The role of Moderate Islamists in the fight against terrorism, case study of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

The role of Moderate Islamists in the fight against terrorism, case study of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

The attacks of September 11, 2001, the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the war on terror, mainly Islamist terrorism, have strained the relations with the Muslim world, which considered the US and the West at war with Islam. Part of the failure of the US strategy to engage the Muslim world in the war on terror is the lack of a clear strategy that distinguishes between moderate and radical Islamists. By lumping both radicals and moderates in one basket, the US policy makers and the West have alienated a large number of the Muslims who supported moderate Islamists in general elections, and considered them the hope to change the status quo in the Middle East and end corruption and oppression.

Moderate Islamists can be an effective partner in the fight against terrorism, for their animosity to radical Islamists and the stark differences in their ideologies. Most Mideast analysts would agree that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, is the most popular and the most formidable grassroots organization in the Islamic world (Walsh, p. 84), and is also a safety valve for moderate Islam (Leiken, p. 6), seeking to translate the abstract theoretical principles of Islamic governance into a practical political platform (Rutherford, p. 707). Moderate Islamists with their effective strategies to combat radicalism, while wining the hearts and minds in their constituencies, can serve well the goals of the fight against international Islamist terrorism. Furthermore cooperation [between MB and US] in specific areas of mutual interest—such as opposition to al Qaeda, the encouragement of democracy, and resistance to expanding Iranian influence—could well be feasible (Leiken, p.14)

Terrorism remains the primary national security challenge confronting the United States and will be for many years (Hamilton, 2005, p. 379). Until the 19th century, religion provided the only justification of terrorism. Then the emergence of the notions of nationalism and self-determination at the beginning of the 19th century, and the growing popularity of radical political thought, embracing Marxist ideology completed the transformation of terrorism from a mostly religious to a predominately secular phenomenon (Hoffman, p. 84). This process of “secularization” was given fresh impetus by the anticolonical/national liberation movements that arose after the Second World War to challenge continued Western rule in Asia, the ME, and Africa and subsequently exerted so profound an influence on ethno-nationalist/separatist and ideological terrorist organizations in the late 1960s and early 1970s (p. 84). While terrorism and religion share a long history, this manifestation was overshadowed by ethno-nationalist/separatist and ideologically motivated terrorism. At the height of the cold war, when the majority of terrorist groups (eight) were left-wing, revolutionary Marxist-Leninist ideological organizations, the remaining three-including the various constituent groups of the PLO—reflected the emergence of the first postcolonial ethno-nationalist/separatist organizations (p. 85). It was not until 1980—as a result of the repercussions of the revolution in Iran the previous year—did the first “modern” religious terrorist groups appear

The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the resurgence of religious terrorism by radical Islamic movements, made it important for policy makers to realize the difference in ideology these groups have with moderate and mainstream Islamic movements (Walsh, 2003, p.82). Mideast experts, following 911, argued that force alone has not resulted in the defeat of terrorism and that diplomatic initiatives directed at coaxing local leaders to encourage or implement change have not yielded the expected effects. As a consequence, these experts favor a “new” idea—namely, bringing the Islamist movements into the political processes of the individual countries of the region. The United States and its allies should therefore encourage Islamists to participate in democratic reforms (Hoveyda, 2005, p. 119)

The dramatic events that followed the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran brought concept of contemporary political Islam to the forefront of the world’s attention. Journalists, scholars, and other specialists have developed and are continuing to create concepts and a vocabulary to describe the Muslim world and its relationship to the West. The use of the adjective moderate to describe some Muslim leaders and movements is one example of this phenomenon (Hoveyda, 2001, p. 53).

