The Danger of the Muslim Brotherhood
by Irfan Al-Alawi
Hosni Mubarak has come to a wretched pass, and it is impossible not to sympathise with crowds of ordinary people demanding democratic change. But Westerners are being led by their ignorance and good-hearted idealism to believe in a "reasonable" transformation of the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] and, as a consequence, the alleged standing of the MB as an appropriate participant in the democratisation of the Islamic lands. The MB has always believed that the West could be swindled into assisting the rise of the Brotherhood to power, and the recent effort to convince America and Western Europe that the MB represents a "tame" form of radical ideology has gone on for several years.
Moderate Muslims are not fooled, and Westerners should not let themselves be gulled into promoting an outcome in Egypt that would open the way to a Muslim Brotherhood state there.
Western media coverage and political commentary on the Egyptian events frequently leaves Muslim moderates dismayed. It is shocking to observe the wide success of the MB's campaign to present itself as an acceptable option for the government of Egypt.
At the beginning of February, for example, a five-word rumour spread among British Muslims: "Kamal al-Helbawy has left London." Al-Helbawy, since his arrival in Britain in 1994, has served as the main representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. He was officially designated the MB's spokesperson from 1995 to 1997.
Al-Helbawy leaving Britain would mean only one thing: that the MB is preparing to take power in Egypt, and that al-Helbawy will enjoy a prominent role in the process. Still, during the Egyptian crisis, al-Helbawy has stayed in London, giving interviews to Western media claiming that the MB is now faultlessly democratic in its ideology and does not seek domination over Egypt or the establishment of an ideological Islamist state there. Both in Egypt and outside the country, the MB is patient, and biding its time.
Moderate Muslims, however, are repelled and alarmed by the blandishments of al-Helbawy and other MB agitators. Al-Helbawy, while in the UK, became a master of ambiguous discourse, even equating the radicalism of the MB with the conservatism of Margaret Thatcher. But those facing the threat of fundamentalist infiltration in the British Muslim community, as well as the influence of extremism in American Islam; in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in Turkey no less than in Egypt, see through the masquerade.
The MB is too well-organized and powerful to be ignored or suppressed, or its possible future hegemony wished away, in the Egyptian crisis. If Egypt is to become democratic, the MB must be politically defeated. Notwithstanding its current democratic camouflage, the MB remains a movement based in takfir: accusations of apostasy from Islam, based on differences in religious interpretation and observance, as a pretext for violence against Muslims with whom they disagree. In this, the MB is allied with the Saudi Wahhabis, who inspired Osama bin Laden; the Afghan and Pakistani Deobandis, from whom came the Taliban, and the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and its satellites, now busy sowing bloodshed in South Asia. For takfiris, apostasy from Islam includes refusal of the illegitimate calls by radicals for 'jihad' against non-Muslims. Yet, in denying the sinful nature of their terrorism against the moderates, Sufis, Shias, and others who dissent from them, as well as of their incitement against non-Muslims, the takfiris have taken themselves out of traditional Islam.
Along with their devotion to violence against the living, takfiri groups including the MB, Wahhabi fanatics, Taliban, and South Asian jihadis are most infamous for their vandalism against the cultural legacies of Muslim societies. A mob attack on the Egyptian Museum in Cairo during the current upheaval resulted in the beheading of two Pharaonic mummies. Western media commentators on this despicable event have treated it as the common mischief of a mob, but moderate Muslims see parallels between this act and the long history of devastation of the Islamic heritage of Arabia by the Saudi Wahhabis, the destruction of the Bamian Buddha effigies by the Taliban, and the recent wave of bomb attacks on Sufi spiritual shrines in Pakistan and India.
If Egypt leaps into a political void allowing the MB to gain power, it is likely that the despoliation of the country's national museum will be no more than a harbinger of widespread cultural loss, social disorder, and Pakistan-style carnage. Egypt is a land known for its Sufi shrines and other Islamic monuments, in addition to its pre-Islamic heritage. All would be at risk if the MB gains the upper hand. The soothing words of MB advocate al-Helbawy must be judged against the background of his own personal history as the first executive director of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in 1982. WAMY, as an arm of the Muslim World League (MWL), has been a leading agency in the global spread of Wahhabism and stands accused by various governments of financing terrorism. While Saudi King Abdullah has sought to rein in the extremist activities of MWL and WAMY, a career including high responsibility in WAMY is not a recommendation for al-Helbawy. In the US, the head of the WAMY office in 2002 was listed as Abdula bin Laden, younger brother of Osama, the terrorist chief.
One of the most outrageous defenders of the MB to Westerners – much more effective, one must fear, than al-Helbawy – has been a British Muslim named Ed Husain. The author of a memoir, The Islamist, and formerly a leading personality in a British anti-Islamist think-tank, Quilliam (previously known as the Quilliam Foundation), Husain migrated to the US where he was honoured with a post as senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). Few Americans seemed to recognize, or care, that in his book Husain effusively praised Hamza Yusuf Hanson, who claims to be one of the world's outstanding Islamic teachers but who cooperates with Saudi Wahhabis and other Islamist radicals, supposedly because Hanson is deeply moved by concern for Muslim unity. Ed Husain has also, incredibly, praised the role of Deobandi preachers in potentially countering extremism among British Muslim youth, even though the Deobandis are associated with the Taliban and the commission of horrible atrocities in South Asia.
In a CFR conference call on February 2, Ed Husain outdid himself by his fulsome arguments in defence of the MB in Egypt. According to Husain, the MB has been demonized'" in Western media, which leads to its being "lionised" among Muslims. This attempt at a clever justification for the MB's role in Egypt is absurd. The MB has built up its network of Egyptian supporters by agitation in mosques, schools, neighbourhoods, and professional associations, backed with Saudi Wahhabi funding, not because it has been discussed in the West. Husain sought to deny the history of the MB's attraction to European fascism, as well as its goal of an Islamist state, and even claimed falsely that "for the last 40 years" the Brotherhood has been "committed to a process of nonviolence."
The Muslim Brotherhood remains dangerous to Egypt and the world.