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The Transformation of Political Islam: Towards an Understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, 1928–2011
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091523/00635
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Title: The Transformation of Political Islam: Towards an Understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, 1928–2011
Series Title: Journal of Undergraduate Research
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Torstensson, Erik O.
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: Fall 2012
Subjects / Keywords: Islam
Sayyid Qutb
Hassan al-Banna
Genre: serial   ( sobekcm )
Abstract: This study examines the role played by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian political landscape from 1928 until the parliamentary elections in 2011. Scholarly reports together with the Brotherhood’s own statements, show that the Brotherhood’s attempt of fusing Islamic and democratic constructs into one coherent doctrine represents a genuine reflection of a long-term effort aimed at seeking to make its political aspirations more appealing to a growing constituency of liberal voters. The newly established Freedom of Justice Party embodies this religious-political hybrid in its most fundamental form, although its support among the old guard remains largely opaque.
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Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: sobekcm - UF00091523_00602
System ID: UF00091523:00646


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University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 14, Issue 1 | Fall 20 12 1 The T ransformation of Political Islam : Towards an Understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood 1928 2011 Erik O. Torstensson College of Liberal Arts and Sciences University of Florida This study examines the role played by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian political landscape from 1928 until the parliamentary elections in 2011 S show that the B Islamic and democratic constructs into one coherent doctrine represents a genuine reflection of a long term effort aimed at seeking to make its political aspirations more appealing to a growing constituency of liberal voters The newly established Freedom of Justice Party embodies this religious political hybrid in its most fundamental form, although its support among the old guard remains largely opaque. INTRODUCTION Islam huwa al hal! (Arabic: Islam is the solution). This succinct mantra has come to encapsulate the ideology and Islamic movement: The Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 by imam and religious activist Hassan al Banna, the Brotherhood has for over 80 years been a potent opposition force in the realm of Egyptian politics and a forerunner in the demand for social transformation. With its aim of doin g good and stamping out evil by establishing Islam it s charismatic leaders have garnered the grassroots support needed for the organization to become a realistic political alternative to the recently toppled Mubarak regime in Egypt (Chali and 2007, p. 274) It is against this background important to note that the Muslim Brotherhood, known for its vocal criticism of the government, chose a rather cautious approach in the turmoil that surrounded political events throughout the Arab Spring in the early months of 2011. Rather than joining the protesters whose desperate demands for freedom and justice on Tahrir Square were broadcasted by news stations around the world the central leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood preferred to play the role of what can best be described as a chess player who is carefully considering his opening move. It was indeed not until later, after experts agreed that the demise of former president Mubarak was imminent and inevitable, that representatives of the Brotherh ood officially endorsed the demonstrations (Brooke, 2011 p. 1 3 ) T h is behavior is indicative of a gradually emerging organizational strategy that deviates from the original tendency of seeking to actively shape public opinion in accordance with its religious convictions. The uprising in January 2011 hence not only marked a crucial turning point for the Arab Republic of Egypt and its about 80 million inhabitants but it also simultaneously presented the Brotherhood with a timely organizational challenge that would come to test its commitment to Islam. As such, the Brotherhood is currently undergoing a phase of political readjustment towards a western style conception of a social structure. What we see is an attempt among Brotherhood leaders to move the organization away from an Iranian style theocracy and towards a secular state more akin to contemporary Turkey. By following this strategy t he Brotherhood is signaling a br eak with its former conservative rhetoric allowing it to broaden its constituency and bring a growing force of liberal progressive sentiments under its banner. Th is ideological transformation poses the question of t o what extent the Islamic principles can be reconciled with the kind of transformational democratic reform espoused by the members of youth. Is it possible to fuse sovereignty of the people (i.e. democracy) with the sovereignty of the omnipotent God that is found in the Quran? In order to answer thi s