The rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) after it had been outlawed in Egypt. After the erstwhile president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of MB, the Egyptian government banned the party. However, the party’s ascent and descent remain an area of interest. A party that had gained support in the Islamic world through their pro-moderately religious memorandum, engaging in non-violent political activity, and struggling to make space for Islamic thinking in countries where they believed the occident was gaining control.
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Egyptian government under President Hosni Mubarak has been a close friend to the Americans. The leaders were talking of moderate, constitutional method to emphasize their political view; however, others from within the party were increasingly showing their affinity towards violent means. Understanding the reasons behind the rise and fall of MB is essential to gauge the reason behind the surge in Islamic political congregation and the reason for its failure.
The importance of the research in the political condition in the Middle East is vital. With the current political upheaval in Egypt with the ouster of President Mubarak in 2011, gaining control over the political machinery in the country soon after, and ultimate fall from grace of the democratic forces has demonstrated a plethora of tension and drama in the political scenario of the country. In 2014, Saudi Arabia, which had earlier, supported, and sheltered MB members, has labeled the party as a terrorist organization (Kirkpatrick).
However, under President Obama, the United States had changed its foreign policy to extend support to the MB. This is an oxymoronic situation wherein an Islam state has taken away support from an Islamic organization branding it a terrorist organization while the United States, which has been suspicious of Islamic bodies since 9/11 has extended support to MB. This essay will shed some light on nature and reason for contradiction.
The paper aims to understand the reasons – domestic and international – that may have attributed to the rise of MB in Egypt. The paper delineates the reason why these Islamic states felt threatened with the rise of MB in Egypt. Further, understanding which international country has extended support to MB and why. Finally, the main aim of the paper is to understand if MB will succeed as a political party in Egypt. The paper will first discuss a brief study of the researchers who have studied the history and growth of the MB.
The reason for the rise of MB, as has been traced by the previous researches is documented in the literature review. The paper will try to assess the kind of media exposure MB received. Then in the analysis part, the paper will review the present media report and the reasons behind the fall of the party.
The literature on the Muslim Brotherhood can be segregated into two main parts – evolution and rise of MB (Zahid and Medley; Walsh; Leiken and Brooke; Ehrenfeld), the second relates to the democratization of MB (Cohen; Scott; Wickham), and third in the US and European policy towards MB (Pierce; Rosenthal). The present literature review will try to understand what are the findings of the previous research in the area.
The rise of MB in the Middle East is dated back to 1928 when Hassan al-Banna formed the party. The party aimed to re-establish Islamic law in the Middle East. The researchers have provided an extensive understanding of the historical background of the development of MB (Ehrenfeld 72). Previous researchers have concentrated on understanding how the party had developed and then created its predominance in the Middle East.
Research by Anne R. Pierce shows that the relationship between the US policies after the ousting of the Mubarak government in Egypt was directed towards establishing a relationship between the Obama administration and MB (85). This research has predominately concentrated on understanding the relationship between MB and the US administration post-Mubarak regime in Egypt.
The paper shows that the US had leveraged Egypt’s dependency on the former to manipulate their economic and democratic policy with the aid of the MB (Pierce 68). Pierce thus states that “US gives aid to Egypt by placing more emphasis on safeguards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law” but later on the US revoked military and financial aid stating “decisions inconsistent with democracy” (85-86).
US foreign policy towards MB has changed drastically under President Obama (Cohen). This was an unlikely US policy, which had consistently supported Hosni Mubarak, who relentlessly campaigned against MB. Some believe that this was a good strategy undertaken by US politicians to communicate more openly and peaceably with the Islamist parties in the Middle East.
While others believe that US policy has been passive in handling Islamist countries, and they should have taken sterner economic control over these nations (Cohen). Some even believe that the conditions in Egypt may worsen and it can turn into the next Iran (Akhtarkhavari).
Though MB has gained US support, it has gained no backing from neighboring Islamic nations like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. The reason may be due to the belief that MB radicalizes Muslims in the Middle East and Europe (Leiken and Brooke 110). MB aims to preach the message of non-violence to youths, but they denounce radical jihad (Scott 132).
The other Islamic countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, who have closer ties with the western world believe that the rise of MB in the Middle East, and especially in Egypt can be dangerous. The reason is two-fold – first, Egypt’s strategic position and influent over middle eastern trade and politics and second, the Brotherhood’s closeness with Iran.
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Egypt holds an important position in the Middle East historically, for it controls the Suez Canal; this is the channel through which 7.5 percent of the global trade is conducted (Ehrenfeld 79). In a 2011 interview of a senior MB leader, Muhammad Ghanem in an Iranian television stated that they would close down the Suez Canal as soon as they have the power to do so.
This statement had an immediate impact on world trade, and oil prices immediately increased. Further, he even mentioned that Egypt should declare war against Israel did not gain applaud from neighboring nations (Ehrenfeld 80).
