The Unchanged Brothers

The last week has brought into focus how little the Muslim Brotherhood has changed since its founding over 80 years ago. This is remarkable in a movement that has spanned a good part of the 20th century, the Monarchy and the First Republic,  World War II, the Cold War, several Middle Eastern conflicts, rapid technological change as well as massive changes worldwide in acceptance of personal rights.

A previous post ( mentioned Khairat El-Shater as a “dangerous man” without elaboration. This video of a recent speech that he gave after the Egyptian revolution should dispel any doubt about that designation.

The speech sounds like a caricature of what western intellectuals have labeled “Islamofascism”. There is the standard talk about the importance of the group over the individual, a re-working of broad swaths of history from the 13th century to the 20th century to fit the ideology of the MB, and a willful disregard for any thorough scholarly interpretation of historical events. There is the bemoaning of the disappearance of the Caliphate after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Talk that we have heard from Bin Laden, who probably was aping Ayman El Zawahiri, a Muslim Brotherhood prince who must have absorbed all that in his youth.

It is pointless to try to do a point-by-point analysis of that speech or try to refute the points made by El Shater. Others have done that quite capably. It more critical to point out how the ideology of El Shater will shape Egypt, and the wider world, should he become President.

1- This is a standard MB ideology best distilled by Sayed Qutb over 40 years ago. The MB has not grown intellectually since that disastrous time, nor learned anything other than how to better bide its time. It still refuses any power sharing as part of a national political fabric. This is why the Monarchy tried to suppress it and why Nasser cracked down. The MB does not seek to serve Egypt, it seeks to take over Egypt. Egypt is simply a tool and a base of operation for a trans-national movement.

2- The most immediate and practical consequences of this ideology is that the MB will seek through both legal and extra-legal means to suppress all disagreements, both internal within the movement and in Egypt at large. That is why Aboul Fotouh was ejected. Obedience is critical, even at the expense of violating one’s conscience. The individual must be subservient to the movement. This bodes ill for any thinking individual or group, especially Muslims.

3- Egypt will likely find itself embroiled in many fights where her interests are not at stake in any meaningful way. In many ways it will be a repeat of Nasser’s adventurism and grandiosity but on a larger and more disasterous scale. The grandiosity of the MB vision (fix the individual in order to conquer the world) is completely at odds with the reality of Egypt, which is poor and weak and has gotten poorer relative to other countries in the last decades. This is a combustible reality unlikely to be tamed by logic.

4- Conflict with the West is inevitable, since the fundamental ideology is essentially the same that created the Gama’a Islamia and ultimately the Zawahiri group. Zawahiri is not an anomaly, he is the logical end product of a committed believer in this ideology. There will be many flash points beside the ever present Israeli conflict.

5- The MB will initially try to sidestep the Copts. They are not a barrier to its plans, liberal Muslims are a far more immediate danger. However, the Copts will always be there as a standby straw man to be tossed to the mob whenever things go terribly wrong. And in any case, the legal system will like make life harder on Copts. Any Copt who dares to speak his mind or engage in politics will be hit with some spurious “insult to Islam” law suit. Ultimately, however, they will turn on the Copts. They are a constant proof of the historical in-authenticity of their ideology and a link to a different and older Egypt that they wish to obliterate.

Western totalitarian ideologies evolved in two radically different directions. There was the adventurous kind which quickly collapsed in a nightmare of violence and bloodshed. There was the the more cautious and wily kind which lasted longer, but eventually collapsed under their own inefficiency. It is not clear which way Egypt under the MB will evolve; a rapid state collapse or a long nightmare of dreary and dark totalitarianism.

Missing from this gloomy analysis is any thought that Egypt can avoid a take over by the MB. It is possible, but at the moment it looks unlikely. The stars are aligned badly, just bad luck. Suppressing the movement will not work. That has been attempted and it has done nothing but garner support for it. The work of reducing and ultimately eliminating this force that has exerted a dark shadow over Egypt for nearly a century belongs to many generations. It needs to be done with  patience and thoughtfulness and it will have its ups and downs. Almost all of it will need to be done by the Egyptians themselves. But the outside world needs to help. We can start by seeing the movement for what it is, not what we wish it to be.

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