• Reports
  • December 26, 2005
  • 8 minutes read

Rise of Muslim Brotherhood puts Egypt’s strategic alliances at risk

Rise of Muslim Brotherhood puts Egypt’s strategic alliances at risk
Mohammed Mahdi Akef is responsible for the Muslim Brotherhood that has taken
a major step in its campaign to turn Egypt into an Islamic state.

Akef’s Muslim Brotherhood won 20 percent of the 444 seats in The People’s
Assembly in the recent election. From now on, Akef is a kingmaker in an
Egypt that is looking beyond the ailing 77-year-old President Hosni Mubarak.

“We begin with the Muslim individual, the Muslim family and the Muslim
community,” Akef said.
The Brotherhood IS clearly a minority in parliament. But Israel and the
United States are worried. Israel has made Egypt its leading security ally
in helping control the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. The United States has
been pumping weapons into Egypt and was considering a request for advanced
F-16 multi-role jetfighters.

“I’m certain they [the United States] want to engage in dialogue with us
only to arouse people against us,” Akef said. “They also know we will clash
with them from the very first round because of their policies in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Palestine.”

Akef won’t bite off more than he can chew. He has ordered Brotherhood
deputies to focus on domestic issues and seek leading positions in such
parliamentary committees that deal with culture, education and religion.

Brotherhood sources said that for now the movement wants to focus on
education and religion and leave economic and foreign policy to the
Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

“The Brotherhood believes there is an American conspiracy against
educational and Islamic curriculums and that they should capitalize on their
membership in parliament to fight this conspiracy,” Brotherhood
parliamentarian Mohammed Rabie said.

Akef became spiritual leader in January 2004 with a completely different
agenda from that of his cautious predecessors. Unlike them, Akef, a former
physical education teacher, vowed that the Brotherhood would participate in
elections and state institutions.

The threat of prison or torture has not scared Akef. He was considered an
opponent of the British occupation of Egypt after World War II. When
President Abdul Gamal Nasser took over Egypt, Akef quickly became a target
of the new regime.

In 1954 Akef was arrested and sentenced to death on charges of helping a
Brotherhood member escape Egypt. The sentence was reduced to life in prison
and Akef was released in 1974.

For the next 30 years, Akef focused on what Muslims term daawa, or spiritual
indoctrination. He helped found the International Body of the Brotherhood
and established Islamic camps throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe and
the United States. Akef was also instrumental in the establishment of Hamas
in the Gaza Strip in 1987.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood has never won a single battle in parliament.
Still, the Mubarak regime has been frightened enough of the Islamic
opposition to respond to every one of the Brotherhood’s campaigns.

Take the Brotherhood ban on books and videos deemed anti-Islamic. Regional
authorities, scared of a Islamic backlash, followed the dictates of the
Brotherhood and agreed to prohibit the sale of a range of publications and
music videos.

As early as 2001, the Ministry of Culture fired officials who published
three books opposed by the Brotherhood. In response to Brotherhood demands,
regional authorities have also blocked attempts by Christians to build or
repair churches.

Akef knows how to choose his battles, and Mubarak has not been one of them.
Indeed, Akef supported Mubarak’s election earlier this year in a vote widely
acknowledged as having been rigged.
The muted Brotherhood support for Mubarak was tactical. Akef and his aides
concluded that Mubarak was an aging, sick man whose only goal was to pass
power to his son, Gamal. Every day that Mubarak held power made the
Brotherhood a more attractive option.

“We have long suffered a lack of competent authority, and this is a real
problem,” said Abdul Ila Al Mahdi, founding member of Egypt’s Wasat Party.

“Ability to lead must come before ideology, and Egypt has many who are
capable. The problem is that the people in charge are wholly unqualified,”
he said.

Akef is unimpressed with President George Bush’s crusade for democracy in
the Middle East. He believes the United States has encouraged the Mubarak
regime to use brute force to stop the Brotherhood at any cost.

“I think the aim of foreign pressure is to exhaust the regime; it is not in
Egypt’s interest,” Akef said. “If foreign pressure was in Egypt’s interest,
and towards genuine democracy, then the regime [raising his voice] wouldn’t
have dared act in the way it did during the elections. The political
establishment is doing what it is doing without worrying because American
democracy isn’t pursuing Egypt’s interests. U.S. democracy seeks to
intensify backwardness in this country.”

Since the elections, Mubarak has sought to portray business as usual. The
Egyptian Foreign Ministry has reassured the United States that the
Brotherhood’s gains will not change relations between Cairo and Washington.

“Our reform process started before President Bush’s election,” Egyptian
Ambassador to Washington Nabil Fahmy said De . 15. “I see America’s
involvement in reform in Egypt as positive. I have no problem at all with

In Washington, there is already debate within administration circles over
how to treat Egypt as it moves toward Islam. Some in the State Department
want to launch a dialogue with the Brotherhood but others in the White House
are concerned that this would only anger Mubarak and worsen U.S.-Egyptian

Still, the first foreign target of Egypt’s Brotherhood would be Israel.

Just three months ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his ministers hailed
a new era in relations with Cairo. Sharon, dismissing the warnings of the
military, approved the introduction of paramilitary forces, armed with
helicopters and combat vehicles, along the Egyptian-Gaza border.

Akef likes the idea of Egyptian troops massing along the Israeli border.

In an interview with Al Ahram last week, Akef echoed the sentiments of
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vowing never to recognize Israel,
which he calls a cancer.

“We expect the demise of this cancer soon,” Akef said.