Some researchers believe that the Brotherhood is one of the largest opposition parties in Egypt has a unique position to help in transitioning the political system in Egypt (Wickham 206).
Though many have questioned MB’s role in creating an environment of pluralism and democracy, some are positive of their success. The areas where the key differences in the argument arise are related to the group’s aim and ideology, support from the masses, and most importantly the ghost of their past radical history haunts their present status.
Previous research on MB shows that the organization stemmed from Islamist philosophy with the explicit aim to disseminate Islamic ideology. The present literature review shows that most of the research undertaken on MB demonstrates their history and political ascent. However, little has been talked of regarding the connection of MB with Qatar and how it played a pivotal role in the domestic and international relation of MB.
The primary research question, mentioned above, delineates why MB was successful in establishing the political party in Egypt even after they faced tremendous pressure and backlash from the Mubarak government. The secondary questions that the essay answers are – (1) what are the reasons that has led to the MB losing support from neighboring Islamic countries, (2) how MB has used mass media like Al Jazeera to spread their message, and (3) how relationship of MB with Qatar has influenced the political situation in the Middle East.
Muslim Brotherhood – Analysis
Rise of MB
The Egyptian MB provides a template for the goal and methods adopted by centrist Islamists (Walsh 32). MB was formed in March 1928, a brainchild of an Egyptian schoolteacher and father of political Islam, Hassan al Banna (Ehrenfeld 71). It was a religious, political organization, which stressed on the return to the precepts of the Quran and denouncing secularism in Islamic nations.
The slogan of the organization was “Islam is the solution” (Ehrenfeld 71). The growth of the organization was rapid as they spread their wings in the nations’ education, military, and political system. The organization started operating in Egypt in the late 1980s after they publicly denounced the use of violence.
Rise of MB in the political enclave of Egypt is worth understanding. MB has steadily gained political power in Egypt since the rise of Hosni Mubarak in power (Walsh 32). Since the rise of the Mubarak government into power from 1981, MB embraced a three-fold strategy to promote their cause and establish their power:
- MB sought representation through a democratic process in the Egyptian parliament. They created a coalition with other parties to create their space in the parliament.
- They ensured the proper electoral process and gained presence among the professionals and students of the country.
- MB orchestrated the formation of social service network to help people in remote villages.
The initiatives mentioned above helped MB to gain stronger ground in the region and popular support among the masses. In return, Mubarak declared his intention to support Islamist groups that embraced non-violence. However, many believe that Mubarak had failed to follow his words: “Though this policy has proven successful, Mubarak has never followed it scrupulously, and most Islamist successes within the Egyptian system have met with some measure of repression from the regime” (Walsh 32).
The rise to the political power of MB was under the Mubarak government in Egypt. President Mubarak, unlike his predecessors, Gamel Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, took a balanced course of action that at the same time accommodated and repressed the Islamist groups (Walsh 32). For instance, in the Mubarak was surprisingly conciliatory during the assassination of Sadat in 1981. However, many of the radical groups of the Islamist wings which were believed to have been the mastermind behind the assassination were arrested.
At the same time, Mubarak was keen on reducing the ill-feeling that the Islamist leaders had towards the government machinery through a few well-calculated steps – the release of Omar Tilimsani, the Supreme Guide and other members of MB. Even though Mubarak retaliated on the Islamist for the assassination of Sadat, he legalized the MB gaining their trust and support (Walsh 32).
This was a crucial step as it differentiated between the moderate and the extremist wings and through the differentiation; Mubarak could take forceful measures against the extremists, with little or no protest from the moderate Islamists.
This began a long list of political cooperation between the MB and President Mubarak. The former voted in many respect with the Mubarak government on crucial issues and 1998 officially endorsed Mubarak’s candidacy as president (Walsh 33). The supreme guide and his successor, Hammed al-Nasr, maintained a cordial relationship with the government (Walsh 33).
MB did not ask for any rapid period to established sharia law in Egypt. The goodwill that arose between president Mubarak and MB was the path to initiation of MB into the politics and parliament. Thus, in the 1980s, the MB formed alliances with other parties like “New Wafd, Liberal, and Socialist Labor Party” that helped establishing Islam to varying degrees in the country (Walsh 33).
Many members of the organization had been elected as members of the Egyptian parliament, and in the 2005 Egyptian elections, candidates from MB won one-fifth of the seats in the Parliament. However, in 2006-07, the Egyptian government started making amendments in the constitution, banning all religious-based political parties in the country. In 2010 elections, the organization won no seats in the parliament, and they participated actively in the 2011 protests to overthrow President Mubarak1.
