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Muslim Brotherhood at the Crossroads

December 6, 2014

by Avi Melamed

The Middle East continues to constantly provide dramatic events in different areas – in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq and other places. However, I would like to divert your attention for a while from the dramatic events in those arenas and take a pause to explore some very interesting processes taking place for a significant player in the region – The Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Following the outbreak of events in the Arab world known as the Arab Awakening, the Muslim Brotherhood has succeeded in attaining their primary political goal in two Arab countries.

In the elections held in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won by an overwhelming majority in the Egyptian parliament, and its candidate Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood party in Tunisia, which is called Al-Nahda (The Awakening), garnered a win in the elections and became the dominant party in the government of Tunisia.

In Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Qatar the Muslim Brotherhood achieved political momentum, and in the midst of the war in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood renewed its activity after more than 40 years of being oppressed and crushed by Assad’s rule.

Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood’s triumph didn’t last long. Ironically, the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood was actually embedded in their own short term success. The Arab Awakening put the Muslim Brotherhood in a place where it had never been before — “the driver’s seat.” The Muslim Brotherhood got into the “driver’s seat” of “the car” (the Arab world) when all of its systems were collapsing. And if that wasn’t enough, the “fuel” (the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan – “Islam is the solution”) provided by the Muslim Brotherhood could not really make the sputtering “car” move forward. Objectively, there was no possibility of providing answers to the enormous problems of the Arab world in a short time. But patience had run out in the Arab public and it was demanding immediate solutions.

As of November 2014, the Muslim Brotherhood across the region is in a defensive position.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have decreed the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization and the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Jordan and in the Gulf States (aside from Qatar) are limited and controlled.

The Kuwaiti government recently announced that it will deprive citizenship from “destabilizing individuals” and will outlaw “destabilizing” political organizations and charity funds i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party Al-Nahda was defeated in the recent general elections (October 2014).

The Muslim Brotherhood may find some consolation in the support it gets from Turkey and Qatar, yet that support – as the Muslim Brotherhoods knows well – is not unconditional and it could easily change subject to Turkey or Qatari interests; in fact, reportedly Qatar recently deported for reasons that are unclear, some of Muslim Brotherhood activists (who in the meantime have been allowed to return).

The Muslim Brotherhood is not only experiencing growing external pressure; it is experiencing a growing inner crisis. In my article The Arab Awakening: An Era of New Slogans (November 8, 2011) I predicted the inevitable shake-up within the Muslim Brotherhood which stems primarily from the need to bridge the gap between the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the pragmatic needs dictated by the rapidly and dramatically changing reality in the Arab world. I also predicted that this crisis would impact the Muslim Brotherhood internally in two ways. First, I said it would result in a permanent tension within the Muslim Brotherhood and, it would be likely that the Muslim Brotherhood would have to establish a political coalition which would include other political factors who stand for different, even contradictory, ideology — such as the Liberals.

It seems that my predictions have been realized.

In the context of the inner tension. Accumulating reports reveal inner tensions within the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt that stem from the conflict between the movement’s ideology, on the one hand, and real political demands and interests on the other hand (for more on that issue read for example an article published in September 2012 in the Los Angeles Times entitled Now in power, rifts emerge within Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood). A similar process has taken place within the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And on the issue of political pragmatism. Reportedly, following its defeat in the elections in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood party is exploring the possibility of participating in a coalition led by its biggest political rival, the Al-Nida (The Call) party which stands for the concept of modern state whose legislation and constitutional identity is inspired not only Islamic religious law but also secular concepts and values.

 Also, reportedly the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria plans to establish a political party called Wa’ad (Promise) that will include Kurdish as well as Christian members.

 Though the Muslim Brotherhood currently struggles with inner as well as external challenges, there is no cause whatsoever to eulogize the Muslim Brotherhood. We must remember that the Muslim Brotherhood is planted deeply in the broad avenues of the Arab world. The many years of widespread educational, social and economic activities that the Muslim Brotherhood has conducted have provided it with the widest possible political and emotional base of support.

In this context, we must understand two corner stone terms in the Muslim Brotherhood   ideology. One is the term “tamkin” which in Arabic means “to make possible.” The meaning of this term is that we must focus today on the creation of the conditions and the laying down of the foundations for a future – undefined in time – in which it will be possible to actualize the vision of the global state entity based on a full implementation of Islamic religious law in all aspects of life. The realization of this goal justifies political and ideological compromise and flexibility if it is necessary. This is the central code that guides and will continue to guide the Muslim Brotherhood thinking. The other term is “sabr” (in Arabic “patience”) it is one of the Muslim Brotherhoods’ identifying ideological symbols, indicating the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is a marathon runner.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not going away. At this stage and in the foreseeable future, the Muslim Brotherhood will focus on reorganization and on attempts to consolidate a political strategy that will preserve the attractiveness and the ideological relevance of political Islam in the face of the social, economic and political challenges of Arab societies. As a result of this, we may expect an internal shake-up within the ranks of political Islam which will stem from an internal power struggle between the pragmatic camp and the inflexible ideological camp. In my estimation, this struggle will lead to a strengthening of the pragmatic movement while the rigid, ideological movement within the Muslim Brotherhood will weaken. One of the reasons for this lies in the fact that the option for the strict ideological movement in the Muslim Brotherhood to situate itself in a more rigidly ideological slot within the Muslim Brotherhood does not actually exist, since this slot is already taken by other entities in the Arab world: the militant Islamic groups. On that topic I will write separately.

To read more on a related subject please see my article “Is the Israeli –Egyptian Peace Treaty in Jeopardy? (Published in February 2012) 

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Former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Intelligence Official and educator, Avi Melamed today is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, regional expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.

His expertise includes: The Arab awakening; Arab perspectives on Israel; Emerging challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; Evolving forces in the region and their current and future impact on Israel’s strategic environment, etc.

Avi has most recently been appointed the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College with offices located in Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where among other responsibilities he leads a year-long program entitled Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives, designed to ensure that the next generation to be in positions of influence in the United States will have a more intimate understanding of the Middle East and will apply methods of critical thinking regarding Middle East Affairs in a way that will result in a more accurate reading the Middle East reality and which will better serve the West’s interest.

He is also the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a non-profit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

Avi has degrees from The Carmel Institute for Military Research, George Mason University, and The Hebrew University.

Avi is a frequent contributor in Arabic, Hebrew and English to many news outlets including Al-Arrabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBN, I-24 News, the Times of Israel, USA Today, The Washington Post, etc.

He has written two books and is in the midst of writing his third, which will be a resource for policy makers around the world when it comes to Middle East Affairs.

Through all of Avi’s efforts, as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, he is a bridge builder dedicating himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.

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