The Brotherhood and Politics: This Ain’t Working

The Brotherhood and Politics: This Ain’t Working

This is a very good article on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood  and changes it might make to become more effective. Here are some thoughts:

1)  A question of approaches.  In my opinion, Islamists (of all types)  need to be understood/ analyzed as “approaches to dealing with and changing society.”    All of them look at their society and agree that things just ain’t right and need to be changed; what distinguishes Islamist movements is how they want to make that happen.  On one hand, we have the more dogmatic Salafi movements that have emerged in recent years that want to bring about change from the grassroots, by “correcting” what they consider the flawed beliefs of individual Muslims  — things went downhill because people didn’t know the true word of God, so fixing people’s Aqidah is the key to revival.  The belief situation is so bad from the Salafi perspective that no talk about applying Islamic Law (Shariah — which would mean entering the political arena) until Muslims’ have the “correct” beliefs.  Then on the other hand, we have the more pragmatic and flexible Brotherhood, which says “as long as people accept the very basic tenets of Islam, this is a good enough start that allows us to try and make reform in all aspects of society” including through participation in politics.  They follow a strategy of “peaceful, gradual and comprehensive reform.”  And then at the far extreme, in the 1980s and 1990s but not so much now,  there were Islamists that tried to fix society by trying to destroy the system they considered flawed.  These Islamists found that this approach was a total failure and most have them have moved towards the more pragmatic Ikhwani approach or towards the Salafis.

2) Political Islam” : Not really a Useful Term.  Often times in the American media, the MB is classified as a “Political Islam” group but this is so misleading.  In my view, we have to classify the group as they classify themselves, in their local discourse which would be  “a group that seems comprehensive and gradual reform of society through deep engagement with society.”  Yes, I know that doesn’t sound as interesting, and its harder to get that concept across in a brief NY TIMES op-ed but you will never ever hear an Islamist group define themselves  primarily as practitioners of “Political Islam.”   At most,  some groups would say “participation in politics is one tool we use to go about reforming our society.”  Defining a group as a practitioner of “Political Islam”  is mostly a Western academic way of looking at the situation. 

3)  Change of Approaches Needed?   The article takes up the widespread sentiment in Egypt  that the Brotherhood’s comprehensive strategy (ie including politics) has hit a road-block , noting how a segment of the Ikhwan actually wants the Brothers to get out of politics, seeing it as pointless.  The author notes that its top-heavy, meaning that while the leadership might have a coherent understanding of a given strategy, they sometimes don’t do a good job of getting the message down to the base-level.  He seems to be sympathetic to the idea of pulling out of politics but in the end argues for a change in the group’s structure, to make it more effective. 

4) Looking to Hamas:   As an example of how a group can change its structure to make it more effective he points to what Hamas did in Palestine.  Hamas leadership came from the Brotherhood background, but in order to make it more appealing to a wider segment of society that might be interested in general “Resistance”, they deemphasized that Brotherhood link, choosing a more generic name like HAMAS which is an Arabic acronym for enthusiasm.  So “everyone in the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood is a member of HAMAS but not everyone in HAMAS is a member of the PMB.”  The author wants to see some similar flexibility from the Egyptian Brothers in order to make it more effective in their approach to society.

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