No call to Mubarak
President Obama has not spoken with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as protesters in Cairo demand that Mubarak resign, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.
Gibbs said the White House is “watching and monitoring very closely” the political crisis in Egypt, but he wouldn’t take a side in the conflict. “This is a situation that will be solved by the people in Egypt,” he said.
The White House will “be reviewing our assistance posture based on events that take place in the coming days,” Gibbs said.
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The Society of the Muslim Brothers (often simply الإخوان Al-Ikhwān, The Brotherhood or MB) is an Islamist transnational movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states. The group is the world’s oldest and largest Islamic political group, and the “world’s most influential Islamist movement.” It was founded in 1928 in Egypt by the schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna.
The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state”. Since its inception in 1928 the movement has officially opposed violent means to achieve its goals, with some exceptions such as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to overthrow secular Ba’athist rule in Syria (see Hama massacre). This position has been questioned, particularly by the Egyptian government, which accused the group of a campaign of killings in Egypt after World War II.
Outside Egypt, the group’s political activity has been described as evolving away from modernism and reformism towards a more traditional, “rightist conservative secularist” stance. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood party in Kuwait opposes suffrage for women. The Brotherhood condemned terrorism and the 9/11 attacks, but whether or not it has ties to terrorism is a matter of dispute. Its position on violence has also caused disputes within the movement, with advocates of violence at times breaking away to form groups such as the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Group) and Al Takfir Wal Hijra (Excommunication and Migration).
Among the Brotherhood’s more influential members was Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was the author of one of Islamism‘s most important books, Milestones, which called for the restoration of Islam by re-establishing the Sharia and by using “physical power and Jihad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system, which he believed to include the entire Muslim world.
The book also reveals that Qutb no longer held the Brotherhood’s ideas and that he was closer to the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is concluded in the introduction and dedication of the book” While studying at university, Osama bin Laden claimed to have been influenced by the religious and political ideas of several professors with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood including both Sayyid Qutb and his brother Muhammad Qutb.
However, once Al Qaeda was fully organized, they denounced the Muslim Brotherhood’s reform through nonviolence and accused them of “betraying the cause of Islam and abandoning their ‘jihad’ in favour of forming political parties and supporting modern state institutions”.
The Brotherhood is financed by contributions from its members, who are required to allocate a portion of their income to the movement. Some of these contributions are from members who live in oil-rich countries.
Muslim Brotherhood Beliefs
In the group’s belief, the Quran and Sunnah constitute a perfect way of life and social and political organization that God has set out for man. Islamic governments must be based on this system and eventually unified in a Caliphate. The MB goal, as stated by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna was to reclaim Islam’s manifest destiny, an empire, stretching from Spain to Indonesia.
It preaches that Islam enjoins man to strive for social justice, the eradication of poverty and corruption, and political freedom to the extent allowed by the laws of Islam. The Brotherhood strongly opposes Western colonialism, and helped overthrow the pro-western monarchies in Egypt and other Muslim nations during the early 20th century.
An important belief on the part of intellectuals who have assisted the organization is the reemergence of Islamic Civilization because Western Civilization is in obvious decline; in the words of an 2007 essay, “More than forty years ago the premise was made clear: The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values, which enabled it to be the leader of mankind.”
As Sayyid Qutb, an Islamic intellectual and supporter of the Brotherhood wrote in his 1963 book, Milestones, (Ma’alim fi al-Tariq), “The leadership of mankind by Western man is now on the decline, not because Western culture has become poor materially or because its economic and military power has become weak.
The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values, which enabled it to be the leader of mankind. It is necessary for the new leadership to preserve and develop the material fruits of the creative genius of Europe, and also to provide mankind with such high ideals and values as have so far remained undiscovered by mankind, and which will also acquaint humanity with a way of life which is harmonious with human nature, which is positive and constructive, and which is practicable. Islam is the only System which possesses these values and this way of life.
