A new politicized Islamic force is emerging from Egypt. If it can survive these early days, the Middle East and beyond will have to deal with a new ideology.
Islam is the solution; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for Allah is the highest of our aspirations, is the philosophical foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood that Hassan Al-banna gave to the movement that he founded in Egypt in 1928. This is not the credo of an organization prepared to compromise or to promote democracy. Considering that Morsi has been conditioned within this philosophical school, it is easier to understand his unyielding stand towards the opposition.
Like any secretive organization, it has been structured to prevent infiltration by authorities and allows no internal dissention that would threaten the solidarity of the movement. Cells (Families) with five to ten members have been established throughout the country with an estimated three hundred thousand members.
They spread the Brotherhood message and the Families recruit candidates from among young men attending mosques or studying in the universities. They have built an elitist movement of the religious and educated. Piety and loyalty are the measures that determined whether or not a candidate will be permitted to become a full member after five or eight years of mentoring.
The strength of the movement comes from the conservative religious character of the poorer less educated sectors of the society and the failure of the government to provide even the most basic of services. For many people, especially in the rural regions where 57 percent of Egyptians live in a worsening level of poverty, the only government that they see is the police, the army or the tax collector. It is organizations, such as the Brotherhood that offer financial aid, schools, facilities for the disabled, or medical services. During the recent marshaling of the mobs to support Morsi after his usurpation of power, the numerous Families throughout the communities were able to call upon these people to rush into Cairo. They can be expected to support the Brotherhood during elections and to give the movement a powerful advantage over the less organized opposition.
It is why the Freedom and Justice Party that was created by the Brotherhood to function as its political arm is so eager for quick elections or for a referendum on the constitution and why the opposition has resorted to the courts and the street demonstrations to counter the Brotherhood. Many of the opposition groups will boycott the referendum because they are convinced that they will lose and will be better able to declare the result illegitimate if a smaller portion of the electorate votes. The National Salvation Front on December 2 accused President Morsi of “breaking his pledge not to hold the referendum before reaching a broad national consensus.
What must be troubling morsi and the others in control of the Brotherhood is how poorly they performed in the presidential election in June. In spite of being the only well-organized political party, the Freedom and Justice Party won only 51.7 percent of the vote, while Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister from Mubarak’s government won 48.7 percent.
Such a small majority would certainly revive fear of a backlash. A return of oppression had to have been playing in Morsi’s mind when he seized power on November 22nd. Any member of the Muslim Brotherhood with knowledge of the movement’s history knows of the retaliation in 1954 by Gamal Nasser after an attempt to assassinate him that sent many members to prison and many others to their graves. They surely know about the massacre in Syria in 1981 and the suppression by the army after the Brotherhood won an election in 1991 in Algeria.
Those memories of the past oppression are why the Brotherhood hesitated to enter the demonstrations against Mubarak or to seek to join the political process. The leaders needed to be sure that they could succeed. After the Supreme Constitutional Court has abolished the parliament in June 2012, the Brotherhood feared that the court would abolish the constituent assembly that was drafting the new constitution. While professing that a democratic constitution would emerge from the assembly, the assembly was stack to assure dominance by the Brotherhood and its sympathizers.
After living under more than sixty years of secular regimes that had little tolerance for the Salafi movements, a full scale battle for the ideological control of the Egyptian society had been engaged. With deeply entrenched privileged positions on the line, the challenging Brotherhood and the Salafis supporters face a potential violent retaliation. The cautioning words of King Lear must be echoing in Morsi’s nightmares, “Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown.”
Seeing protestors in the streets after he claimed absolute authority for himself had to have stirred the anxiety of the feared backlash and imposed culture shock. After forty years in the ranks of a movement that tolerates no dissention and as an enforcer from the Guidance Bureau, his duty was to impose discipline upon any dissenters by purging the defiant. When in 2009 deputy supreme guide Mohamed Habib and long time Brotherhood leader Abdel Monem Abouel Fotouh advocated a more transparent executive office in the Guidance Bureau, Morsi purged them. When youth members of the movement opposed involvement in the political process in 2011, Morsi expelled them.
It is a role for someone willing to inflict harsh punishment. Purging means for many facing severe hardship. Likely, a long term member has his family involved in the movement. He could see his parents renounce him as their son or a wife deny him as a husband. There is a good possibility that a professional career is connected with another member of the movement and face the loss of a source of income. With so many potential losses, there are not many who will opt to deal with expulsion from the Brotherhood; and not everyone has the hardness to impose such injury.
Morsi has declared that God and the voters placed him in his office. His first instinct appears to have been to treat the protestors outside of his offices as defiant rebels from the movement. Bringing his own larger mobs to confront them was how he disciplined them to force them to accept the Brotherhood line. It also kept him from drawing the military into the conflict, until he could be sure if they would support him.
Morsi is the first civilian to hold the presidency since the time of Nasser. He is also the one who removed Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces from his position, which leaves the open question. Will the army support the civilian government?
The armed forces are not eager to send the troops into the streets. Many of the soldiers are conscripts who are likely sympathetic to the Salafi movements. Would the army stand united or break up into opposing units that could turn the situation very quickly into a civil war. That is a test that the leadership of the military does not want to try.
The new constitution assures the continued privileged status that has been enjoyed since the time of Nassir. The Minister of Defense must come from the military. The budget is to be drafted by a defense council that is outside of the authority of the parliament. In fact, little has changed.
The Brotherhood has bought at least the neutrality of the army in terms of political events. Whether it has bought the support in a time of crisis remains to be seen. Like the Brotherhood, the army also has its memories and would prefer not to run the government with all of the dangers that involves.
Morsi seems not to understand the place of the armed forces in Egyptian society and has opted to test their loyalty. After two weeks of maintaining absolute authority, he is retreating from his position by transferring to the armed forces the unwanted power to arrest civilians.
During the demonstration against Mubarak, the army refused to fire upon the crowds. Will they fire on the people demonstrating against Morsi? So far, the level of violence has not reached the point that the army has felt compelled to intervene to impose order. Hoping that the mobs will calm down is the only strategy open to the army for now. It means that Morsi will have to rely upon Brotherhood mobs to protect him while he pushes through the constitution.
The constitution has acquired a near sacred nature. It is a subject that cannot be discussed rationally. More than eighty years of Brotherhood life has been invested in this one document.
For the first time, the Muslim Brotherhood has risen to a point that it is an international force that has branches far beyond the frontiers of Egypt. The Brotherhood offers a politicized Islamic ideology that can unite Moslems throughout the world.
Just as Communism secured a core territory in the Soviet Union and spread worldwide, the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to secure a core territory in Egypt from where it can spread across the planet. And Mohamed Morsi is the messenger.
By. Felix Imonti of Oilprice.com
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