Muslim Brothers: so hot right now
|Sunday, April 29,2007 00:00|
|By Issandr El Amrani, Arabist|
As they face one of the biggest crackdowns in decades and the military trial of some of their top funders begins, the Egyptian Muslim Brothers are attracting ever more attention. There is a long piece in the NY Times Magazine — a pretty decent and sympathetic portrait of the group and some of its personalities, even it is generally inconclusive — that looks at their recent pro-reform parliamentary record and what various members of the group say about issues such as alcohol, Copts, and so on. James Traub, the other of the piece, is working on a book on democracy promotion and it shows: there are references to the Bush administration’s stance towards the MB, which Traub posits as being at odds with the Forward Agenda for Freedom (Bushspeak for democracy promotion.) To me it seems the democracy promotion angle (a US policy issue) is a bit awkwardly tackled to the more general look at the Brothers’ democratic credentials, but of course it’s an interesting issue.
It’s also interesting to see MB rhetoric for why Americans should talk to them:
Ultimately, though, what I like best about Traub’s piece are the little vignettes about what it is that Muslim Brotherhood MPs and activists do at the local level. It’s worth reading fully.
While on the topic of the MB, Robert Leiken, the establishment conservative policy type who advocated (with mildly neo-con Steven Brooke) engagement with the MB in the pages of Foreign Affairs a couple of months ago, follows up on critiques of his argument in the National Interest — particularly the critique “more neo-con than me you die” Joshua Muravshik articulated in Commentary. So basically it’s an argument between conservative policy wonks. All credit to them for having the argument, and I am not so familiar with centrist and liberal debates on this issue in Amreeka (my friends Samer Shehata and Josh Stacher, who have argued for engagement with the MB, are scholars not wonks). Indeed, I find the pages of places like the Center for American Progress rather barren on such topics — or am I wrong? The debate has to be broader than this to be significant.
Nonetheless, there is a fundamental truth that if you talk about engaging the MB in an American context, no matter what you think about what the MB wants to do in Egypt, there is the question of its support for Hamas. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supports terrorism, since it supports Hamas, and Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization in US law. In some anti-MB arguments, that “support of terrorism” charge can seem to mean that the MB supports al-Qaeda — and the debate hits a brick wall. Nonetheless, that critique is not serious. Hamas is not al-Qaeda and while it makes use of terrorism, it does so in resistance to occupation. That argument of course won’t get you far in American circles either, but one that might is that if the US does not engage with the MB because it supports Hamas, should it break off diplomatic relations with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Egypt which have given money to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government or facilitated those donations? (I am leaving out the obvious imbalance in US treatment of Palestinian use of violence against civilians to resist occupation vs. Israeli use of violence against civilians to perpetuate occupation.)
There is perhaps another issue worth raising: what is the MB’s position towards the situation in Iraq, and does the MB encourage people to go fight the jihad there? I have no evidence the MB is involved in this, but there have been quite a few Egyptian mujahedeen in Iraq and you have to wonder about the recruitment networks they came through.
In any case, if people want to debate this in the comments, can we refrain from the all-caps messages about how the MB are the spawn of Satan?