Caliphate from Spain to Indonesia, and which has largely been kept at bay by the dictators of the Middle East for almost half a century is slowing regaining its place of pride in the region. How its re-emergence will shape the future events is the Million dollar question for all analysts today.
The greatest of events often have a very subtle beginning. Only history will tell whether the recent events in the Middle East will qualify for that adjective.If you think that the reference made here is towards upstaging Hosni Mubarak, you are highly mistaken. In all probability, history will remember Mubarak only as a footnote and that too only because of the events his political end is coinciding with.
The development that should be catching the eye of all strategic analysts right now is the return of Muslim Brotherhood to mainstream politics in the Middle East after a long gap. What it means or what it can lead to is something no human can predict with any degree of certainty as yet, but what none can negate is the enormity of this development in the future of not only Egypt or the Middle East, but more or less the whole global order.
The Muslim Brotherhood : Origin and History
Muslim brotherhood, or Al-Ikhwan-al-Muslimun was founded by Hasan Al-Bana in Egypt, in 1928, a little after the end of the Ottoman empire. The movement was aimed largely to strengthen Islamic brotherhood across political boundaries. Most of its direct actions have been free from any violence, but that does not undermine its commitment towards spreading Islamic culture and practices, or radically denouncing anything un-Islamic within the Muslim societies. Its initial goal was to rid the Egyptian society of all Western influences, for which the strategy adopted was to open a school, a mosque and a sporting club in every branch and increase its influence. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide is “Islam is the solution” and one of its stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law or Sharia. It also aims at reclaiming the glory of Islam that existed in the form of an empire that stretched from Spain to Indonesia.
By 1940, Muslim Brotherhood had almost two million members in Egypt, and it had a fair presence outside Egypt, especially in the Arab world and extending as far and wide as undivided India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Europe. Banna created a paramilitary wing, the Social Apparatus, which fought along with other groups against the British, engaging in routine bombings and assassinations. The Egyptian Government banned the Muslim Brotherhood in 1948 for attacking British and Jewish interests. Soon afterwards, it was also accused of assassinating Prime Minister Mahmoud Al-Nuqrashi, even though Banna denounced his murder. Banna himself was assassinated, which many believe to be the act of the Government.
After the coup d’état of 1952 that brought curtains on the colonial rule, the Muslim Brotherhood gradually came into conflict with the Government in place. It was blamed for a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954, and was subsequently banned and persecuted. As a result, the group went underground, and became more radical in its approach. One of its most popular members, Sayyid Qutb advocated the use of “jihad” against all “jahili” societies referring to all un-Islamic societies as well as to those Islamic societies that did not radically follow Islam. Qutb’s writings, including his 1964 work, “Milestones” has been an important influence in the rise of Jehadi Islamists, including “Al Qaida”.
Transnational Existence, Ideology and Influence
Along with Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood was also banned in Syria and Tunisia. In Syria, its membership has been punishable by death since the Hama uprising of 1982, which was cruelly crushed by the Government. It has major sympathisers in all Muslim countries, many of them existing in different names. It also has its presence in Europe, particularly Germany and Italy, running mosques and meeting points. Most of its presence is however through the preaching arranged during prayers or meetings. During all these years, it has existed as a largest transnational Islamic group, which has also been the largest political opposition in many Arab countries.
While The Muslim Brotherhood claims that it does not support violence, it is not comforting enough for most Western analysts. Many find it difficult to rule out the possibility that such claims are more for projection and gaining acceptance from all quarters rather than actual reflection of the goals and ambitions of the Brotherhood. Another problem faced in understanding its approach arises because of its illdefined nature. In more ways than one, the Muslim brotherhood is a movement rather than being a political party. Its past history as well as the profile of some of its international associates is also not exactly comforting.
Sudan has been ruled by an organisation closely associated with it and its human rights record is far from impressive. Egypt and Syria have been witness to its violent practices in past, and Hamas is another of its ideologues. In Libya too, it has substantial presence that has been kept under wrap by the suppressive policies of Muhammar Al-Gaddafi. It is known to have influenced and inspired Jehadi groups, and reestablishment of a ‘Caliphate’ or the Islamic empire is one of its stated goals. In view of such a legacy, in spite of whatever the Muslim Brotherhood leaders may say, it is difficult to predict the future events and the shape they may take.
Last few years have been one of international resurgence for the Muslim Brotherhood. It has gained greater acceptance throughout the Muslim community across the world, and re-emerged as a major force to contend with. Today, its political organisations are having members in the Parliaments of most Arab states. It is also gaining influence in Saudi Arabia, where it has many supporters, in spite of its differences with the Wahhabi tradition. It has already re-emerged in Iraq as a major faction, the Iraqi Islamic Party. In Algeria, it is already part of coalition since 2000. In Pakistan and Afghanistan too, it has substantial presence and influence.
Muslim Brotherhood has been persevering to regain its influence since the 1980s, when it denounced all violent means, and joined mainstream politics. In 2000, it won 17 seats, but its major success came in 2005, when it won 20% of the votes. In many ways, that turnaround of political fortunes was the event that precipitated a response from the Mubarak Government that proved to be self destructive. Its manoeuvring of 2010 elections to keep the opposition out can be referred to as the primary trigger for the current chain of events resulting in his ouster from Egypt. The fortunes of the brotherhood are changing fast these days. Rachid Al-Gannouchi, the leader of the Tunisian Islamist Movement who was exiled from Tunisia returned to Tunisia recently and was promptly congratulated by the Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, Isma’il Haniya.
The Unfolding Future
The net result of the series of events that began in Tunisia last year is the return of Muslim Brotherhood to power in the Middle East replacing many of the Western supported dictators who held sway for last five or six decades. Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat, who became the first President of Egypt belonging to Muslim Brotherhood on June 30, 2012 will lead a generation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders across the Middle East who aspire for power and are very close to it. He has already taken on the Military immediately after taking office, and his actions reflect confidence in the ability of Muslim Brotherhood to sustain the power it has got. In other countries too, Muslim Brotherhood has made significant gains, even if they may not have wrested powers as yet.
It is difficult to say how the re-emergence of Muslim Brotherhood will affect the future events in the Middle East. It is equally difficult to say how these events will catalyze the influence of Muslim Brotherhood in other places. In Pakistan, Maulana Sirajul Haq, Deputy Emir of Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan said last year that the waves of change in the Arab world were entering Pakistan and that the country was on the verge of an Islamic revolution. However, Pakistan seem to be much more under the fanatical Wahaabi influence rather than that of Turkish Muslim Brotherhood ideologies. In Jordan, Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Muslim Brotherhood, when invited for a meeting with the King and extended an offer to join the new Government, turned it down, and instead continued its protests against the Government reshuffle. Even though its activities are explosive, the undercurrents are far from harmonious.
Clearly these are interesting times. The winds are changing very fast and no one knows where the dust will settle down. We may actually be in the midst of a historical milestone. How it will unfold is the million dollar question!