The Ikhwan al-Muslimun have suffered greatly in Egypt but they have also made some terrible mistakes none of which match the “exclusivist” bug that has infected the thinking of some of their leaders.
Thinking about al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (The Muslim Brotherhood) in today’s rapidly changing global environment evokes two divergent sentiments. One of them is commiseration; the other is indignation. This is the first Islamic movement to have taken the initiative to bring “Islam back to Muslims” and “Muslims back to Islam” after the fall of the Ottoman State and what it represented of an “Islamic centrality.” The Ikhwan inspired and sired other Islamic movements: Jamaat-e Islami in the Indian subcontinent, Refah in Turkey, along with its antecedents and subsequent incarnations. It suffered from “breakaway” and “breakout” political groups and philosophic tendencies: Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (in the Levant), al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyah, al-Jihad (in Egypt), al-Nahdah (in Tunisia), al-Islah (in Kuwait), etc.
With almost 90 years of uphill struggle you would think you are looking at a true and tried Islamic movement. The sad fact is that this sometimes-overstretched organization with its leadership tending toward a sort of elitism...
There are many other offshoots or affiliates of the Ikhwan in practically every Muslim country and on every continent of the world. With almost 90 years of uphill struggle you would think you are looking at a true and tried Islamic movement. The sad fact is that this sometimes-overstretched organization with its leadership tending toward a sort of elitism has been taking two steps forward and two steps backward throughout its checkered history. The sacrifices are there, no doubt. The problem is that the decision makers have not been on par with those sacrifices to break new ground.
Take the past several years or the past few decades as an example of how the Ikhwan have put themselves in the pickle they are in today. Let us look at some of their mental failures and deficits of willpower in the course of the near past.
You pity the Ikhwan because they have been beaten up by their own government. Many of them endured the worst forms of torture and persecution. Many of them were exiled. Some of them went into hiding. And, generally speaking, they did not lose sight of their Islamic objective, at least in theory.
Firstly, the Ikhwan could not, at the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, bring themselves together and acknowledge the historic breakthrough that the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of Imam Khomeini in Iran represented. The Ikhwan — before anyone else in the world — should have helped and contributed to the consolidation of the Islamic State in Iran. But they were unable to do that then, and they still seem unable to do so now. It is very hard to ask this, but is there a type of “Israeli bug” in the Ikhwan? And what is meant by an Israeli bug is not a Zionist Israeli presence within the Ikhwan leaders; tangibly no such thing exists. The Israeli bug is the one mentioned in the Sirah of the Prophet (pbuh) when these Israeli people of scripture who were anticipating the advent of a prophet refused to accept Muhammad (pbuh) because he was not one of them! Regrettably, in the body language of the Ikhwan, there is that type of underlying notion: the Islamic Revolution in Iran is “not one of us.” What happened to the brotherhood that is in their very name: the Muslim Brotherhood? You pity the Ikhwan because they have been beaten up by their own government. Many of them endured the worst forms of torture and persecution. Many of them were exiled. Some of them went into hiding. And, generally speaking, they did not lose sight of their Islamic objective, at least in theory.
One can’t help but sympathize with the poor and impoverished Egyptian, who belongs to the social underclass and seeks the Ikhwani way out with honor, only to find himself back to where he was in the underclass because of some slow-witted decisions made by a few moneyed or detached Ikhwani leaders.
Let us be more specific. After 9/11, the Saudi and other Arabian regimes came down hard on the Ikhwan who had assumed Arabia as their second homeland — after being expelled or exiled from Egypt. These Ikhwan were told that they had to find greener pastures elsewhere, and to forget about the hospitality of the 1960s and 1970s. At this point, any rational person would think the natural place to look to would be Islamic Iran. But no! They sent out feelers and even contemplated moving their center of activity to Libya! But, then, the erratic megalomaniac of Libya could not brook any type of Ikhwani self-direction and freedom of movement. So, the Ikhwan swallowed their pride, and kept a relatively low profile in their Arabian sanctuary.
The election of Hamas buoyed their spirit for a while. Then came the “Arab Spring.” In this new phase the Ikhwan felt that the long anticipated day of breakthrough had arrived. They were led to believe through their Khaliji and Arabian interlocutors that the future now is going to be an Ikhwani future without reservations. The Ikhwan mounted the seats of power in Tunisia. Then the Ikhwan climbed the pyramid of power in Egypt. The Egyptian president and the majority members of the Egyptian parliament were of the Islamic trend. Libya’s demonic dictator was overthrown. Libya, sandwiched between an Ikhwani Tunisia and an Ikhwani Egypt, was being grilled slowly for becoming an Ikhwani Libya. Add to this apparent domino effect was the Ikhwani political cousins in Turkey. How times had changed! Or did they?
