The House the Muslim Brothers Built

Jerusalem Post, 23/8

The recent events in Sinai are the latest evidence of Egypt’s rapid transformation under the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood.

They are only the most visible manifestation of the Brotherhood’s project in the largest Arab state.

The details of the unfolding situation in Egypt, in turn, may offer clues as to the direction of events in other parts of the region, as Sunni Islamism moves forward to power and influence in a variety of countries.

Events in Egypt have moved forward with astonishing rapidity. The Muslim Brotherhood’s swift victories in parliamentary and presidential elections left the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as the final barrier to the Brotherhood’s full spectrum domination of Egypt.

President Mohamed Morsy’s bold move this month to annul the constitutional declaration granting SCAF its special powers, and his sacking of a number of senior generals, have removed this obstacle.

This achieved, the Brotherhood is now moving forward to consolidate power. In the committee tasked with drafting the new Egyptian constitution, Brotherhood members and other Islamists constitute a majority. They are pushing to ensure that Islamic Shari’a law forms the basis for Egypt’s governance.

Senior Brotherhood member Essam al-Arian told Asharq Alawsat newspaper this week that it is not right for a supporter of democracy to object to the right of the majority to implement Islamic Shari’a law.” President Morsy has himself said that Shari’a should govern all aspects of life.

Egypt’s current constitution sees Shari’a as the “principal source of legislation.”

Islamists within the committee are fighting to ensure that Article Two of the new constitution strengthens this provision. Representatives associated with the Salafi al-Nour Party initially insisted that Shari’a be named as the “basis” rather than the “principal source” of legislation. A compromise has been reached, according to which the ancient Al- Azhar University will become the final arbiter on matters related to Shari’a. This in itself represents an advance for the Islamists. It indicates that Shari’a and its correct application are set to take a central place in the new Egyptian system of governance now in the process of formation.

The steady advance of the Muslim Brothers must be seen in context. This movement has been in existence since 1928. Its strategic goal is very clear. Khairat al-Shater, one of the most powerful figures in the Egyptian Brotherhood, in a speech in Alexandria on April 21, 2011, detailed the process by which the organization hopes to achieve, or revive, the “Global State of Islam” as he called it.

Shater depicted the process in the following terms: “As Ikhwan [Brothers], we have spent a long time working on the individual, walking along this line, working on the household, working on society. So we are now developing the Muslim individual and Godwilling we will continue. We are developing the Muslim household and God-willing we will continue. We are developing the Muslim society and God-willing we will continue. We are preparing for the stage of Islamic government after this because it is what follows the stage of society.”

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badie characterized the Brotherhood’s path in similar terms. He outlined the Brotherhood’s strategy as “reforming the individual, followed by building the family, the society, the government and then a rightly guided caliphate and finally mastership of the world.”

It has become received wisdom in policy- making circles in the West that the strategic goal of the Muslim Brotherhood (here described as the “Global State of Islam” and “mastership of the world”) is of no concern. This is because it is seen as merely a nebulous, endlessly deferred utopian aspiration.

It is not clear on what this assumption is based. The Brotherhood has certainly been characterized by patience and flexibility in the 84 years of its existence. But this does not mean that it lacks seriousness or a sense of urgency regarding its objectives.

Where it has held power, as in the Hamas enclave in the Gaza Strip, it has proven to be a skilled, ruthless and tenacious wielder of authority, one that brooks no rivals.

The rapidly unfolding situation in Egypt lends further credence to the view of the Muslim Brotherhood as a sophisticated, patient, deeply radical organization with a clear blueprint for the transformation of society.

The events of 2011-12 in the Middle East constitute the most exciting time for the Muslim Brotherhood since its inception. The group is moving toward power in Egypt. In Tunisia, a party close to the movement is already in government. The Brotherhood, via its Hamas franchise, would probably have captured the leadership of the Palestinians by now, were its Fatah rivals not protected by the IDF in the West Bank. In Jordan, they form the main opposition group (although the Arab monarchies have proved a far less brittle target than the secular republics).

In Aleppo, the Tawhid Brigade, funded by the Brotherhood, is playing the key role in this key sector of the Syrian civil war.

The Brotherhood enjoys the support of AKP-led Turkey, which has given it a leading role in the Syrian opposition structures it sponsors. Qatar and its communications arm, the Al Jazeera Media Network, are also to be numbered among its firmest supporters.

Revolutionary groups do not usually compromise on their strategic goals during the period of their ascent. The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood, as its senior officials openly state, is the creation of states based on Shari’a law, which will then unite and expand. This may in the end prove an entirely delusional goal. But the Brotherhood will nevertheless do its best to push it forward at this, the moment of its triumph.

As one Iranian dissident, a firm opponent of the Brotherhood recently put it: when you build a house, you first draw up the plans, consult, build a blueprint, recruit the labor force, perform groundwork and build foundations. The actual construction of the house is one of the final stages.

The Muslim Brotherhood has laid the foundations. It is now set to embark on a push toward political power and societal transformation in a variety of contexts across the region.

About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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