Since when is the Brotherhood considered a terrorist organization?
Essam el-Erian is a person far from terrorist activities, so when the Egyptian government put forward a string of accusations against him and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders for their alleged creation of a sub-group of the Islamic movement that purposes to target Egyptian sites across the country for violence, it was amusing. Since when is the Brotherhood considered a terrorist organization?
Western media have long argued the Muslim Brotherhood is the father-figure for radical movements across the Islamic world, with their controversial thinker Sayyid Qutb being given the distinction of being the man behind the violence. It makes sense, then, that the Egyptian government would want to galvanize the conservative factions worldwide that are scared and worried over the Brotherhood’s recent political success in Egypt, but it just doesn’t add up.
Foreign media have been quick to pick up on the story, namely because Erian is the darling of the Western media. He speaks adequate English and talks of reform in an even-handed manner. Now, the government here is accusing him of forming a faction within the Brotherhood that aims to blow up targets in Egypt. Laughable at best. But, in a climate where the government does as it wishes, it comes as no surprise the Brotherhood is now being named a terrorist organization.
Diaa Rashwan rightfully pointed out in an interview in Al-Ahram Weekly this past week that the government is cracking down on the leadership much the same way it did in 1995, some 10 months before another Parliamentary election. Today, however, these new charges are being reported and commented without much bravado by both foriegn and local press. Where is the real journalism and reporting on the recent and distant path the group has made in Egypt?
Erian once told me that arrest and imprisonment is par for the course. He said in his office at the Doctor’s Syndicate, on numerous occasions, that as a member of the Brotherhood, “arrest comes, but we have to not be afraid of this because it is our duty as leaders.” Again today, Erian finds himself in detention and release unlikely as trumped up charges continue to flow in from government buildings.
Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization? The easy and simple answer is no. But, this does not suffice for the radical conservatives and elites in Egypt who fear the MB would create a conservative Islamic state in Egypt, despite their leaders arguments that this would not happen. Nobody listens. For Erian and others – some 30 percent of the Brotherhood’s leadership is now behind bars – it is time for some sense to be thrown into the “factual” reporting that persists.
A quick look at how one becomes a “violent Islamist” belies the reality that Erian and others would create a secondary paramilitary organization aimed a violently overthrowing the Egyptian government. A recent conversation with Khalil al-Anani, who is arguably the world’s leading scholar on the Brotherhood, was revealing. He and I both agree that in order for a conservative Muslim to become a radical, and violent, Islamist in the al-Qaeda guise, they mus leave a group such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said that “there is no place for violence within the Brotherhood and for these people to be part of the Brotherhood and want to become violent, they have to leave.”
It makes sense, considering that all acts of violence allegedly done in the name of the Brotherhood, including the assassination attempt against late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, have been publicly condemned by the Brotherhood’s leadership. They have repeatedly told local and foreign reporters they want to work within the democratic system and are pushing Egypt toward this end. Why is it that nobody wants to believe them?
It is the same reason there hasn’t been an in depth look at the realities facing the Brotherhood’s top leaders today: fear. People are scared of Islamic groups, and rightfully so as the past decade has seen them become the enemy vis-a-vis the West and western thinking. Here in Egypt, this is no different. Many people are fearful of a Brotherhood take over and have no desire to go deeper into the group. MB leaders can talk all they want, but until the press has a more open and critical perspective on the country’s leading opposition group, more and more Brotherhood leaders will find themselves in prison, without much hope for recourse as the bearers of reality, journalists, in many ways tote the government and international line on Islamic movements.
In the end, this profession that Islamic movements are inherently bad, or evil, will lead to a society more conservative and more violent. It could very well push many of the moderate Brotherhood members, including the youthful reformists, out of the mainstream of the group. Nobody wants a Qubtist style Brotherhood in Egypt, but when the reform-minded leaders such as Erian are being pressed against a wall, what will the younger, more angry members do? The Egyptian government should be careful. And so should the press.