The "Snakes and Ladders" of the Muslim Brotherhood
By Tawfik Hmaid
After 80 years the dream of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to reach power in Egypt has come true. Currently, the MB controls the majority of the seats in the Egyptian Parliament and soon they will write the new constitution of Egypt.
The ascent of the MB to power may have some similarity to the game of "Snakes and Ladders" where the 'Ladder' helps the players to reach the top while a 'snake' close to that top can also bring the player down to the bottom.
The question is: Will the MB go down the 'Snake' after ascending via the 'ladder' of power? Analysis of the factors that helped the MB reach power reveals that this is a very likely possibility.
Ascending via the Ladder
Factors that helped the MB reach power
When the Supreme Guide (The Murshid) of the MB had the opportunity to meet with President Nasser after the 1952 Revolution his most important request from the President was not just toteachmore Islam to the population, andnot just to encourage people to practicemore charity to the poor, but, to the surprise of many, -as described by President Nasser himself - it was to forceALL women in Egypt wear the Hijab (Islamic headscarf)!
The Murshid was a real strategist in this request as he knew very well that inmaking Muslim women wear the Hijabit would be the most fundamental steptowards Islamizing the whole society, promote the concept of Sharia and preparethe people psychologically for becomingpart of the Islamic Caliphate.
For several reasons, the MB failed duringNasser's time to make the Egyptian women wear the Hijab; however, they succeeded in doing so during the Sadat and Mubarak eras. This changed the Egyptian society in a way that ultimately led to the overwhelming victory of the Islamists in the recent elections.
2-Giving people hope that Islam will solve all their problems:
The MB managed to give people hope that Islam is the best solution for their problems includingeconomic ones. The Slogan "Islam is the Solution"has been used successfully by the MB to promote their ideology. The economic prosperity of Saudi Arabia that beganin the late 1970s was used as evidence to convince many Egyptians that implementing Sharia is the real factor behind the economic success of Saudi Arabia.
3-Getting support from Arab countries:
After Nasser cracked down on the MB,many of its members travelled to the nearby Gulf countries where they gained a lot of financial support by portrayingthemselves as a charitable Islamic group that cares for "Dawwa" or preaching. The petrodollars that were given to the MB helped them to promote their agenda by allowing them to build more mosques, freely distribute Islamic books to people , and helped them carry out charitable works to gain public support.
(Note: the aim of many-if not most- of the free publications that Islamic organisations distributed in Egypt in late 1970s were given to teenager girls to promote the Hijab to them by informing them about the details of the torture techniques that they will suffer in hell -if they did not wear it.
4-Using the word "Democracy" to gain support from the West:
The MB understood that after Islamizing society all they needed to do to gain powerwas through implementing ballot 'Democracy'. MB discovered the best way to achieve this is to use the Pro-Democracy groups that are supported by the West to demand democratic reforms in the country. The plot was carefully designed as the MB knew very well that the word 'Democracy' is a magical word that can activate western minds to bringmore pressure on the Mubarak regime and the Military, thus opening the gate for them to attain power. The MB simply used the influence and strength of the Western Funded Pro-Democracy groups much as a parasite would use the blood of the host to become more powerful.
For several decades the existence of one common enemy of the MB (namely Secularism) was an important factor that united the power of the group. It was virtually unknown in the past to see strong divisions within the group. 'Unity' was simply an important factor for their success.
6-Getting support from the Military -after the Jan 25 Revolution:
The Military of Egypt represented by the SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) was under heavy pressure from the US and Liberal forces to deliver power to civilians. This, simply, was meant to deliver power to the Islamists to rule the country. As an attempt to protect their interests and to keep some power in the New Egypt, many believe that the SCAF had a 'deal' or an agreement with the MB to protect the 'democratic process' until the Islamists come to power in exchangefor special privileges for the military . The SCAF denies this deal. However, the selection of an Islamist such as Tarek Al-Bishri as the head of the committee to direct the political future of the country after the Jan 25 Revolution and the absence of any women and Christians in this committee, supports the view that the SCAF and the MB had a deal together as described above. This initial support from the Military for the MB greatly assistedthem in becoming more powerful.
