- Islamic IssuesMB in Arabian pressReform Issues
- December 7, 2007
- 6 minutes read
Muslim Brotherhood; An Ambiguous future
The Muslim Brotherhood is an ageing group experiencing a second adolescence. Recently, it released a blueprint of its programme that illustrated the extent of its indecision. What the Brotherhood doesn”t seem to understand is that taking too much time to adjust may obliterate the advantages of adjustment.
The Muslim Brotherhood took almost three decades to admit that democracy, as a peaceful way of expression and participation, is the only way of reaching its objective. Yet to this day, some Brotherhood members maintain that full and undiminished democracy is un-Islamic. There is still resistance to change within the Brotherhood, despite the valiant efforts made by prominent theologians to encourage intellectual renewal. It is this resistance to change that allows Muslim Brotherhood opponents to portray it as a public menace.
The Brotherhood favours form over substance, presumably out of a desire to maintain unity within its ranks. Those who advise unity at any cost argue that the Brotherhood has a responsibility towards its external “branches”. Naïve as it is, this argument provides a pretext for Brotherhood conservatives to keep things the way they are.
Several attempts for reform within the Muslim Brotherhood have been foiled and those who proposed change were cast as “unfaithful” to the Brotherhood doctrine. But as the Brotherhood strove to appear united to outsiders, it was torn by rivalries on the inside.
Consider the group”s outdated modes of speech. The Brotherhood”s discourse lacks not only refinement but also political savvy. Slips of the tongue often compromise the group”s credibility. I would advise Muslim Brotherhood leaders to read once again the political essays of Hassan El-Banna, Hassan El-Hodeibi, and Omar El-Talmasani. Also Jordan”s Salem Al-Falahat and Syria”s Ali Sadreddin Al-Binawi can offer much inspiration in this regard.
To be fair, only a minority within the Brotherhood sticks to the outdated rhetoric, but it is a vocal minority, and one that talks often to the media. Over the past two years, excellent communicators evolved within the group”s ranks, including Ahmed Abu Baraka, Gamal Heshmat, Ibrahim Al-Zaafarani and Khaled Hamzah. These are the kind of people who should be speaking on behalf of the group.
Divisions within the Brotherhood are all too visible to the public eye. After the publication of the group”s draft programme, senior members started offering their variant interpretations of the document. And the contrast was clear to all. What Mohamed Habib — the Brotherhood”s second-in- command — said conflicted with the remarks of Essam El-Erian and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. As a result, no one could figure out where the group stood on women and Copts.
Many had hoped that the new Brotherhood programme would set the stage for genuine change. Many had hoped that the group would become more realistic and pragmatic. Many had hoped that a new era of political and organisational renewal would start. Instead, the Brotherhood only offered hard evidence of its stagnation and resistance to change. Despite all the political momentum the Brotherhood picked up in the last two years, inertia won in the end.
The conservatives shot down the reformists in public. El-Erian, Abul-Fotouh and Heshmat looked as if they were talking out of turn. The public dissension may have promoted the careers of some conservative members, but it harmed the group”s reputation.
The Brotherhood alienated the Egyptian elite, and then proceeded to act as if everyone was conspiring against it. What some Brotherhood leaders must understand is that their injured pride should come second to the interests of the nation as a whole. Rethinking one”s way is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity.
The Brotherhood cannot reinvent itself while silencing the best minds within its ranks. The group needs a breath of fresh air. It needs to get over its adolescent tantrums. It needs to break free from the bunker mentality it developed in its long years of struggle against the system. This is the real challenge facing the Muslim Brotherhood today. Coming up with a new programme was a good idea. Reshaping old ideas and calling them a new programme was not.
The Muslim Brotherhood remains divided on Copts and women. One current believes that women and Copts should have the right to run for office, but without Brotherhood members voting for them. Proponents of this view maintain that the second article of the Egyptian constitution, which regards Islam as the main source of legislation, upholds their position. Another current claims that the right of women and Copts to run for office is un-Islamic. In either case, the Muslim Brotherhood remains out of sync with public opinion.
The Muslim Brotherhood will pay a heavy price for its inflexibility. For one thing, the group is likely to lose much of the political gains it made in the past two years. Its refusal to adjust its political programme and its repression of reformers within its ranks are bound to backfire. A schism within the group is likely to occur once Brotherhood reformers have had enough.
It is not too late for the Brotherhood to reform. For example, it can revise its statutes and redefine its mission. The group”s founder, El-Banna, once defined the group as a “Salafi quest, a Sunni method, a Sufi reality, a political agency, a sports community, a cultural and scientific society, and an economic firm.” Much of this definition is irrelevant by today”s standards. The Brotherhood must satisfy itself with its being a political party. This may not be all it wants, but it is good enough.
The Muslim Brotherhood must reconsider its religious discourse. No group can promise change in society while failing to change from the inside. There is no doubt in my mind that without dismantling the religious legacy of the Brotherhood, it wouldn”t be able to move forward. Also, the group needs to rethink its organisational legacy. It needs to retrain its members to engage in politics, not just listen and obey. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot afford to be a personality cult. It cannot even afford to be a cult.
* The writer is a specialist in political Islam and author of “The Muslim Brotherhood… Fighting Old Age”