This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 04/05/2011
During the week, the Muslim Brotherhood announced it had established an independent political party to represent the group at the next elections. The new party will be known as the "Freedom and Justice party", and this is clearly a choice to keep pace with the current phase of popular uprisings. In his first statement as head of the new party, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi said: "the [Muslim Brotherhood] Shura Council discussed many issues, and issued these decisions which we hope will be in the interest of Egypt, in light of the constitution and laws we hope will serve Egyptians". He added that "the party will be completely independent from the group [Muslim Brotherhood] in every way".
How can the new party be independent from the Muslim Brotherhood? This is a legitimate question, for what is the need that prompts a group that is nearly 80 years old to establish a new [political] party that is administratively and politically independent from it? Those who know the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood justify this action under the pretext that the (amended) constitution still prohibits the establishment of [political] parties based upon religious platforms, indeed Article V of the Egyptian Constitution states that "there shall be no political or party activity or establishment of a [political] party based on religion, race, or origin."
All that this means is that the oldest religious party in the region does not want to change its principle of politically exploiting religion, or re-draft its constitution to comply with the civil requirements of the national constitution. In other words this new party will be nothing more than a "front" for the old party.
In truth, we do not know how a party can raise civil slogans whilst being owned by another party that raises religious ones, or how anybody can justify this legally and constitutionally. If the new party refers its establishment back to a decision made by the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood, which raises a religious slogan, then the party by necessity is based on a religious platform that differentiates between citizens.
In the region some speak of the "Arab Spring" that emerged in Tunisia and Egypt, but we do not necessarily see that this change has had a major impact upon fundamentalist movements in the region. Such movements only have to replace the sign on the party headquarters in order to conceal the ideology of the old [party].
For more than six decades, writers and researchers have argued that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party is made up of doves and hawks and that reforming – or developing – the party is being prohibited by a group of the old guard. However even after the latest change of names and faces, the party remains the same, along with its literature which was formulated in an atmosphere of conflict with now obsolete parties and clashes with former governments. However despite all this, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to garner new supporters.
The Muslim Brotherhood argues that they are "missionaries, not judges", and that they stand against all forms of violence. This is relatively true, in that the group has no recognized armed wing, but the problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is not whether it is armed or not, but that it promotes a fundamentalist culture that is at odds with the civil world. They see themselves as [Islamic] missionaries, and the citizens as being Ahl al-Dawa [people who call others to Islam], whilst the group has a Supreme Guide to whom all members must pledge allegiance.
Since the assassination of [Mahmoud] Nokrashy Pasha in 1948, the Muslim Brotherhood has produced, directly and indirectly, the bulk of Islamic extremist movements and organizations. It is said that it is impossible to find even one individual associated with religious extremism that has not read the literature of the Muslim Brotherhood, or was not influenced or exposed to Muslim Brotherhood discourse or ideology. This does not mean that the Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for all those bloody acts carried out by militant groups such as Al Qaeda and other. It is necessary here to say that there is only a thin line which separates the Muslim Brotherhood from all these movements and groups, and that is that they don’t carry arms, or more accurately they don’t actually pull the trigger.
The culture of the Muslim Brotherhood is that there is only one path to take, namely "the Islamic solution", or in other words, the totalitarian rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood teaches its cadres religious extremism and fundamentalist discourse, but in the end it says that it does not believe in bearing arms, and that this is part of the fiqh principle of ijtihad [making a decision based upon personal effort independent of any school of jurisprudence]. The Hadith of the Prophet claims that somebody who engages in ijtihad and reaches the correct conclusion receives two rewards [from God], whilst somebody who reaches a wrong conclusion nevertheless receives one reward.
If some people consider this an affront to the Muslim Brotherhood, let us review its statement on the death of Osama bin Laden, which the group referred to as the killing of a "sheikh." The consider the September 11 attacks being blamed on Al Qaeda to be an attempt to defame Islam, and they also believe that resistance is legitimate against what the Muslim Brotherhood deems to be the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. So, the logic of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are as one, but they are different in their efforts. Whilst the Muslim Brotherhood justifies taking up arms against the occupier and its associates (who could be citizens), Al Qaeda considers it permissible to kill anybody and take the fight to the land of the enemy, as there is no difference between a civilian or military figure. Statements issued by the Muslim Brotherhood reveal that the group does not recognize the independence of states such as Iraq or Afghanistan in terms of their sovereign decisions, and that in the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood these are occupied Muslim lands. After that, do we need any more evidence of the "ignorant" approach of this group?
Each time the Muslim Brotherhood addresses a crisis there is a reference to a speech here, or an interview there, made by a member (a dove) of the group saying that in its forthcoming program his party will move towards democracy, or respecting civil rights, or women's rights, or freedom of expression, or rights for minorities. However, it is not long before another member (a hawk) comes out to release a statement invalidating all those rosy and idealistic statements, and the result is that the group changes its tactical positions, or political maneuvers, but nothing happens to suggest there is a genuine intellectual effort to change its (radical) ideology, in order to become a civil party. Anyone who exerts a genuine effort ends up leaving the party, because the Muslim Brotherhood allows reform within its branches but not its foundations.
In her book "The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition", (Saqi 2011), Alison Pargeter reminds us that the Muslim Brotherhood is still a movement of old, unable to break from its radical past, and that the program of the Muslim Brotherhood over the past decades has been nothing more than a combination of pragmatism and opportunism, and that the group has a confused attitude towards the use of violence.
There is a constant problem in dealing with religious fundamentalist parties and movements, in that they always contain a contradictory discourse, and this is always viewed in light of the division between hawks and doves. The missing fact is that in the world of the fundamentalists, everyone is a hawk, and there is no difference between one member and another except in the extent of their patience, but the basis of their ideology is the same. Some want to be patient until the time is right, whilst others want to impose their rule today.
Some are optimistic that the Muslim Brotherhood will have to change in a democratic or civil sense because of the "revolution" against tyranny that is currently dominant in the region, and by providing an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in political activity without restrictions, this will enhance its chances of becoming a civil entity after it has experienced power, and people will be able to judge the Muslim Brotherhood based on its performance, not its rhetoric. Yet these people forget they are talking about a Dawa group that believes people are straying off the righteous track, a group that has not changed its slogans until this day, so how could it accept the terms of the democratic game that are only available in a secular or civil climate? Why should the head of a totalitarian party take power immediately, whilst others must wait for to be granted their "freedom" and "justice"?!