The phrase “moderate Islamists” as opposed to “hard-line Islamists” was first introduced by American journalist of Middle East origin, Geneive Abdo. Until then “Islamist” used as both a noun and an adjective designated Muslims who adhered to the more fundamentalist and extremist views than those of mainstream. Therefore, from that perspective, an Islamist, by definition, is an extremist and cannot be labeled a moderate (Hoveyda, 2001, p. 53)

Especially after 9/11, the phrase “moderate Islamist” is often used in the literature and media to refer to movements of political Islam which reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy (Leiken, 2007, p. 2), and an extension to the 19th century’s reform ideologies of prominent scholars such as Muhammad Abdoh and Jamal-ed-Din Afghani, who had traveled to Europe, became convinced of the necessity of reforming certain parts of the theological interpretations in light of modern scientific knowledge (Hoveyda, 2001, p. 55)

Most Mideast analysts would agree that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, is the most popular and the most formidable grassroots organization in the Islamic world (Walsh, p. 84), and has also became a safety valve for moderate Islam (Leiken, p. 6), seeking to translate the abstract theoretical principles of Islamic governance into a practical political platform (Rutherford, p. 707). The Brotherhood differs from earlier reformers by combining a profoundly Islamic ideology with modern grass-roots political activism (Leiken, p.2)

In contrast, radical Islamists, or Jihadists, movements, which developed in an unchanged environment steeped in fundamentalism since the twelfth century, and influenced by scholars such as ibn Taymiyya (fourteenth century, Syria); and Abdal Wahhab (eighteenth century, Arabia) (Hoveyda, 2005, p. 506). These ‘‘extremists’’ are often called Salafis, whose central ideas were crystallized in the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya. Its adherents seek to transform the Muslim community and ensure that Islam as a system of belief and governance will eventually dominate the globe (p. 509)

Shamuel Bar in 2004, argued that radical interpretation of Islamic teachings has become a source of terrorism committed by militant Islamists, which constitute the lion share of terrorists acts and the most devastating of them (p. 27). According to Bar, “radical leaders of Islamist Jihadist-type movements used deeply ingrained religious beliefs to motivate Islamist terrorists and provide them with religious and moral justification to sanction their actions” (p. 28)

Therefore, Bar contended, it’s important to recognize these cultural and religious sources of radical Islamic ideology and address them in order to develop an effective counterterrorism strategy, and without such recognition the war on terror will doom to failure (p. 28 & p .36)

The Islamic Awakening of the early twentieth century, which emerged in response to Western imperialism and colonization, led to the revival of the more “traditional” or “fundamental” form of Islam as a religion and governing system (din wa dawla), where no area of human activity is outside its remit (pp. 28-29). Fundamentalists saw that the decay of the Muslim nations caused by their deviation from the original mores of Islam (p. 28). “Perfection lies in the ways of the Prophet and the events of his time” (p.29) without taking into consideration historical circumstances and developments.

Therefore, in this radical Islamist worldview, the world was dichotomized into two opposing worlds, the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam—i.e. the Muslim countries) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb—non Muslim countries) as it was the case when Islam first appeared (p. 29). The military form of global Jihad was then declared when the Soviets (infidels) invaded Afghanistan in 1980s, which ended with spectacular victory over a superpower. The triumph of Jihadists in Afghanistan and the collapse of the USSR galvanized militant Islamists who argued that the renewal of Jihad against infidels “will result in the rule of Islam in the world” (p. 30)

Fatwas (religious decrees) by religious scholars stipulating that Jihad is a “personal duty” played pivotal role encouraging radicalism and building support for radicals within the traditional Islamic community (p. 32). The controversial concept of irreversibility of Islamic identity –individual or territory—was also instigated by radicals to support their ideology of militant Jihad and to open more fronts not only with non Muslim states but also with apostate Muslims (p. 29)

The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic radicals share the same long-term goals of implementing Shari’a laws as the basis of national law (Walsh, p. 82). However, Jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy (Leiken, p. 2). Even among pro-terrorist tendencies within Islamist politics one must be careful not to create artificial uniformity (Schwartz, p. 283). The MB has committed itself to working within the current Egyptian system to achieve this objective and renounces—at least in its official statements—the violent tactics of militant splinter groups such as al-Gama’at al –Islamiyyah and al-Jihad (Walsh, p. 82). It offered the important message that Egyptians can return to “true” Islam and still be materially comfortable (p. 84)