Descending down the Snake
Factors that will likely cause the decline of the MB
1-A decline of the image of the MB
After choosing the MB in the recent parliamentary elections, many of those who elected them expected some improvement in the problems that the country faces. On the contrary, the country faced more troubles after the Islamists dominated the parliament, such as shortages of gas, and the strike bydrivers of the vital public transport system. The failure to bring aboutmiraculous improvements in the conditions within the country, coupled with over-expectations of rapid success, has created a negative image for the MB in the minds of some people and started to sway many of the public away from supporting the group. Additionally, the MB gave priority to discussing issues such as putting a ban on Internet pornography instead of legislating to prevent the collapse of the economy. The image of the Islamists in general had another setback due to the actions of some Islamic members such as Al-Baklimi (Salafi) who lied to the public about having a cosmetic operation to improve the appearance of hisnose. Recent rumours that Al-Baklimi is secretly married toa famous belly dancerand that he has financially supported the production of her movies just added more damage to the image of the Islamists. Furthermore, breaking promises - such as raising the possibility that the MB may have a presidential candidate in the next presidential elections after repeatedlyinsisting that they will NEVER have one - made many people lose trust in them.
Divisions within the MB became clear on the surface. These divisions evidenced by the kicking out of Abdul-Menem Abu-Elfutuh (one of the former leaders of the group) from the organization, ending his membership for daring to break their rules and insisting on becoming a presidential candidate, followed by theresignation of Mohamed Habib (#2 of the MB) from the organization - brought about increasinganger from the younger members of the MB overcertain decisions of their leadership and just added more pressure on the MB.
3-Loss of support of many Liberal Media
For several years the Liberal media showed some sympathy for the MB whentheir members were imprisoned during Mubarak's tenure and the organization was considered an illegal body. This sympathy was largely due to the fact that many Liberals were predominantly focused on fighting against military control of the country rather than a real support for the MB agenda.
After the MB gained more power in the recent parliamentary elections, they expressed hostility toward women rights and personal freedoms. This has led many Liberals to realize the MB is a real threat to the freedom and liberty in the country. As a result, many of these liberals are decreasing their criticism of the military and instead are giving more attention to warning the public about the threat that the MB poses to the future of the country. This turn of mainstream liberal media against the MB has recently become more apparent after the MB attempted todominate the writing of the new Egyptian constitution to make it an Islamic.
4-US Green Light to the Military
Allowing US aid to continue to Egyptwithoutconditions being set fordelivering power to civilians has been seen by many as a green light from the US to the Military to do what they feel appropriate to get stability back to the country. Exposure of the anti-US attitudes of the MB may be behind the decision to waive restrictionsonUS aid to Egypt. Since the US made it clear that they will resume aid to Egypt without previous conditions, the Military started to show a more aggressive-but controlled- attitude toward the MB. Aclash has already started between the MB and the Military over the new constitution.
5-Diminished support from wealthy Arab countries:
After the Jan 25 Revolution wealthy Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries discontinued support of the new political powers in the country, partially because they were not well organized and partially because the Arab countries feared that the success of this revolution may make it a model to be copied in their own countries. The long honeymoon between the Arab countries and the MB that lasted for decades has simply ended as Arab leaders are not ready to sacrifice their power for the sake of the MB.
The best manifestation of this division between the MB and wealthy Arab countries is clearly seen in the statements of the head of security of Dubai (General Dahi Khlafan) that accused the MB of plotting against the Gulf countries. General Khalfan actually threatened that anyone inthe UAE who will show sympathy or support to the MB that he would beconsidered a 'traitor' by the authorities.
The loss of support from wealthy Gulf countries, and the animosity that was created between these countries and the MB after the former felt that the latter may threaten their thrones, could be the straw that will break the back of the MB.
To conclude, despite the success of the MB in the recent parliamentarian elections in Egypt, the decay within the group and the presence of many powerful enemies is likely to weaken them. In other words, their initial ascent to power might be followed by a dramatic descent. Such adescent may be better for Egypt, but could also provoke a struggle for power that might result in a more aggressive wave of radicalism.