On the issue of women and gender the Muslim Brotherhood interprets Islam conservatively. Its founder called for “a campaign against ostentation in dress and loose behavior,” “segregation of male and female students,” a separate curriculum for girls, and “the prohibition of dancing and other such pastimes…”
The MB is a movement, not a political party, but members have created political parties in several countries, such as the Islamic Action Front in Jordan and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. These parties are staffed by Brotherhood members but kept independent from the MB to some degree, unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir which is highly centralized.
Muslim Brotherhood In Egypt
Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Ismailia in March 1928 along with six workers of the Suez Canal Company. It began as a religious, political, and social movement with the credo, “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”
Al-Banna called for the return to an original Islam and followed Islamic reformers like Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida. According to him, contemporary Islam had lost its social dominance, because most Muslims had been corrupted by Western influences. Sharia law based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah were seen as laws passed down by Allah that should be applied to all parts of life, including the organization of the government and the handling of everyday problems.
The Brotherhood also saw itself as a political and social movement . Al-Banna strived to be a populist. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed to want to protect the workers against the tyranny of foreign and monopolist companies. It founded social institutions such as hospitals, pharmacies, schools, etc.
However, in addition to holding conservative views on issues such as women’s rights, it was from the start extremely hostile to independent working-class and popular organisations such as trade unions. This is disputed however by William Cleveland, who points out that the Muslim Brotherhood became involved with the labour movement early on, and supported efforts to create trades unions and unemployment benefits.
By 1936, it had 800 members, then this number increased greatly to up to 200,000 by 1938. By 1948, the Brotherhood had about half a million members. Robin Hallett says: “By the late 1940s the Brotherhood was reckoned to have as many as 2 million members, while its strong Pan-Islamic ideas had gained its supporters in other Arab lands”. The Muslim Brotherhood also tried to build up something like an Islamist International, thus founding groups in Lebanon (in 1936), Syria (1937), and Transjordan (1946). It also recruited among the foreign students in Cairo. Its headquarters in Cairo became a center and meeting place for representatives from the whole Muslim world.
Underground links to the Nazis began during the 1930s and were close during the Second World War, involving agitation against the British, espionage and sabotage, as well as support for terrorist activities orchestrated by Haj Amin el-Hussaini in British Mandate Palestine, as a wide range of declassified documents from the British, American and Nazi German governmental archives, as well as from personal accounts and memoirs from that period, confirm. Reflecting this connection the Muslim Brotherhood also disseminated Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion widely in Arab translations, helping to deepen and extend already existing hostile views about Jews and democracy in Western societies generally.
In November 1948 police seized an automobile containing the documents and plans of what was thought to be the Brotherhood’s “secret apparatus” (its military wing) with names of its members. The seizure was preceded by an assortment of bombings and assassination attempts by the apparatus. Subsequently 32 of its leaders were arrested and its offices raided. The next month the Egyptian Prime Minister of Egypt, Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi, ordered the dissolution of the Brotherhood.
In what is thought to be retaliation for these acts, a member of the Brotherhood, veterinary student Abdel Meguid Ahmed Hassan, assassinated the Prime Minister on December 28, 1948. A month and half later Al-Banna himself was killed in Cairo by men believed to be government agents and/or supporters of the murdered premier.
The Brotherhood has been an illegal organization, tolerated to varying degrees, since 1954 when it was convicted of the attempt to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, head of the Egyptian government. The group had denied involvement in the incident and accused the government of staging the incident to use it as a pretext to persecute the group and its members.
On this basis from 1954 until Nasser’s death in 1970, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members were systemically tortured under Nasser’s secular regime, highlighted in Zainab al Ghazali‘s Return of the Pharaoh. More recently, since the mid-2000s, some young Muslim Brotherhood members have publicly identified themselves as members of the banned organizations on their blogs, where they have been critical of both the existing system as well as aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood organization itself.