It is important as we are trying to identify the enemy we are fighting (Hamilton, p. 380), to make the distinction between moderate and radical Islamists in order to win the fight against terrorism, but without losing the public support in the Muslim world, which is increasingly rallying behind the moderates in their respective countries for various domestic reasons. Distinction between “Islamist” and “radical Islamist” is as significant as the distinction between “reformer” and “revolutionary” in the contemporary United States (Walsh, p. 36). Islamists are not monolith and lumping them all together in the basket of “radicals” and “terrorists” will hamper the efforts to combat the real roots of terrorism and complicate the efforts to seek common ground with the Muslim world. Leiken and Brook argued in 2007 how the “nuance is lost in much of current Western discourse. Herding these different “beasts” into a single conceptual corral labeled “Salafi” or “Wahhabi” ignores the differences and fault lines between them—and has thwarted strategic thinking as a result” (p. 6)

In their 2007’s study of the “moderate Muslim Brotherhood”, Leiken and Brook elaborated further on the use of various nomenclatures and its different interpretation in Western and Middle Eastern literature. For example they explained that “When we asked Muslim Brothers in the Middle East and Europe whether they considered themselves Salafists (as they are frequently identified), they usually met our question with a Clintonian response: “That depends on what your definition of Salafist is.” If by Salafism we meant the modernist, renaissance Islam of Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh (turn-of-the-twentieth-century reformers who influenced Banna), then yes, they were Salafists. Yet the ubiquitous Web site, which is run by Salafists who believe that religion should never mix with politics and that existing rulers should be supported almost unconditionally, attacks Afghani and Abduh for being “far away from the Salafi aqidah [creed].” (This is the view, for obvious reasons, of the Saudi religious establishment.) Such “pietists,” most of whom were trained in official Saudi institutions, argue that the Brotherhood’s participation in politics has converted them into the “Bankrupt Brotherhood.”According to one, “The Muslim Brothers have political goals and strategies, which induce them to make concessions to the West. For us, the Salafists, the goal is purely religious.” (p. 6)

Hamilton in 2005, identified five essential elements in order to win the fight against terrorism; these five elements or five I’s” include: identification, integration, international, intelligence, and implementation. He argued the identifying the threat and knowing who the enemy is and therefore designing a strategy to confront it remains one of the most important of these elements (p. 379)

Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission listed al Qaeda, and other Jihadist groups inspired by its radical ideology, as the main terrorist threat to national security. Beyond these groups there are 1.3 billion Muslims around the world, many of whom may be empathetic to the jihadist agenda, even if they disagree with their violent methods. Therefore, it is the ideology of radical Islam that poses a grave and gathering threat, not simply individuals or groups who can be hunted and destroyed. This ideology joins anti-American political grievances with a radical strain of Islam. Sadly, this ideology reaches many Muslims: those who are hopeless or unsettled by modernity; people who hate America and their own repressive governments, and that is why the threat is bigger than just al Qaeda (Hamilton, p. 381)

Therefore, in order to prevail over the ideology of radical Islamists that breeds terrorism, we cannot rely solely on massive military force (Schwartz, p. 291) instead we must implement a comprehensive strategy that uses all elements of America power (Hamilton, p. 382). Failure to address the political and sociological causes of terrorist recruitment will only lengthen the life of and increase the effectiveness of terrorist groups (Schwartz, p. 291)

Moreover, fighting wars against states with significant Islamic populations will curtail security cooperation with states in the Islamic world (Schwartz, p. 285) and enrage its people. However, lethal military force remains crucial to win the struggle against active terrorists by relying on target killing or apprehending them through Special Forces operations. The large number of civilian casualties caused by conventional wars between states is likely to be self-defeating, as they potentially enlarge the recruitment pool for terrorist groups. And such ‘‘collateral damage’’ can be ethically justified only if such attacks were absolutely necessary to curtail terrorism and if the casualties were unintended, as well as unavoidable in achieving a particular military objective (that is, in accord with the just-war doctrine of ‘‘double effects’’). The civilian casualties from high-altitude bombing in Afghanistan were not absolutely necessary to uproot Al Qaeda and its Taliban government hosts (the use of more ground troops would have been ethically preferable (Schwarz, p. 286)

