By Barry Rubin
This is of gigantic importance (see if anyone else covers it). MEMRI has pointed out the opening of a Muslim Brotherhood campaign to replace Egypt’s current clerical hierarchy with its own people. If that happens…you can imagine. Once Islamists are in place making the “official” decisions on what constitutes proper Islam, an Islamist state cannot be far away.
Let me explain the background briefly. Knowing that control over Islam was vital to maintaining control of the country, the Egyptian regime (like nationalist regimes elsewhere) set out to build a systematic structure for doing so. The head of the al-Azhar Islamic university, the chief qadi, the clerics of different mosques, are government-appointed. Sermons are government-approved. A ministry in charge of awqaf (religious foundations) and religion supervises all of this and hands out the money. And the government also decides which clerics appear on television and radio, or even have their own programs.
Over the last decade or so, the “official” clerics have been radicalized, and they support terrorism against Israel. Yet there is still a huge gap between those who accepted the rule by Mubarak’s regime and those who demand an Islamist regime. They hate the Brotherhood and the Brotherhood hates them.
Now, if all of these official clerics are declared to be corrupt instruments of the old regime and are thrown out of office, the Brotherhood will control “Islam” in Egypt. Equally important, they will control a vast amount of patronage and money. Every cleric will have to get along with them or be unemployed. They could authorize which mosques could open. They would control religious education.
If the Brotherhood is a participant in government, even as a junior member of a coalition, its highest priority will be the religious affairs ministry. To call this dangerous is an understatement.
So we should watch carefully this battle over who governs Islam in Egypt.
To save you a click, here is what Muhammad Zoghbi of the Brotherhood says:
“Al-Azhar was subjected to…the politicization of the positions of the sheikh of Al-Azhar and the mufti of Egypt, as well as the position of the minister of religious endowments. These positions must be filled through elections. By no means should these officials be appointed by the president….
“Therefore I say to the ‘sons’ of Al-Azhar: Let us all join the campaign, led by Sheik Khaled Al-Gindi, until we liberate Al-Azhar, just like Egypt was liberated….The president of Egypt must be subordinate to Al-Azhar and respect it….
“Therefore, I say to the sheikh of Al-Azhar…resign immediately….The mufti and the minister of religious endowments should step down, leaving their positions to God-fearing imams….”
“God-fearing” imams means Muslim Brotherhood cadre. The president of Egypt “must be subordinate” to al-Azhar means an Islamist state. This strategy also suggests that the Brotherhood is recognizing that it will not choose Egypt’s next president–who is more likely to be the nationalist Amr Moussa–so it must start building an independent base of support outside of the government’s and president’s control for its long march toward Islamism at a later date.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: http://www.gloria-center.org His blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.