By Barry Rubin
“Arise, you prisoners of starvation!
Arise, you wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world’s in birth!”
So begins the Internationale, the theme song of Communism. So far it is perfectly acceptable for Islamists though some later verses make clear the Marxist movement’s secularism: “No savior from on high delivers.”
The First Internationale of radical workers’ movements was founded in 1864; the Second, of Socialist parties, in 1889; the Third International, of Communist parties, in 1919; and the Fourth Internationale, of Trotskyist parties, in 1938.
And now, though nobody will use this terminology, it’s time for the Fifth Internationale, that of the Muslim Brotherhoods. The precise relationships among different Brotherhood groups have always been shadowy. Clearly, this is not a centralized organization but there is a lot of help, including financial aid, among these groups. And the Egyptian branch is always the senior one. If there is any leader of the international movement it is the Egyptian Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Muhammad al-Badi and he’s a real hardliner, even on the Brotherhood’s spectrum.
Today, as always, the Egyptian branch is the largest and most powerful. Founded in 1928, having collaborated with Nazi Germany, then carried out terrorism in the 1940s and early 1950s, the Brotherhood was suppressed by Egypt’s radical nationalist regime. It was allowed to revive in the 1970s but was constantly under harassment, though at times it ran in elections. Now it has emerged as the strongest political force in Egypt, seemingly headed toward state power for the first time.
But it is not alone. The Jordanian branch has run with some success in elections but the monarchy has always ensured that it wouldn’t win. The Syrian branch was repressed bloodily in 1982 but continued underground and has now emerged as a significant power in the opposition. Indeed, the U.S. government and its Turkish allies constructed and now recognized an exiled opposition leadership that is dominated by the Brotherhood.
The Palestinian branch, called Hamas, now rules the Gaza Strip. The Tunisian branch is forming a government and the Brotherhood is emerging in Libya, where it might be able to take power some day. Smaller groupings exist in other Arabic-speaking countries.
Of special significance, the Brotherhood has spread to Europe and North America where it often–partly thanks to naïve governments and not-too-bright media coverage—dominates Muslim communities.
Is it moderate? Think of the Brotherhood as to Islamism what the Communist Party was to Marxism. And that makes Egypt potentially the green equivalent of the Soviet Union. Oh, and it makes 2011 into the equivalent of 1917.
Here’s the man who I think is just about the best political analyst in the Arab world, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid on this topic:
“The Islamist party leaders hastened to embellish their image for the Western countries….Of course, these speeches are public relations acts, and could only be believed by someone ignorant about the region or by the logic of the religious parties. [At most, these claims of moderation] expresses the opinion of few leaders only, because the majority of leaders and cadres of these groups consider cleansing the society as their first duty, and it would not be long before they topple the tolerant leaders.”
Now the movement is emerging in the form of a transnational alliance between governments and powerful opposition movements in different countries. We are seeing the formation of this Muslim Brotherhood international, the alliance of these groups in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, the Gaza Strip (Hamas), Jordan, and Syria, with financial backing from Qatar. We are going to be hearing more about this in the coming months and years.
Here’s an example. The most important Islamist commander of the new Libyan military forces has been sent to Turkey to work with the Syrian opposition army.
Is there any alliance on the other side? Any transnational organization of Arab centrist or even leftist parties? No.
Is there any covert operations by Western countries to help the moderates with money and other aid to match what the Brotherhood is doing (and for that matter, Qatar, Iran, Turkey, or Syria)? Also, no.
Why even the Obama Administration likes those loveable moderates who obey the rules of democracy.
So if this battle is so one-sided who do you think is going to win?
I feel like Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary in 1914, who remarked at the onset of World War One: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”
Well, either I’m right or the Muslim Brotherhood will take to democracy like women to chadors and soon they’ll be patching potholes with the best of them and making painful compromises:
“Ok, we’re agreed! Sharia law only applies on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays!”
Think about this: In the year 2012 the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East–about a quarter-billion people–will be governed by radical Islamist regimes that believe in waging jihad on Israel and America, wiping Israel off the map, suppressing Christians, reducing the status of women even more than it is now, and their right as true interpreters of God’s will to govern as dictators. (Egypt, Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey) That doesn’t mean they are doing all of these things right now but they are intending to do so when they consolidate power fully.
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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 book, Israel: An Introduction will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com