The 9/11 Commission recommended that combating terrorism must rest on an effective strategy to isolate radical Islamists by engaging the people across Muslim world in the battle for ideas, and show them that we are on their side. Right now, millions of Muslims grow up lacking political freedom, economic opportunity, and hope, and suffering at hand of governments, including U.S. allies, which repress their populations and deny them political participation (Hamilton, p. 384)

Isolating radical Islamist ideology without alienating public Muslim opinion can be best achieved by empowering moderate Islamists and pragmatics who are, because of their knowledge of Islamic thinking and ideologies and their increasing public support are better suited to debate radical elements within their societies. The exact same meaning was uttered by the leader of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party in Jordan, said that his group outdoes the government in discouraging jihad: “We’re better able to conduct an intellectual confrontation, and not a security confrontation, with the forces of extremism and fanaticism.” (Leiken, p. 7). Especially when repressive and undemocratic governments can be a major source of radicalization of the young people which ultimately breeds terrorism.

Historically, oppression of moderate Islamists by their governments has resulted in waves of radicalization. According to Schwartz, 2004, the origins of pan-Islamic global terror partly derived from U.S.-backed regimes suppressing their moderate Islamist political opposition. Then in the late 1970s, Sadat’s brutal suppression of a fairly moderate Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi hostility to any religiously inspired dissent, and Algerian suppression of the Islamic Salvation Front engendered a pan-Islamic political sensibility, as nationally based Islamist parties were no longer viable (p. 282).

Walsh, in 2003, added that because the United States has long condoned the anti-terror campaigns in several Middle East countries; an unfortunate consequence is that though the threat to the regimes from the radicals has been successfully contained, these government continue to receive an international mandate for repression of all dissident Islamic groups, not only the violent ones (p. 82). These governments’ main goal is not to combat terrorism, but rather oppress their political rivals who happened to be moderate Islamists to ensure their continuous grip on power

Furthermore, the suppression of Islamist politics by secularist, often pro-Western regimes and the failure of both Arab socialist and Arab nationalist projects helped introduce global and anti-American elements into the strategy of ‘‘lesser jihad” (p. 282). Therefore, as Schwartz argued, the United States would be more likely to enhance its security through diplomatic and economic pressures in favor of liberalizing Middle Eastern and South Asian regimes, pressuring not just for more liberal treatment of secular dissidents but also for the expansion of political space for nonviolent Islamist movements (p. 284). Leaders who are cooperating with the West in general and with the United States in particular are doing so out of fear of their own people or their rivals at the helm of government in other Muslim countries. By supporting such rulers unconditionally, the United States is ensuring that it will be harmed when the people in the area turn against them and drive them from power (Hoveyda, 2001, p. 51)

Hoveyda in 2005 argued that in addition to the military force we are using in our own defense, we must find appropriate ways to isolate radicals inside the Arab world and to expose the dangers of their ideology for the Arabs themselves (p. 122). Rutherford in 2006 explained how moderate Islamist scholars, mainly in Egypt, with their contemporary interpretations of Islam can help bridge the gaps that divide the Muslim world and Western civilization and remove some of the roots of radicalization and terrorism. These moderate, reconciliatory, and most importantly “authentic” interpretations of Islam are the West’s best hope to end hostilities with the Muslim world and isolate radicals. Once isolated, these radicals can be apprehended or even killed with little sympathy from the public.

For well over a century, Egypt has been an important center for legal thinkers seeking to adapt Islam to the challenges of contemporary governance. This effort began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the works of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, and Rashid Rida. It continues today with a new generation of Islamic thinkers. The most important figures in this effort are Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Tariq al-Bishri, Kamal Abu al-Majd, and Muhammad Salim al-‘Awwa (Rutherford, p. 708). They are influential among the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly the “new guard” of younger leaders who have grown more powerful within the organization in recent years. Raymond Baker argues that they constitute a coherent school of Islamic reformist thought that he calls the “New Islamists”