Rising Influence on Civil Society
The second success of MB has been in its penetration among the Egyptian students and professional associations. President Mubarak in the 1984 elections opened the gate for the success of MB. The growth of the influence of MB was evident in the late 80s:
In 1987, the Brotherhood won control of the Engineers’ Syndicate, an enormous body with 200,000 members and US$5 million in assets, and by the early 1990s it had taken over nearly all of the prominent associations, many of which had previously been viewed as strongholds of liberal-secular nationalism. (Walsh 33)
The reason for the success of MB, even among the secular associations, was due to the spread of their social network. MB was able to provide health insurance and other welfare benefits to the jobless graduates that other organizations were unable to provide. MB almost had a hegemonic control over the students’ wing in Egypt. The high cost of education had increased economic hardship among students in Egypt. Even in this case, MB employed its social resources to help the students.
This social face of MB played a crucial role in its rising political and social influence in the country as these social acts differentiated it from the extremist’s wings like al-Gama’at and al-Jihad. However, they have continued to spread Islamization in the state: “The group has not tried to gain any formal power in the neighborhood, but merely to step in where the state has failed and to effect a degree of Islamization in the process.” (Walsh 34).
They also established Islamic banks and financial institutions that provided almost double the interest rate on deposits given by the commercial banks. Thus, MB created for itself a huge power base based on its cooperation with the government and nonviolent moderate social activities. One of the strongest points of MB was its influence on the youth of Egypt, which was evident through their rising influence among students:
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is by far the most capable political machine in Egypt’s young democracy, given the estimated 600,000 Ikhwanists at its disposal, though it has gradually estranged itself from the very movement that made this possible. (Glain 24)
Fall of MB – Domestic Cause
The success of MB through the general elections, their universally acclaimed social activities, a spread of influence on student and professional bodies ultimately led to a retaliatory response from the Egyptian government that feared the growth of Islamic power. The Mubarak government recognized the moderate MB as a greater political threat to his government and took counteractive measures.
The measures that were taken by the government was directly aimed at crippling the spreading wings of the MB – raising entry quotas in the parliament, proscribed all social service activities done outside the control of the Ministry of Social Affairs, and increased the minimum requirement of capital holding for Islamic banks (Walsh 34).
Thus, arose the rift in the coalition between the Mubarak government and MB in the 1990s, which witnessed violent outbreaks that removed the difference between the moderate and the extremists in MB.
Some scholars believe that the Islamist movement had gained momentum in the Arab world (Abed-Kotob 321). The parties, which are more radically Islamist, insist on a more revolutionary change within the masses and the political system of the country. However, moderate groups tend to follow a more gradual step towards change.
MB is such kind of a moderate Islamic group (Abed-Kotob 329). Another study aimed to understand the Islamic party’s compatibility with liberal democratic parties, used a case study of MB in Egypt and Sudan. Their study demonstrated that MB is potentially a hopeful option for Egypt (Zahid and Medley, 701).
Critics believe that MB became a threat to the Egyptian government, and the latter did not notice its expansion until MB started threatening the sovereignty of the country (Rinehart 964). Rinehart believes the secret behind the success of MB was the charismatic leadership of Hasan al-Banna (970).
Media and the Muslim Brotherhood
The Doha based Media Company Al Jazeera is the primary media partner of MB. Most of their political, social, and religious propaganda is done through this channel. According to certain sources, Qatar has been using Al Jazeera as a means to advance their political agenda (Ehrenfeld 72). According to some researchers, Al Jazeera has been instrumental in spreading messages from Al Qaeda, Hamas, and even from the Shi’ite Hezbollah (Ehrenfeld 72). Hamas is believed to be a wing of MB.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of society, returned to Egypt after president Mubarak was ousted in 2011. In his first public speech in Tahrir Square in Egypt after his return, he congratulated the Egyptians in their success of ousting Mubarak. The primary issue in his speech was the issue over Palestine, and he insisted on opening the border between Hamas-rule Gaza and Egypt. He further added that Muslims should not stop their revolution until they conquer Jerusalem.
In 2009, Qaradawi delivered a message in Al Jazeera stating, “Oh, Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people … do not spare a single one of them … kill them, down to the very last one” (Ehrenfeld 72). In another message later that month in 2009 Qaradawi said, “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler” (Ehrenfeld, 72).
Thus, Al Jazeera is used by MB as the means of propagating their message to the masses. MB members have adapted themselves to the use of modern technology to propagate their Islamic message. Apart from television media, MB also uses another medium for the propagation of their message such as print media, radio, and the Internet.
Further, they have been sponsors to many events at different venues, thus expanding their presence. They also have an official website – ikhwanonline.com MB is the official sponsor of a website called awladnaa.net. The main aim of this website is to target children and indoctrinate them with the message of Islamist Jihad (Ehrenfeld 72).
Funding from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries helped MB to gather finance for their penetration through social service work into educational institutions. Ehrenfeld, about the Arab funding through MB, states: “In 1995, Qatar’s emir established the Qatar Foundation, now headed by his wife, Shikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned” (72). MB funding has helped to establish branches of many American universities in Middle Eastern countries like Qatar.
