One of the greatest failures of parts of the Islamic movement is that they have not understood clearly the system in place in their societies. They make faulty assumptions that cost them dearly. For instance, almost all parts of the Islamic movement operate on the basis that the systems in their societies would yield proper results if good honest men were to administer them. Thus, they want to play by the rules of the established order in the hope that they will rise to power and then rectify the system from the top. This is contrary to the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).
Take the example of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt. For decades they were brutalized by successive Egyptian regimes; many of their leaders were tortured or hanged to death in order to crush the movement. The Ikhwan survived through all this but instead of learning the only lesson that this experience could offer — to devise a clear strategy to overthrow this system — they opted to work within it. The results have been disastrous. Their brief encounter with power was brought to a brutal end by the praetorian guards of the system that are completely subservient to imperialism and Zionism. Today, Egypt is worse off than it was during the Mubarak era. What has transpired must be carefully analyzed and properly understood to derive the correct lessons from them.
Five years after great hopes were aroused by the people’s movement for change in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East), the old guard is still as firmly entrenched in power as it was prior to the 2011 eruptions. The movements that led the struggle were dubbed the Islamic Awakening, the Arab Spring or simply the people’s movements. Whatever name one chooses, the fact is undeniable that they were subverted by the powers that be; the region is no better off today than it was prior to the uprisings. The greatest disappointment has been in Egypt where the military is back in power.
What accounts for this failure and who is responsible for it needs to be considered but we must first recall what provided the spark to these uprisings that were simmering beneath the surface for a very long time. It was an unemployed university graduate-turned-vegetable vendor, Mohamed Abouzizi whose self-immolation in protest over the insults of a police officer — a female at that, who slapped him in public for selling vegetables “without a permit” — that led to the uprising in Tunisia. Abouzizi’s funeral in his hometown of Sidi Abouzid in December 2010 turned into a mass protest that was quickly joined by other unemployed university graduates and workers.
Unemployment in Tunisia was running at 31% at the time. With lack of political or press freedoms and massive corruption that was the hallmark of the ruling Ben Ali family (General Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and his thieving wife Leyla Trabelsi led the pack of crooks), Abouzizi’s horrific death was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. In less than a month, Ben Ali who claimed to have secured 90% of the popular vote in the 2009 elections had to flee the country. Where else: Saudi Arabia, the refuge of all dictators and tyrants and itself ruled by a family of oppressive tyrants whose shelf life is also nearing its end.
The long-repressed people of Egypt copied the Tunisian uprising hoping to repeat the feat. They took on the military regime of General Hosni Mubarak and his henchmen. Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the symbol of resistance but as the world discovered later, the West, and particularly the US, was manipulating it from behind the scenes. The idea was to get rid of Mubarak without upsetting the entrenched system in Egypt — one of the most important countries in the region. The 30-year dictatorship of Mubarak collapsed in less than three weeks.
General Omar Suleiman, a long-time Mubarak ally who had served as intelligence chief and was recently appointed as vice president, announced Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011. But instead of handing power to the speaker of parliament, as required by the Constitution (provided by Mubarak!), Suleiman said the Military High Council would take over. Nothing had changed except the face at the top.
Similar uprisings in other locales — Bahrain and Libya, for instance — were undermined or greatly manipulated. The tiny island of Bahrain was invaded by Saudi troops and the dictatorial regime of the Khalifah family was propped up in power. In Libya, using the spurious pretext of “preventing” civilian deaths in Benghazi, NATO air power was unleashed to destroy the regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Resolution 1973 was pushed through the Security Council ostensibly to “save civilians” but in reality to indulge in a turkey-shoot. The Khalifahs in Bahrain were saved while Qaddafi was lynched after being publicly sodomized with a butcher’s knife. The other stage-managed uprising in Syria is in its death throes after nearly five years of bloodletting.
It is events in Egypt that have led to great disappointment because it is home to al-Azhar, one of the most prestigious institutions in the Muslim world, as well as the country where al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood) movement was born in 1928. It inspired similar movements in other parts of the Muslim world, most notably the Jama‘at-e Islami in British colonial India that later relocated to Pakistan. The disappointment was made even more unpalatable because the Ikhwan refused to understand the nature of the system in place in Egypt. They opted to play by the rules created by the old guard in the naïve belief that they could ride to power and then bring about change from the top.
Ride to power they did but they completely failed to bring about any change. The Ikhwan-backed Hizb al-Hurriyah wa-al-‘Adalah (Freedom and Justice Party) secured a comfortable majority in the People’s Assembly and even started to draft a new constitution but failed to realize that unless the military’s stranglehold on power was broken, they would not be allowed to rule unfettered or serve the interests of the people.