The Brotherhood is still periodically subjected to mass arrests. It remains the largest opposition group in Egypt, advocating Islamic reform, democratic system and maintaining a vast network of support through Islamic charities working among poor Egyptians. The political direction it has been taking lately has tended towards more moderate secular “Islamism” and so-calledIslamic Democracy.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood’s candidates, who had to run as independents due to their illegality as a political party, won 88 seats (20% of the total) to form the largest opposition bloc. The electoral process was marred by many irregularities, including the arrest of hundreds of Brotherhood members.
One observer, Jameel Theyabi, writing in an op-ed for Dar Al-Hayat, noted that a December 2006 campus demonstration by Muslim Brotherhood university students that included the “wearing of uniforms, displaying the phrase, ‘We Will be Steadfast’, and the drills involving martial arts, betray the group’s intent to plan for the creation of militia structures, and a return by the group to the era of ‘secret cells’….” .
Of course, the huge gains in the 2005 parliamentary elections allowed the Brotherhood to pose “a democratic political challenge to the regime, not a theological one” . Initially, there has been widespread skepticism regarding the movement’s commitment to use its influence to push Egypt forward towards a democratic state.
For instance, briefly after the elections Sameh Fawzy remarked in the Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper, “If the Muslim Brotherhood were in a position to enforce its ideological monopoly, the vast majority of the populace would face severe restrictions on its freedom of opinion and belief, not just on religious matters, but on social, political, economic and cultural affairs as well”
However, considering its actions in the Egyptian parliament since 2005, it appears that those skeptics misjudged the movement’s scope. In an article for the Middle East Report Samer Shehata from Georgetown University and Joshua Stacher from the British University in Egypt claim that, in fact, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that revived a parliament that till then had “a reputation for being a rubber stamp for the regime” . First of all, according to their observations, the movement did not simply “focus on banning books and legislating the length of skirts” .
Instead, the movement’s involvement shows attempts to reform the political system. Unlike other MPs, those associated with the Brotherhood took their parliamentary duties very seriously as an “unmatched record of attendance” already shows. Moreover, they also took their role as members of the opposition to the ruling NDP quite seriously.
A significant example is the creation of a considerable opposition to the extension of the emergency law when MPs associated with the Brotherhood “formed a coalition with other opposition legislators and with sympathetic members of the NDP, to protest the extension” . The overall involvement leads Shehata and Stacher to the conclusion that the Brotherhood has convincingly attempted to transform “the Egyptian parliament into a real legislative body, as well as an institution that represents citizens and a mechanism that keeps government accountable”.
Meanwhile, approved opposition parties won only 14 seats. This revived the debate within the Egyptian political elite about whether the Brotherhood should remain banned.
Since 2005 Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt have also become a significant movement online. In 2006 Abdel Menem Mahmoud created the first publicly identified Brotherhood blog, Ana Ikhwan (http://ana-ikhwan.blogspot.com). In an article for Arab Media & Society (http://www.arabmediasociety.com), Courtney C. Radsch of American University explores how the Egyptian blogosphere expanded as many younger members followed suit, especially the activists who were sympathetic to Kefaya and members who wanted to be part of the discussion about the draft party platform.
These “cyberactivists” are often critical of the organization, such as its rejection of women and Copts as being permitted to hold the presidency, and more liberal than their offline counterparts.
General leaders (G.L) or Mentors of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt المرشد العام لجماعة الإخوان المسلمون
- Founder & First G. leader: (1928–1949) Hassan al Banna حسن البنا
- 2nd G.L. : (1949–1972) Hassan al-Hudaybi حسن الهضيبي
- 3rd G.L. : (1972–1986) Umar al-Tilmisani عمر التلمسانى
- 4th G.L. : (1986–1996) Muhammad Hamid Abu al-Nasr محمد حامد أبو النصر
- 5th G.L. : (1996–2002) Mustafa Mashhur مصطفى مشهور
- 6th G.L. : (2002–2004) Ma’mun al-Hudaybi مأمون الهضيبى
- 7th G.L. : (2004–2010) Mohammed Mahdi Akef محمد المهدى عاكف
- 8th G.L. : (16 January 2010 – present) Mohammed Badie محمد بديع