Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Muslim Brothers in Egypt

by Elliott Abrams
February 5, 2014

Doing some research for a project,  I came across this interesting assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its role in politics there:

The record of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt following [Hassan al] Banna’s assassination shows that this essentially popular protest movement directed against misgovernment and oppression by the rulers sought total power for itself as the only efficacious remedy for social and political ills. After the military coup d’etat of 1952,the Brothers were in hopes that the new regime, which included officers who had sympathized with, or even belonged to, the movement, would move to institute the godly rule for which it hankered. The Brothers were sorely disappointed. The new rulers, led by Nasser, were willing neither to accept the Brothers’ ideology nor to allow them even a share of power.

The passage is from a monograph written in 1992 by the great historian Elie Kedourie for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and entitled “Democracy and Arab Political Culture.” What is striking, of course, is how little has changed. To paraphrase, one could today write that “the record of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt following Hosni Mubarak’s removal shows that this essentially popular protest movement directed against misgovernment and oppression by the rulers sought total power for itself as the only efficacious remedy for social and political ills. After the military removed Mubarak in 2011, the Brothers were in hopes that the new regime, which included officers who had sympathized with, or even belonged to, the movement, would move to institute the godly rule for which it hankered. The Brothers were sorely disappointed. The new rulers, led by Sisi, were willing neither to accept the Brothers’ ideology nor to allow them even a share of power.”

Of course there is one great difference: after 2011 and unlike in 1952, there was a brief interlude when the Brothers actually took power. But when the movement “sought total power for itself as the only efficacious remedy for social and political ills,” as Kedourie had described their mindset, the army stepped in again and turned the tables. Now the army is “willing neither to accept the Brothers’ ideology nor to allow them even a share of power.”

Plus ca change….

Post a Comment 13 Comments

  • Posted by Adam

    Mr. Abrams, your paraphrase of Kedourie seems to imply that you think that the Muslim Brothers never intended to keep to the democratic rules of the game after Morsi won power. Indeed, as you say, they sought ‘total power’. I agree; the MB were and are neither about, nor much for, democracy per se.

    But I fail to see how you can maintain your utopian push for democratic change in a country where the two most powerful political forces (the army and the MB) are clearly not interested in democratic values. Democracy is merely a cloak they would both wear to mask the reality of authoritarian rule.

    Let’s face it: a U.S. push for democratic reforms in Egypt is about posturing, about sound-bytes and about improving the U.S.’s image in the ME post 9/11. No one of account in Egypt is actually listening.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    The Muslim Brotherhood is not a rational political party that can believe in the rules of political participation in order to abide by the rules of the rule of law and democracy. The MB is a totalitarian international terror organization that exalted violence around the world, its major goal to establish a Sharia state in Egypt and in all Arab countries so that promote a culture of love of death and martyrdom.
    We should not forget that all al-Qaeda terrorists who worked with bin-Laden, such as “Abdullah Azzam, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Omar Abdul-Rahman and others” all came from the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology. So I hope that the Egyptians would not allow them to regain control over the country.

  • Posted by Adam

    Good points, Jassem, especially about the links to AQ. I wonder how much of that is fathomed at the State Department?

    This reminds me of a point I made on an earlier blog about understanding what the ‘War on Terror’ is about. The U.S. needs to seriously address the priorities of stopping AQ and AQ sympathetic movements (i.e sunni islamists) vs. the priority of promoting democracy as the cure-all political solution in the ME. There is a dilemma there and too many are blind to it.

  • Posted by ah

    *sigh* Jassem, Jassem, Jassem. You are so prone to hyperbole that it is rather difficult to take anything you say seriously.

    I have no love lost for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is not the all powerful and violent “totalitarian international terror organization” you claim it to be.

    In fact, the Brotherhood in Egypt actually formally avowed violence in the 1960s when the leadership shifted from those inspired by Sayyid Qutb to Hudaibi and the more “moderate” camps. On top of this, the Brotherhood was not at all involved in the 1980s and 1990s terrorist violence directed against civilians…

    Even more, totalitarian is the wrong adjective here. I would argue they are prone to authoritarianism, as one will see in their internal structure, as well as in their brief time in power in Egypt. But no less so than the more secular parties they have faced / the current Al-Sisi regime.

    In fact, you prove my point with your reference to the AQ guys. All of whom had officially left the Brotherhood, because they deemed it to be not conservative enough (i.e. not willing to take up violence, espouse takfir, etc.). So no, they are actually not coming from the MB ideology, they rejected it for being too moderate.

  • Posted by bemacomber

    As you continue to shove out a perspective the MB are terrorists locked in a war with the latest Egyptian junta led by an American trained puppet I truly wonder if any of you have a clue. What is happening is Egypt is exactly what the United States of Hillary advised by this cadre of smarty pants want – no real democracy, no real freedom, justice and bread. Gentlemen, wake-up, no one with half a brain buys into this stupidity you are deploying. The actual awake are the people who march with four finger salutes even while 22,000+ Egyptians are detained in horrific jails including children. When you arrest the press any opportunity for truth does not die, it in effect, rises like The Nile.

  • Posted by Lily

    It was good to read Elie Kedourie, thanks. There is a major difference between the two eras, though. MB figures are being welcomed into the White House today — and not just any MB leaders.