The first cracks in the Ikhwani rank and file is now appearing with Hamas re-evaluating its relationship with both Tehran and Damascus.
This whole Ikhwani entanglement came to a head when — flushed with triumphalism — the Ikhwan were prompted to make their next move in Syria. With Qatar and Turkey firmly behind them, they lunged into Syria. And they have been mired in the Syrian civil war now for more than two years with no end in sight. During the past year the rise of the Ikhwan quickly turned into the fall of the Ikhwan. The first cracks in the Ikhwani rank and file is now appearing with Hamas re-evaluating its relationship with both Tehran and Damascus. The Qatari government is removing itself from center stage. And the Saudi family regime is moving in to fill the vacuum. And when the Saudi clannish and client regime is calling the shots you might as well figure it is the US and Israel who are now in charge — in the open.
Behind closed doors, the Ikhwan are crying foul. They have the harshest words for the Saudi monarchy — but only in their hush-hush meetings. The Saudi regime now is grandstanding. As of this writing it has refused to sit on the ten-member, two-year rotating term of the United Nations Security Council.
Back in the late-1970s and early-1980s the Ikhwan were dragged into a Syrian conflict by the same Saudi prodding. And they came out of that with eggs on their faces and blood on their hands. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Ikhwan have been fooled by the Saudi royals twice in Syria alone, not to mention the shenanigans the Ikhwan have suffered in such countries as Yemen, Lebanon, the Khalij, etc.
It strains credulity to see how mistake-prone and bullheaded the Ikhwan are. Their back channels of understanding with the US and the West have come to naught. They have virtually flash-frozen their relations with Arabia’s regimes. They could not build bridges with other Islamic trends and parties. Their decades-old cultivation of relations with petro-sheikhs were of no use when they needed financial assistance to run their country. President Mohamed Mursi reckoned he was in the process of becoming the long-awaited grand khalifah of the Sunnis! The Ikhwan were some of the last segments to join the revolt against Mubarak, and now they are some of the first to be expelled from their elected positions by Mubarak’s military.
The Ikhwan had an unparalleled chance to cement an Islamic political will in the Muslim East. They were uniquely positioned to consolidate the Islamic popular will in Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. These are all — to one degree or the other — Islamic political kindred souls. But the hubris of power was something they could not conquer within their own selves. We doubt that the Ikhwan have awoken from the multiple blows that came down on them like thunderbolts in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, etc.
A word of brotherly advice: the Ikhwan came under the influence of Arabian wealth since the 1970s and have not liberated themselves from that correlation. They will not be able to successfully liberate others when they themselves are not liberated.
The Islamic Republic of Iran with its senior decision makers has offered them an extended hand at times when the Ikhwan were desperate and at times when the Ikhwan were better off, at times when the Islamic Republic itself was in need, and at times when it was affluent. But, still, it is the Ikhwan who cannot defeat their own ego and join hands with their own brothers and prove that they are a Muslim Brotherhood.
No one is trying to make the difficult condition the Ikhwan are in more difficult. Everyone should know they need help. They have been targeted by the Zionists and imperialists, they have been persecuted by the military and business class in Egypt, they have been cut off by kith and kin in Arabia, they have been shunned by seculars and salafis here and there, and they have been abandoned by some of the closest people to them. Some of the Ikhwan may be turning paranoid in these difficult circumstances. They may look around and think that there is some type of grand conspiracy against them as would happen to others who are in their predicament. Maybe, just maybe, this ibtila’ (trial and tribulation) will raise their awareness, open their eyes, and cause them to identify their true friends as well as their real enemies.
This is the time of year when conscientious Muslims recall the lessons of ‘Ashura’ and Karbala’. Imam al-Husayn lived through times that were demanding, disconcerting, and obstreperous. We don’t have a hint from history that he was ever paranoid. We don’t find any trace of information that he came under the sway of foreign influence. We don’t know of any time when he parted with principle for the value of money.
A word to the wise: it may be worth the time and effort for the Ikhwan after 14 centuries of scant information about Imam al-Husayn to revisit his life, his struggle, and his sacrifice, and do so from “Sunni” sources, if some are allergic to Shi‘i sources. You may be surprised at what you learn.
But for those who struggle hard in Our cause —We shall most certainly guide them to Our [proven] ways: for, behold, Allah is indeed with those who seek to do better (29:69).