by Dr Bashir Musa Nafi
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt was born in 1928, from the early 1940s to the 1980s the group spread to most Arab countries and within the Arab-Islamic circles in Europe and America.
Many Islamic countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, also witnessed the emergence of Islamic groups influenced by the MB, even though they did not bear the group’s name. Since the MB promoted a political reformist approach from the beginning, it has been subject to crackdowns since the end of the forties in Egypt and other Arab countries. Such drives occasionally turned into extermination and eradication campaigns, as was the case in Egypt during 1950s and 1960s, in Iraq in the 1970s and in Syria since the mid-1980s.
The MB is being targeted by a large-scale campaign both inside and outside of Egypt that aims to undermine the organizational and the economic pillars on which the group is founded. It also aims to break the will of its members and completely eliminate them from political life, either because they are an efficient and effective force or because they are involved in governance.
It is not an easy task to determine the size of the Brotherhood movement, neither in Egypt alone, nor in the Arab world as a whole. If we take into consideration the movement’s members, supporters and those who belong to the movement intellectually and politically but are not members of their various organizations then we can estimate them to be about 10 million Arabs.
This is not only the largest political force in the Arab world, but it is also one of the oldest forces and most enrooted. In some Arab countries, including Egypt, there are almost no effective political forces that have spread nationwide other than the MB and the indiscriminate war declared by the Arab nations on the Brotherhood will certainly fail. It will not reach its desired goal except for harming the group and most harm will affect the countries hosting them.
This failure is not only due to the size of the Brotherhood and its expansion, but due to deeper and more important and complex reasons. The three most important reasons are as follows:
Firstly, the MB represents a mainstream current, and this current is the closest to gathering and unifying the Sunni Muslims. It names scholars such as Abdullah Al-Mubarak, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Yahya bin Mueen, Ibn Raahawaya and Yahya Al-Madini as “adherents to the Sunnah wal Jamaah”.
These scholars are known for going against those known as the opinion leaders and their refusal to interpret some verses of the Quran and their belief of the ranking of the Caliphs according to the order of their accession. They also oppose the groups that gradually formed in isolation from the mainstream of the Muslim community.
However, those who followed the Sunnah did not radically condemn those who had different opinions, such as those who defended the proof of qualities not only by resorting to the text, but also to speakers or even resorted to the interpretation of some verses, such as Al-Muhasabi and Ibn Kalab, nor did they condemn the early non-philosophical Sufi approaches.
Despite their stress on the priority of the text, they accepted a controlled degree of measurement, i.e. rational endeavour in Islamic matters, in order to deal with emergency issues. During the fourth and fifth Islamic century, this approach unified the Muslims and represented the vast majority of the Muslim community, including the four main fiqh doctrines, from the Salafi doctrine of Ahmad, Ash’ari, and Metradah and those leaning towards the isolated or Shia approaches. Due to the fact that the conflict over the spirituality of the nation was settled in favour of the Sunnis during the mid- fifth Islamic century, the Sunnis remain the unifying approach.
The MB is the closest group to unifying the Sunnis, as there are those in the Brotherhood who follow the Salafi -Hanbali, Salafi-Wahhabi and Salafi-reformist approaches, as well as those who accept parts of the isolated ideas and even those who are not very concerned with the traditional doctrinal differences.
The group also encompasses those who agree with the Shias in some matters, those who belong to the schools of Islamic law, those who do not believe that the borders of Islamic law are binding, those who believe that the Quran and the Hadith are the primary sources of religion, those who do not believe in the credibility of most Hadiths, those who believe in the need to transform the modern state into an Islamic state and those who refuse to grant the state the right to represent religion and only demand the right to preach Islam and the state’s respect of the values of the Muslim community.
The group was founded on an Islamic vision that aims to preserve the Muslim identity and answer the question of the position of religion in the public sphere and with the large role of the modern state and its control over politics, the MB has formed a political aspect, which it handed down to all the branches of the Brotherhood in the Arab world. In addition to this, the Sunni Brotherhood members believe the path to God and salvation is wide and long and can contain the entire nation.
The second reason, which is greatly related to the first, is that the Brotherhood was not born based on a complete ideological foundation, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir or the radical Salafist groups, for example. The Brotherhood’s Islamic project is not the sole or first justification for its existence, nor is its political aspect, which formed with its growing realization of the dominance of the modern state and its control over the country and the lives of the people; it is based on a solid ideological vision.
This has given the group much flexibility and buoyancy and made it more willing to develop and respond to the intellectual and political challenges for over eight decades. During the first phase of the Brotherhood’s history, from the 1930s to the 1970s, its political approach was closer to constitutionalism than democracy. However, in the early 1980s, the Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as in other Arab countries, had a very serious discussion regarding the democratic option, which ended with the issuance of the political work document in the mid-1990s, which recognized political pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power, as well as the role of women in politics.
Although the idea of implementing Sharia law in the context of a modern state remained an option for the MB until recently, the popular nature of the Arab revolution group and the Brotherhood’s awareness of the complexities of the system and global balances played a large role in the decline of this idea in the post-revolutions phase. Perhaps we can say that the MB represent the main body of political Islam, as it never promoted a specific project and instead promoted constantly changing and evolving ideas and visions closely related to the factual circumstances surrounding it and it responds to such circumstances.
The third reason is related to the nature of the camp leading the war against the MB which consists of the remnants of Arab nationalist groups, groups of Arab businessmen and liberals, a small number of Arab governments, particularly governments of oil countries, and a number of security, military, judicial and media services in some Arab countries.
The problem with most of these groups is firstly, they have no popular base and their relationship with the people is elitist. Secondly, they are accused of corruption, looting the country’s wealth and violating human rights. Thirdly, they have been in authority throughout the last century and the result of their control over the reins of power was a major disaster, making the people unable to accept their authority. Fourthly, there is deep scepticism among the majority of people regarding their loyalty to Islam and their respect of its values and traditions.
In the war on the MB, the state services are imprisoning the greatest youth in the country and the secular and liberal voices are attacking Islamic values and traditions, while the traditional Arab regimes widen the gap that separates them from their people. In short, this camp does not possess enough legitimacy to wage a war against a group that stands on higher moral ground, both due to its struggle for independence and freedom, its call for reform, or due to the fact it is enrooted in every level and class of the people and has a long record of serving the people.
However, this does not mean that the war will not leave its mark on the Brotherhood; it is most likely to do so. When tens of thousands of members of the political Islamic group have been imprisoned and thousands of others find themselves in exile, and when hundreds of charities and private schools are confiscated, senior university professors have been dismissed from their roles, and thousands of professionals have lost their jobs, when Western countries crackdown on the group, where it has been active for decades under free and legal conditions, and when parties belonging to the same group face billions of dollars from oil money being poured into conspiring against them, it will certainly be affected; there is no doubt about it. However, the impact that the war will leave on the governments and countries conspiring against the group will be much larger and deeper, beginning with deepening the internal division, losing stability, a decline in the spirit of development and growth and further erosion of the foundations of legitimacy. n