    UK MB leader Anas Altikriti, who expressed support for Iraqi insurgents who were fighting US troops, met with America’s ‘commander-in-chief’ in January 2014.
    http://www.globalmbwatch.com/2014/01/27/featured-story-uk-muslim-brotherhood-leader-meets-obama-white-house-anas-altikriti-supported-iraqi-insurgents/

    In June 2013, Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, a senior MB figure who belonged to an organization that called for attacks on US troops in Iraq, also visited the White House.
    http://www.globalmbwatch.com/2013/06/26/qaradawi-associate-meets-white-house-abdallah-bin-bayyah-close-saudi-figure-ties-al-qaeda-hamas-support/

    No previous US commander-in-chief invited inciters against his armed forces into the White House.

  • Posted by Adam

    Let’s not split hairs. Sunni Islamist movements that share the goal of building an Islamic Khalifate differ from time to time on means but not on ends, and they often engage in terrorism when it suits their purposes. The MB has used terror in Israel/Palestine, Syria and in Egypt through its militias. The ideological distance between AQ and the MB is negligible, and it is no coincidence that so many AQ leaders ‘grew up’ in the MB. They simply chose another way to promote the cause.

    The misguided notion that an islamist state can be democratic and inclusive is disproven wherever you go: Iran, Afghanistan (under the Taliban), Gaza and recently in Egypt. The U.S. needs to realize that islamist political groups are rarely interested in respecting democracy, or sharing power with secular muslims and non-muslims. Promoting or acknowledging the ‘democratic credentials’ of the MB as Obama did, is deeply naive and dangerous.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    ah, ah, the imposition of Sharia law itself is a totalitarian law, the Islamic totalitarian are seeking to destroy the rights of non-Muslims and women. They want people to adhere the puritanical strict principles of Islam. This is a kind of absolute control over some aspects of public and private life which means “authoritarian”. They reject everything that is not Islamic, for instance, in an interview a few years ago with Mr. Mahdi Akef who was the supreme guide of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He was asked “if there were democracy in Egypt, would he be prepared to be ruled by a Christian? He said he’d rather be ruled by a Muslim from any other country than by a Christian Egyptian.”

    Moderate Islamists just play the game, their moderate image is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. at the present time they use non-violent methods as a tactic to impose sharia worldwide, seeking to establish theocracy in Egypt, in the entire Middle East and ultimately worldwide, while radical Islamists use terrorism for the same purpose, both have the same goal of Islamic domination and expansionism.

    Yes, they avowed violence, they are waging violence in the name of Allah because violence is an integral part of the nature of Islamic fundamentalism, the text of holy book itself mandates the superiority of Islam in every way, and that Muslims must place “Allah’s Law” over all the earth laws, even if the means of establishment are by force, so this thing is also embodies in the organization’s motto, which says: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    “Good points, Jassem, especially about the links to AQ. I wonder how much of that is fathomed at the State Department?”

    Thank you, Mr. Adam, I believe that it will be fathomed as much as it is fathomed by self-hating delusional leftists, where “Ms/Mr. Ah” is riding in their boat.
    I’m not surprised with such thinking because there is no term of terrorism in their lexicon, but America is the source of all evils! The overwhelming majority of them surprisingly abhor the United States and its policies, which makes me very confident that there is a global alliance of radical leftists and radical Islamists.

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Mr. Elliott Abrams, after reading the comment of Mr. Jassem Othman, I believe that I cannot add much to his write. It should have been known to everyone, including the US leadership, what the Muslim Brotherhood is and what its goal is.
    From the time they assassinated President Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt, we should have known that the Muslim Brotherhood is a well organized Muslim organization with terrorist aspirations and that they know how to infiltrate their enemy and how to charm their opponent, such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in order to reach their goal. I believe that Obama, who went to the Madrassa in Indonesia, should have known better. If I recall correctly, the Muslim Brotherhood unequivocally supported Gen. Al Sisi. However, Sisi did not trust them and found out about their real intentions and actions. The Muslim Brotherhood together with the Hamas trained terrorists in the Sinai, to combat against the Egyptian army.

  • Posted by ah

    This exchange of misinformation and made-up facts on this discussion board is absurd.

    I’ll simply address the last one – EMT, the Muslim Brotherhood did not assassinate El-Sadat, Islamic Jihad did.

    Jassem – I won’t even bother addressing your science fiction tirades, because they a) make no sense, b) are pure fantasy. Your mention of “global alliance of radical leftists and radical Islamists.” should be enough to get you kicked out of any club of rational thinkers. I apologize on my last post for the typo, the MB disavowed violence, they did not avow it.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Dear ah, thank you, but no need to apologize, you didn’t say anything wrong, you just told the truth!

    “the Muslim Brotherhood did not assassinate El-Sadat, Islamic Jihad did.”
    The MB and the Islamic Jihad are two sides of the same coin, both are Salafi jihadist groups!

  • Posted by ah

    Jassem – thank you. With that wonderful statement, you just confirmed that you do not understand logic, nor do you understand the actual nuances of politics and Islam.

    I don’t know what happened in your life that made you flee the Middle East, move to Poland and then throw all commonsense and rationality out the window, but man, go back and look at your statements. They are basically straight out of a Fox News far right wing propaganda pamphlet.

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