question, we must start by investigating the origins of the movement and tracing its history. CONTEXTUALIZATION The Muslim Brotherhood emerged as a fervent critic of the foreign influence that came to permeate Egyptian society in the beginning of the 19 th century Having been part of the Ottoman Empire and subsequently occupied by the French and the British, Egypt had lost its sense of pride and a growing culture of nostalgia for the golden era of previous independenc e started to emer ge. The Brotherhood leaders successfully seized upon this opportunity by calling for a return to fundamental Islamic values and Sharia law which were framed as indispensible criteria for emancipating Egypt from its foreign masters. This strategy resonated well with a population that suffered from a growing sense of disillusionment and loss of identity after years of humiliating treatment by European powers Al Banna, as well as other Brotherhood members, capitalized


ERIK O TORSTENSSON University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 14, Issue 1 | Fall 20 12 2 on this general sentiment by is suing statements calling for a return to the Islamic tenets that had been established by prophet Mohammad 1,300 years earlier. Western influence, he famously said in the 1930s, is values and has transformed Egypt into a hostile st ate of moral decadence (Denny 2006, p. 342) Al insistence that his movement belonged to no particular sect, party or group and that all the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence were legitimate sources of authority appealed to people of all segments in society T he working class found al on especially convincing and by the late 1930s the Muslim Brotherhood had established offices in 50 suburbs in Cairo (Mitchell 1993, 216 217). Al Banna had by this time been appointed to the office of Chief Guide ( murshid al am ) of the organization, a title that was pass ed on to Hassan al Hudaybi after Al Banna was assassinated by the Egyptian secret police in 1949. Al Hudaybi, a lawyer and judge born in 1891, would in the 1950s and 60s take the Muslim Brotherhood through a period of increased militancy that stemmed from a series of political events in the Middle East and North Africa. These events revolved primarily around the newly established Israeli state in what the Br others referred to as Palestine an inherent part of the greater pan Arab empire according to most Egyptians Al Hudaybi and other influential ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb, maintained that western powers in general and the United States and Great Britain in particular had unlawfully terminated the territorial agreements stipulated in the 1939 White Paper and the UN Partition Plan of 1947. As one of the most vocal defender s of Palestinian rights, t he Muslim Brotherhood would gradually gain widespread appro val in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world and successfully transformed the office of president Nasser by forcing it to issue formal criticism against Israeli military efforts in Palestine in international forums This resulted in a period of vitriolic po lemic between Nasser and former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion which culminated in a series of military conflicts ensuing defeat fueled the already widespread sense of disillusionment among the public who, heeding the Muslim a sense of abandonment by God The Muslim Brotherhood declared military strength was symptomatic of its disregard for God and the decreased importanc e o f Islam in public d iscourse. trust was accordingly, to embrace Islam in its entirety and to adopt a more pious lifestyle This realization led Sadat to allow Islam to take on a more pronounced role in society. Sa dat early public opinion and, in an attempt of avoiding criticism while simultaneously trying to garner the support from Salafi factio ns, Sadat assumed the role of a Muslim father figure by anchoring his political decisions in Islamic teachings In a politically advantageous move he therefore decided to increase funding to the Al Azhar, release thousands of Brotherhood members from prison, allow the previously banned Brotherhood newspaper Al Dawaa to be reissued, declare that Sharia was the principle source of the Egyptian constitution, call himself the Guardian of the Faith and, finally, emphasize that his name was Mohammed (Osman 2010, p. 81) Sadat nevertheless quickly dwind le and ultimate ly result in his own assassination following the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel at Camp David in 1978 While the assassination commitment to maintaining amia ble relations with a state they held responsible for widespread oppression of fellow Muslims (Hamdi 2011) T his was effectively also the elected Hosni Mubarak whose ascension to power on October 14, 1981 would mark the beginning of 30 years of uninterrupted rule. SHIFTING RHETORIC In the light of heightened crackdown on governmental opposition leading to thousands of protesters being imprisoned and tortured under both Nasser and Sadat, the Brotherhood chose a rather cautious approach in the early years of the Mubarak regime. Shadi Hamdi and Steven Brooke (2011, p. 1) at the Combating Terrorism Center have, among others, contended that the Brot herhood begun to endorse a more pragmatic approach with a preference for cooperation and incremental change. At times, the Brotherhood