These moderate Islamists argue that the Qur’an and Sunna (teachings of the Prophet Mohamed) are silent on many specifics of running a state and, thus, man-made law is needed to manage the details of day-to-day governance. Therefore, unlike radical Islamists, they favor the creation of man-made laws as long as they are compatible with Shari’a. (Rutherford, p. 711). Abu al-Majd argues that Shari’a plays the same role in Islamic legal thought that natural law plays in the American constitutional tradition. It defines the purposes of state power and delineates its boundaries. Within these boundaries, rulers and citizens are free to develop specific laws that respond to the needs of their community (p. 712)

Moderate Islamists believe that state power must be restrained, the government must be held accountable (Rutherford, p. 713), the political authority lies with the people and they are entitled to select their ruler and should participate in day-to-day governance (p. 714). They also believe that these ideas are best realized in contemporary political life through democratic institutions. These institutions include:

Elections: support for selecting public officials through free elections. Each citizen has a religious obligation to vote, since he has a religious duty to convey his knowledge of the candidate for office.

Political Parties: the theorists also endorse the creation of multiple political parties. Al-‘Awwa adds that the presence of multiple parties reflects the principle of tolerance of dissent, which he considers fundamental to the faith. He concludes that, “The existence of political parties … is necessary for the advancement [of Islamic societies] and for freedom of opinion within them, and to ensure the absence of oppression” (p. 715)

Parliament: The Islamic constitutionalists argue that a parliament is the most effective institution for enabling the public to participate in the drafting of laws in those areas where the Shari’a is silent (p. 716)

Rutherford added that moderate Islamist thinkers note that they borrow these institutions from Western democracies. However, each stresses that this borrowing is done in a highly selective manner. Al-Qaradawi’s view is typical when he writes that the Islamic world must “take the best elements of democracy without seeking to duplicate it”. The central goals of an Islamic state are to enhance justice and oppose tyranny. At this moment in history, democratic institutions are the best means for achieving these goals and, thus, democracy “is the form of government that is closest to Islam.'” However, democracy in an Islamic context must operate within the ethical framework defined by Shari’a. It must not lead to laws that allow what is forbidden in Islam (such as adultery or alcohol consumption) or prohibit what is required (p. 716)

Furthermore, moderate Islamists stress the importance of justice and freedom of choice in Islam, however, al-‘Awwa adds an important caveat: the freedom to leave the Islamic faith is restricted. The Qur’an clearly declares that apostasy is a sin, although it does not specify a penalty. Freedom of thought, inquiry, and speech are essential to the full expression of each Muslim’s faith.” In addition, al-‘Awwa proposes that each Muslim bears an obligation to “enjoin good and forbid evil” within the community. In order to fulfill this obligation, each Muslim must be free to speak out against evil and corruption. Speaking out in this manner is a religious duty and, thus, freedom of speech is divinely sanctioned and mandated (Rutherford, p. 716)

Al-Qaradawi offers the most detailed discussion of women’s rights. He stresses that women have the same duties as men, and that they play an important role in the life of the community. Trying to exclude them from public life “is like trying to breathe with one lung or fly with one wing (Rutherford, p. 716). In his view, women should be allowed to vote and to hold public office (p. 717), and be permitted to hold positions of authority, including the posts of judge and head of state (p. 718). They also advocate protecting the rights of non-Muslims. “No compulsion in religion.” (Quran, 2:256). Al-‘Awwa makes essentially the same argument, and proposes that sectarian strife has risen in recent years because of political opportunism by trouble makers on both sides (p. 718)

Moderate Islamists, therefore, share core beliefs of liberal democracy. They support freedom of choice and expression, rule of law, political participation and protect the rights of women and non-Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood has frequently dismissed the notion of an incompatibility between Islam and democracy (Walsh, p. 85). Brotherhood seeks to create a “republican system of government that is democratic, constitutional, and parliamentary and that conforms to Islamic principles.” (Rutherford, p. 721)

The Brotherhood’s evolving social network is probably more responsible than anything else for the enormous power the organization could now wield in an open election. These services are compatible with the organization’s Islamist message and thus can serve as an important counterbalance to the supposedly divinely-sanctioned violence of al Gama’ at and al-Jihad (Walsh, p. 84). The MB followed the path of toleration and eventually came to find democracy compatible with its notion of slow Islamization. An Islamic society, the idea goes, will naturally desire Islamic leaders and support them at the ballot box. The MB also repeatedly justified democracy on Islamic grounds by certifying that “the umma [the Muslim community] is the source of sulta [political authority].” In pursuit of popular authority, the Brotherhood has formed electoral alliances with secularists, nationalists, and liberals. Therefore, jihadists view the Brotherhood’s embrace of democracy as blasphemy (Leiken, p. 4)

