5 - 11 February 2009
Issue No. 933
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In response to the Muslim Brotherhood
The outlawed group remains trapped between ideology and reality, writes 
Abdel-Moneim Said* 


In an article published recently in Al-Masry Al-Yom I held that during the 
recent Gaza crisis the Muslim Brotherhood forfeited an excellent opportunity to 
persuade the authorities to lift the ban on their movement so that they could 
become a legitimate group like other opposition parties. Essentially I argued 
that the Muslim Brothers clashed with every regime in Egypt, under both the 
monarchical and republican systems, because their battle was not against the 
regimes per se but against the modern Egyptian state and the concomitant 
concepts of civil government and equality in citizenship regardless of faith or 

The day after my article appeared, I received a fax from Essam El-Erian in the 
interests of "keeping affection alive after reproach" and "sustaining 
discussion on the affairs of the nation to which we all belong". In these 
interests, as well as due to the significance of the Muslim Brotherhood's 
position towards the state, I believe it is important to publish El-Erian's 
criticism of my article and my comments in turn.

Anyone familiar with my writings knows that I have long held the conviction 
that reform in Egypt will not occur until the National Democratic Party breaks 
free from the heritage of the Socialist Union, the Muslim Brotherhood gives up 
the idea of a theocracy, and liberals forge solid and extensive contacts with 
the people. Among the means I have used to promote such developments was to 
urge the Muslim Brotherhood to clarify their positions on a number of specific 
issues. I have invited them to dialogues in which they would "dot the i's and 
cross the t's" on questions pertaining, for example, to the concept of equal 
citizenship and more recently appealed to them to bear in mind the distinction 
between opposition and allegiance to the Egyptian state as the political vessel 
that embraces all political parties, groups and social forces. Unfortunately, 
El-Erian's letter failed to ease my mind and alter my conviction that the 
Muslim Brotherhood had let a major opportunity slip by. True to the Brotherhood 
style, he sidestepped the issues I brought up in my article and even his 
general comments confirmed what I had mentioned in my article.

In the opening paragraph of his letter El-Erian writes: "The Muslim Brotherhood 
recognises the modern nation state and has never repudiated it. The evidence to 
this is abundant. The Brotherhood founder Imam Hassan El-Banna provided an 
ingenious solution to the multiple loyalties to which an Egyptian is bound, 
from the nuclear family to the extended family and from the nation state to the 
Arab nation, the Islamic nation and the universal nation of mankind." 

There was no need for El-Erian to cite El-Banna's wisdom on people's multiple 
loyalties, this being an established fact in sociological thought. However, 
multiple loyalties are one thing; recognition of and loyalty to the modern 
state is another. The latter is the entity to which we pay our taxes, to which 
we accept recruitment into its army, and beneath the flag of which we fight in 
its defence. It is the entity that represents us in international forums, whose 
football teams we root for, whose independence day we celebrate. Once, on a 
television programme, I asked El-Erian whether the Muslim Brotherhood 
celebrated that day of independence. He answered that Egypt had not yet 
attained independence. It was clear from the context of our conversation that 
this would only occur when Egypt became an "Islamic state" as the Muslim 
Brotherhood defines it. I do not understand how he can then turn around and say 
that the Brotherhood recognises and accepts the modern nation state, all the 
more so after the supreme guide scorned the concept with a disdainful "Bull!"

But the especially crucial question before us pertains to how the Muslim 
Brotherhood would react in the event of conflicting loyalties, which occurs 
frequently enough in many foreign policy issues. In the recent crisis, opinions 
and loyalties fell variously for or against Egypt, other Arab countries, Hamas 
and Israel. The Brotherhood chose to back Hamas over Egypt by falling in with 
the Hamas version of events and mobilising anti- Egyptian demonstrations both 
in Egypt and abroad with the aim of pressuring the Egyptian authorities into 
yielding to Hamas demands regardless of how this might jeopardise Egyptian 
national security. Moreover, the Brotherhood's leadership accused the Egyptian 
government of colluding with the Israeli enemy when, in fact, Egypt has been 
the lifeblood for millions of Palestinians and the route to delivery from their 
current catastrophe. 

Naturally, the Muslim Brotherhood has the right to voice its dissent on the 
crisis as its parliamentary members have indeed done. However, it is another 
thing entirely to take to the streets with the purpose of pressuring the 
government to undertake certain policies and, furthermore, in concert with 
various international parties that staged demonstrations attacking Egyptian 
embassies abroad and Egyptian soldiers along the border. The true test of the 
Muslim Brothers came at a time of conflicting loyalties. They did not condemn 
the demonstrations abroad that attacked symbols of Egypt as opposed to the 
ruling party. Nor did they denounce Hassan Nasrallah's call to the Egyptian 
people and the Egyptian army to revolt. They repeated lies and fabrications 
about Egypt over the various satellite networks and showed not the slightest 
interest in telling the Egyptian side of the story or respecting legal and 
political facts.

The second paragraph of El-Erian's letter states: "The unity of the Islamic 
world is not just an aspiration of the Brotherhood. It is shared by various 
parties. Indeed, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is an embodiment of 
the appeal for an Arab League of nations proposed in the doctorate thesis of 
the Islamic jurist Dr Al-Sanhuri who was never a Muslim Brotherhood member."

Perhaps Al-Sanhuri's appeal is something to aspire to and perhaps it could set 
a kind of tradition for the Muslim Brothers themselves. However, again, this is 
not the subject at hand. Even Gamal Abdel-Nasser spoke of the "Islamic sphere" 
alongside the Arab and African ones. Rather, the issue that concerns us here is 
the Muslim Brotherhood's vision of reviving the Islamic caliphate, which is a 
far remove from forms of cooperation between a set of independent nations that 
happen to be Islamic in identity and in the framework of which these nations 
would sacrifice an element of their sovereignty in favour of an authority that 
would work to advance their interests and augment their welfare. The Muslim 
Brotherhood vision, by contrast, calls for a total relinquishment of 
sovereignty to a caliph who would have total authority over the civil and 
spiritual affairs of all Muslim lands. That the supreme guide has declared that 
he would agree to Egypt being ruled from abroad in this context confirms this 
interpretation. This would not be a partial submission to an overarching 
authority in the manner of the European parliament but total submission to some 
Muslim from whatever country. The Muslim Brothers' idea of the Islamic state 
and the concept of an integrated cooperation bloc are miles apart. Indonesia, 
Malaysia and Brunei offer an instance of the latter. They are all Islamic 
nations that have declared a willingness to concede a portion of their 
sovereignty in favour of authority that is not "Islamic" but rather an 
institutionalised framework for promoting mutual cooperation and their shared 

* The writer is director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studi

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