When the military, using the Mubarak-era judiciary blocked the Ikhwan candidate Khairat al-Shater to run for president, Mohamed Mursi’s name was put forward as substitute. In the May 23 and 24, 2012 elections, he beat his nearest rival (Ahmed Shafiq), the military-backed candidate in a crowded field of 13 contestants. Even so, the military prevaricated until it got assurances that its interests would be protected. Only then was Mursi was allowed to assume the presidency in June 2012.
It was the first time in the Ikhwan’s history that one of its members had been elected president (or allowed to run for office to be elected). Although a great deal of money was disbursed to such parties as the salafi al-Nour Party (backed by the Saudis) or a number of secular parties backed by the US and the military to defeat the Ikhwan, the latter came out on top. This was largely due to the decades of social work they had done among the oppressed masses.
Once in office, the Ikhwan made the very mistakes they should have avoided. They tried to curry favor with the military and while the former head of the armed forces and Defence Minister, Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi was removed from office, he was replaced by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a long time Saudi and Zionist agent (el-Sisi’s mother was of Jewish origins from Morocco and one of his maternal uncles was a member of the Israeli Knesset for nearly a decade!).
Far from curtailing the powers of the military, Mursi give it more powers such as no civilian oversight over the military’s budget and free hand to appoint the military chief. These were meant to appease them so that they would not try and overthrow the civilian government. Mursi also failed to cleanse the Mubarak-era judiciary that obstructed government policy at every step. Mursi’s moves to appease the military were misinterpreted as signs of weakness. In fact, they were, since the Ikhwan had made a strategic mistake of assuming that they could work with the military.
It is unclear what the military’s reaction might have been had Mursi and the Ikhwan embarked on a wholesale purging of its top ranks. It could not have been much worse than what they did to civilians camped peacefully in parts of Cairo to protest the illegal ouster of Mursi in July 2013. Thousands of civilians including women and children were mercilessly butchered on August 14 and 16 in 2013 so that the military could show who was boss and strengthen its grip on power.
If Mursi had sacked all the generals and brigadiers plus a significant number of colonels, the chances are he might have bought himself some time. But this would only have been possible had the Ikhwan garnered enough popular support. That would have required a people-centered policy, not one aimed at appeasing the military, the business class, the Saudis, Israelis and the Americans. The Ikhwan thought they could play for time and consolidate their grip on power in the old system. This is a mistake far too many “Islamic” politicians have made and paid a heavy price.
If the Ikhwan were serious in bringing about change in Egypt, they should have purged the bureaucracy as well as the judiciary of remnants of the Mubarak regime. The police force was totally uncooperative resulting in crimes escalating and causing great panic among people. This would have been a good opportunity to develop a people’s militia to tackle the problem. Some local committees had emerged but these were ad hoc when neighborhood watch groups sprang up.
The Ikhwan’s greatest failure as an Islamic movement was that they fell for the destructive tendency of sectarianism. They aligned themselves with Saudi Arabia and bought into its sectarian agenda while indulging in anti-Shi‘ah rhetoric. This was disastrous at a number of levels. It created deep divisions inside Egypt leading to brutal attacks on members of the Shi‘i community (a tiny minority in Egypt, many of them living there since the time of the Fatimid dynasty that had established al-Azhar), as well as creating divisions in the Ummah.
Ultimately, their Saudi patrons stabbed them in the back. This should have been foreseen. The Saudis had bitterly complained to the Americans for abandoning Mubarak. There was an even deeper problem as far as the Saudis were concerned. The rise of the Ikhwan to power was seen as a direct challenge to their monopoly on representing “Sunni” Islam. For the Saudis, this was a nightmare scenario greater than the challenge posed by Islamic Iran. The Saudis could contain Iran by playing the sectarian card, as they have done for decades, but this option was not available as far as the Ikhwan in Egypt were concerned even if the latter tried to present a softer image and a Saudi-friendly face. They had to be destroyed. The Najdi Bedouins in power in Riyadh lost little time doing so.
The Saudis financed el-Sisi and his brutes in uniform to carry out the coup against Mursi and the Ikhwan. They also pledged billions of dollars in aid to shore up the crumbling Egyptian economy when the military took over. Today Mursi and most of the Ikhwan leadership languish in Egyptian jails — in reality torture chambers. Many have been sentenced to death by kangaroo courts where the judges act as butchers.
Much as one might sympathize with the plight of the Ikhwan, their failures, especially at the level of understanding the entrenched system cannot be swept under the rug. The first Islamic movement to emerge in the post-khilafah era should have developed a better understanding of the reality.
The Prophet’s (pbuh) Sunnah and Sirah offer clear guidance for how Muslims should conduct themselves and go about acquiring and using power. It is this model that Muslims must emulate and not indulge in the crooked ways of the politicians. Allah (swt) instructs us in the noble Qur’an,
“Verily in the Apostle of Allah you have a good example [to follow]…” (33:21).