Some of these universities include “Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Texas A&M, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth, and Cornell” (Ehrenfeld 72). The Qatar Foundation, a branch of MB, has created an Education City wherein students are subsidized to study in American universities.
Further, Education City has Qaradawi’s Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal, a society that is dedicated to propagating Islamist think tanks “designed to train imams, economists, and politicians and supposedly ‘help them promote moderation in their respective areas” (Ehrenfeld 72).
The media skills of MB are impeccable for despite accusations of aiding violent terrorism in the name of Jihad, they have been able to garner positive media response, and they often have been portrayed as a moderate and pro-democratic organization. The reason the Ehrenfeld states is their strategy to use “democratic catchphrases palatable to American and European ears” (73).
As an example of his statement, Ehrenfeld presents a few examples. First, is a report in Time Magazine about MB and the turmoil in Egypt. The article considerably downplayed the role of MB in the unrest of Egypt (Ehrenfeld 73). In another article in The New York Times about Anwar Sadat’s murder in 2011, the newspaper article mentions that Sadat was murdered by the Islamic extremists but did not mention the Brotherhood in the article (Ehrenfeld 73).
Further, in an interview aired on BBC on 1 February in 2011, MB spokesperson Kamal El-Helbawy said: “Shariah will become the law ‘‘if the majority of the people and democratic practice allows it” (Ehrenfeld 73). He also mentioned in his interview that under Brotherhood’s reign over Egypt, if they won the elections and won a majority, would be like any other democratic government.
When the interviewer asked if Egypt could have a woman in the veil as their leader, El-Helbawy said, “if the people accept her and vote for her like that, yes” (Ehrenfeld 73).
The expanse and influence of MB in the Arab world have expanded through funding and aid of influential people in the Middle East. The organization has aimed to propagate the message of Islam, and the establishment of Islamic law has been one of their primary goals. MB has never deterred in spreading their views in the Eastern as well as the Western world.
Qatar and MB
Qatar had supported MB since the 1950s when the Jamal Abd al-Nasser government had persecuted the organization. MB enjoyed the support of the Syrian Bath regime since the 1970s. MB members became teachers and public servants in Qatar.
Saudi Arabia rejected all ties with MB when it supported Saddam Hussein’s Kuwait attach in 1990. It was the teachings of MB that had radicalized Saudi youth that resulted in the formation of al-Qaeda and its subsequent attack in the 1990s. Qatar has been the home of al-Qaradawi when he was banished from Egypt.
The ousting of the Egyptian president Mubarak with the aid of MB is believed to be a mastermind of the people ruling Qatar. The bold and extreme foreign policy measure of Qatar aimed at overthrowing the Egyptian government, which was preventing the growth of its patron group MB. However, with the changes in the economic and political scenario in Cairo has led to an estrangement between MB and Qatar. Further, the use of Al Jazeera in support of MB has led to Qatar’s dissatisfaction.
Qatar’s recently retired emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani gained power through a palace coup on his father in 1995. Since then, he had established himself through rapid measures of economic growth and “brazenly independent foreign policy and a dramatic impact on the regional balance of power” (Ghitis). Hamad, on the one hand, agreed to allow an American military base in Qatar and on the other improved relations with Iran and extended his full support to MB through radical journalism through Al Jazeera (Ghitis).
In 2011, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad officially took power from his father. His rule begun at a crucial time when the Egyptian government had just crumbled the MB in Egypt to which his father had given billions of dollars to support their cause. This points out that Qatar’s support of MB’s political agenda had placed Qatar in an ill-suited ground.
Qatar has been instrumental in engaging in spreading Islamic rule along with Islamist groups such as MB. Saudi Arabia had identified MB as a religious-political group with strong political ambition in the Middle East and therefore, had remained a silent observer of the group since the 1990s.
However, Qatar has been a full and open supporter and partner of MB. Qatar has played a key role in the spread and influence of MB in the region. Qatar has helped MB using Al Jazeera to garner public support for MB and provided financial support to the organization (Khatib 422).
For instance, Qatar provided a platform for al-Qaradawi to propagate his messages through a religious program on Al Jazeera (Glain 25). Further, Qatar welcomed religious dogmatism of the spiritual leader of MB, al-Qaradawi, who was an active supporter of the Islamic revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, and Syria (Khatib 423). Thus, the hegemonic foreign policy of Qatar and its religious policy to support Islamic extremism has often been cited as a strategy to create regional unrest to gain supremacy in the region (Khatib 423).
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1 The basic difference between the Mubarak and the Brotherhood was due to the latter’s radical outlook. Mubarak was close to the US; however, in a political U-turn, the US shifted its support to the Brotherhood.