By Barry Rubin
Wow, time flies when you’re having revolution. Almost a year ago I wrote an article entitled, “Muslim Brotherhood Declares War on America. Will America Notice?” The answer was “no.”
Four years ago I made a detailed analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood that explained, “The banner of the Islamist revolution in the Middle East today has largely passed to groups sponsored by or derived from the Muslim Brotherhood.” I pointed out the differences—especially of tactical importance—between the Brotherhood groups and al-Qaida or Hizballah, but also discussed the similarities. This exposure so upset the Brotherhood that it put a detailed response on its official website to deny my analysis.
Last September I read a speech by the new head (supreme guide) of the Muslim Brotherhood. I was astonished. The speech represented a major new escalation of Brotherhood rhetoric beyond what I’d seen before. The basic analysis is that America was weak, the Egyptian regime was weak, and so now was the time to go to jihad and overthrow both.
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To understand the true significance of this one has to know something about Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Having seen the organization destroyed in the 1950s and its leadership sent to concentration camps where they were tortured, the Brotherhood leaders from the 1970s–when President Anwar al-Sadat allowed the group to return to existence but not to be legal–until 2010 were cautious.
The leadership justified this policy and tried to hold back hotter heads (many of whom went to revolutionary groups that used terrorist violence and brought on a civil war in the 1990s) by a strategic theory. Egypt was still in the period of “da’wa,” that is, revolutionary base-building. More literally the term means Muslims trying to convert others and make their fellow religionists more pious. Only when the day came for going to the revolutionary (jihad) stage would the Brotherhood shift gears.
I regarded this speech I was reading as the signal for the great transition. Within four months the Egyptian revolution began. The Brotherhood had close connections with the Facebook kids of the April 6 Youth Movement. What! Yuppie bloggers working with radical Islamists? Yes, that’s precisely how things work in Egypt and other places, too, at times.
I’m not saying this was a conspiracy. Nobody knew what would happen in January 2011 and the Brotherhood was cautious even then. Only when it saw that the government wasn’t repressing the demonstrations, there was widespread support for the protests, and the army was staying out of it did the Brotherhood jump in with both feet. But clearly the Brotherhood had prepared itself for the moment and could claim to have predicted it.
This isn’t surprising. Mubarak was becoming less popular and was on his last legs. A lot of people, even in the establishment, hated his son and assumed heir. I predicted that Egypt would be a big, perhaps the biggest story, of 2011 because I expected Mubarak to die and there to be a crisis over the transition. Instead, the projected transition and Mubarak’s incapacity caused the crisis before they were fully manifested. I’d suggest that the revolution succeeded because the army and establishment was fed up with Mubarak more than because of the protesters in Tahrir Square, though the latter gave an occasion for the former to move against the dictator.
There are other important things about this article—and, of course, the speech itself. It showed the extreme radicalism and Islamism of the Brotherhood, obvious things so often denied in the West in the months since January 2011. It also showed the explicit support for violence and spreading revolution that is central to the Brotherhood’s worldview.
When you want to understand what the Muslim Brotherhood thinks you don’t go to Western reporters you go to the supreme guide’s words.
As I noted, nobody much quoted or noticed this article. It was not mentioned in the massive coverage of Egypt that was to follow. Indeed, I only recall seeing one article in all the British and American mainstream media over the last six months that actually quoted a speech or article written by the Brotherhood at any length with any degree of understanding.
Yet in an era when the head of American intelligence can deny that the Brotherhood is an Islamist group and in which virtually every intellectual, “expert,” journalist, and government official appearing in the mainstream media insists that the Brotherhood isn’t radical and doesn’t approve of violence, reading the actual words of the Brotherhood’s leader seems to be rather important.
The West is still in denial about the Brotherhood’s role in Egypt. Many Egyptians are just becoming resigned to living in a country that’s increasingly Islamist, more Islamic-oriented, and perhaps even run by the Brotherhood. I don’t think the Brotherhood is about to take power in Egypt. I think it is about to become the single most powerful organization in Egypt and that it will play a central role in writing a new constitution and taking over institutions. More likely, within five years the Brotherhood will either be running Egypt or engaged in a very bloody battle to seize control over the state.
The result for Egyptians, America, Israel, and the West will not be good.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are 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 http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com