Instead of the Madrasahs models, run by radicals and Jihadists, which teach students intolerance and radicalism, and even deny girls education, the Egyptian MB created modern schools, where boys and girls are offered equal opportunities for education, learned foreign languages and taught to be effective members in societies. The MB works to dissuade Muslims from violence, instead channeling them into politics and charitable activities (Leiken, p. 6)

Moderate Islamists reject terrorism, violence and killing of innocent civilians who are not involved in combat. As Robert Leiken and Steven Brook argued in 2007, the MB itself played a role in resisting radicalization within its own ranks, when “Sayyid Qutb, then the MB’s most profound thinker, and in response to extreme oppression by Nasser’s regime, produced an answer that would echo into the twenty-first century: these were the acts of apostates, kafireen. Accordingly, the torturers and their regime were legitimate targets of jihad. But from his own cell, Hudaybi (MB General Guide) disputed Qutb’s conclusion. Only God, he believed, could judge faith. He rejected takfir (the act of declaring another Muslim an apostate), arguing that “whoever judges that someone is no longer a Muslim … deviates from Islam and transgresses God’s will by judging another person’s faith.”Within the Brotherhood, Hudaybi’s tolerant view—in line with Banna’s founding vision—prevailed, cementing the group’s moderate vocation. But it appalled the takfiris, who streamed out of the Brotherhood. Qutb, who breathed his last on Nasser’s gallows in 1966, went on to become the prophet and martyr of jihad. “Qutb has influenced all those interested in jihad throughout the Islamic world,” said a founding member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an erstwhile jihadist group known for its vicious campaign against foreign tourists in Egypt during the 1980s. “The Brothers,” he continued sadly, “have abandoned the ideas of Sayyid Qutb.” (Leiken, p. 4)

Leiken and Brook further reputed a common myth accusing the MB, and movements of moderate Islam of spawning other terrorist groups. They argued that “having lost the internal struggle for the Brotherhood, the radicals regrouped outside it, in sects that sought to topple regimes throughout the Muslim world. (Groups such as al Jihad would furnish the Egyptian core of al Qaeda.) These jihadists view the Brotherhood’s embrace of democracy as blasphemy. Channeling Qutb, they argue that any government not ruling solely by sharia is apostate; democracy is not just a mistaken tactic but also an unforgivable sin, because it gives humans sovereignty over Allah. Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant, Zawahiri, calls it “the deification of the people.”Abu Hamza al-Masri, the one-eyed radical cleric who presided over London’s notorious Finsbury Park mosque, considers democracy “the call of self-divinity loud and clear, in which the rights of one group of people, who have put their idea to vote, have put their ideas and their decisions over the decisions of Allah.” Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (whom a recent West Point study found to be the most influential living jihadist thinker) inveighs, “Democracy is obvious polytheism and thus just the kind of infidelity that Allah warns against, in His Book.” (Leiken, p. 5). In London, Brotherhood leaders contrasted their approach to that of radical groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (ht), that “seek to bring society to a boiling point.” (Leiken, p. 7)

On the other hand, the MB’s success in elections, professional syndicates and social support institutions led to harsh response from the Egyptian government from the mid-1980s, onward. Initially, in 1981, Mubarak offered the MB olive branch, legitimizing it as the primary representative of centrist Islamism, which place militants outside the mainstream. Once they are isolated, he can take forceful measures against them with little protest from Egyptian sympathetic to centrist Islamists (Walsh, p. 82)

However, the MB gained popularity and penetrated professional and student association. In 1990s, the brotherhood had taken over nearly all of the prominent associations. The Brotherhood exploited the longstanding alienation of young, educated Egyptian professionals who had been guaranteed government jobs upon graduation since the days of Nasser but had become heavy burden on the state. The social support network that the Brotherhood had cultivated as the third wing of their campaign during this period was an enormous draw for these professionals; the Brotherhood offered full health insurance and other considerable welfare benefits that no other organization could provide (Walsh, p. 83). The MB experience in the past 20 years have suggested that it may be more capable of providing social services to the Egyptian population, more reliable in keeping the promises it has made, and even more democratic than the secular regime that has enjoyed consistent US support (Walsh, p. 82)

Therefore, and in order to undercut the MB’s chances of presenting itself as viable alternative to the dysfunctional government, Mubarak took measures to crackdown on MB activities that would show a lack of rigid discrimination between radicals and moderates, and very possibly Mubarak’s recognition of the moderates as the greater political threat. In the remainder of the 1990s, there were violent outbreaks that erased the distinction between radicals and moderate Islamists in Egyptian government policy. Warfare erupted between the government and Islamic radicals from al-Gama’at al-Islamiyyah and al-Jihad, launching series of terrorist attacks between 1995-1997, after the Gulf War. The government’s campaign against Islamic radicals succeeded in isolating the violence, but also struck the MB. The regime arrested a number of civic officials, academics, former parliamentarians, and members of professional syndicates

In 2001 and 2002, when several younger MB leaders who were imprisoned in 1995, were released and resumed their positions in the organization. Another turning point occurred in 2004, when the 84-year-old General Guide Ma’mun al-Hudaybi passed away. Al-Hudaybi had been one of the most eminent members of the old guard. His death marked the beginning of a transition toward a new generation of leadership. While the younger generation was not permitted to take the top spot, two of its most respected leaders — Muhammad Habib and Khayrat al-Shatir — were promoted to the post of Deputy General Guide. The new General Guide, Muhammad ‘Akif, publicly endorsed the moderate political views articulated by the younger generation (Rutherford, p. 721)

Despite of the MB tolerance and moderation facing increasing repression by the Egyptian government; Egypt’s interior minister said to The Economist,” The Brotherhood is a greater threat to the safety of the state than the terrorists and the militant groups. We are determined not to go Algeria’s way”. In 1994, Mubarak told The New Yorker “The Middle East terrorism is a by-product of our own illegal Muslim Brotherhood” (Walsh, p. 84), despite of lack of evidence that supports the MB violent tendencies (p. 85). MB leader Ahmed Hassanein insists that the Brotherhood has never ordered an act of terrorism, even during the organization’s truly underground days in the peak of the Nasser revolutions. Even today, there have been no concrete links made between acts of terrorism and anyone who might be construed an official of the MB. The Brotherhood does not deny, however, that members of the organization have committed radical acts. Just because the Brotherhood shares the same long-term goal as radical group does not necessarily mean there is an overlap in their short-term methods, and at this point there is no evidence to undermine the Brotherhood’s peaceful rhetoric (p. 86).

According to Leiken & Brook “The Brotherhood claims success at sifting radicalism out of its ranks through organizational discipline and a painstaking educational program. (One Muslim Brother noted that the organization’s motto could be “Listen and Obey.”) If a Muslim Brother wishes to commit violence, he generally leaves the organization to do so. That said, a number of militants have passed through the Brotherhood since its inception, and the path from the Brotherhood to jihad is not buried in sand. Defections have historically occurred when the organization has faced a conjunction of internal and external pressures, as when the takfiri element emerged under repression to produce the Egyptian jihadist movement. Today, however, Brothers who leave the organization are more likely to join the moderate center rather than to take up jihad” (p. 7)

Few of the vices the Western world seeks to combat in the Middle East apply to the Brotherhood, but many of them do apply to the Egyptian regime, which has unquestionably failed to deliver meaningful economic relief to an extremely poor population, remains undemocratic, and uses violence in an arbitrary fashion. In this light, the gap between Western and centrist Islamist interest seems significantly less difficult to close (Walsh, p. 86). Furthermore cooperation [between MB and US] in specific areas of mutual interest—such as opposition to al Qaeda, the encouragement of democracy, and resistance to expanding Iranian influence—could well be feasible (Leiken, p.14)


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