aware that criticism is a counterproductive weapon leading to mass imprisonment of its members, even preferred direct co operation with the regime in an attempt to present itself in a more favorable light within the Mubarak leadership The Brotherhood would for example occasionally support certain views expressed by the National Democratic Party and, despite their latent a nimosity toward the Egyptian government even chose to (Walsh 2006, p. 33) By claiming to support the very leadership their policies were intended to undermine, the Brotherhood temporarily managed to play a double game that gave them access to active participation in the political system. This was ultimately manifested in 1984 when the Brotherhood, in a unique alliance with the secular Wafd party, managed to win 59 seats in the Egyptian Parliament ( Majlis al ) in 1984 ( Harnisch 2009, p. 190 ) As the latent cooperation with the Mubarak regime continued the Brotherhood gradually became m ore attuned to calls for increased public influence in political matters While not completely abandoning its fervent call for an Islamic resurgence the Brotherhood leadership adjusted its political outlook according to expediency rather than ideology In an attempt to reach out to a non Islamic constituency while simultaneously retaining the vast


THE T RANSFORMATION OF POLITICAL I SLAM University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 14, Issu e 1 | Fall 20 12 3 majority of its traditi onal voters, the frequency with which the Brotherhood would call for an Islamic state decreased in favor of an emergent tendency of advocating a civil state with clear Islamic characteristics ( Mahmoud 2011) This new civil state was one in which inclu sion into the collectivity would be determined by citizenship and Arab heritage rather tha n by being a follower of Islam. In February 1989, spokesperson al Hudaybi took a step in this direction when, in a somewhat equivocal statement, he promulgated the mo There is a certain degree of democracy we guard and hold on to. We work to confirm and develop it until rights are complete. It is important to confirm the democratic pursuit in practice ( 2009, p. 97 ). While this statement leaves open the exact technical definition of the term democracy, it represents a clear demarcation from the previous exclusivist rhetoric that was characterized by infusing an Islamic ethos into all spheres of society. Harnish (2009) validate s this view as a genuine effort towards democratization by stating that since the mid 1980s, the Brotherhood has consistently professed a general commitment to a democratic sys tem of government ( p. 190). A N EW POLITICAL ALTERNA TIVE THE FOUNDING OF THE FREE DOM AND JUSTICE PARTY The challenge of presenting a coherent political platform appealing both to secular and Islamic factions became readily apparent in the aftermath of the January 2011 revolution. Having remained the major opposition force in Egypt for over 80 years, the revolution represented a unique opportunity to gain concrete political influence Speaking increasingly of an Islamic frame of reference rather than upholding its commitment to Sharia, it became evident that the Brotherhood had acknowledged that its ambivalent commitment to religious legislation was a political weakness and thus swiftly altered its rhetoric and public image accordingly ( Br own 2008, p. 3 ) The result of this effort was the Freedom and Justice Party which was announced on February 21, 2011 as an attempt of capturing the votes of an increasingly liberal Egyptian electorate. Paying great attention to shifting ideological sent iments, the Freedom and Justice Party led by loyal Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsy represents an attempt of optimizing voting prospects in accordance with the median voter model. The assumption is that on a simplified spectrum of political sentiments, the median voter represents the largest number of potential voters and thus a n opportunity of parliamentary influence. Recent surveys suggest a growing support for democracy w ith 71% of Egyptians saying that democracy is favorable to any type of government in 2011 according to a report published by the Pew Research Center ( Egyptians 2011 ) At the same time, however, 62% percent of respondents desire a legal system that stric tly follows the teachings of the Quran which has prompted the Muslim Brotherhood in general and the Freedom and Justice Party in particular to adopt a more inclusive discourse in which the boundaries of Islam and democracy are presented as wholly overlapping. F or example, Essam al Erian, a Muslim Brotherhood member known for his outspokenness, quickly maintained that the goals of the revolution are largely reconcilable with Sharia law In an interview with Reuters shortly after the uprising he contended that : When we talk about the slogans of the revolution freedom, social justice, equality all of these what the Islamic sharia calls for (Al Arabiya, 2011) This statement is remar kable from a socio religious perspective as it further tries to decrease the distance between the political and religious spheres making the question of where to place the Brotherhood on the religious civil continuum yet more complex Such techniques are nevertheless politically expedient as they justify a certain degree of religious symbolism in political contexts and a hybrid Islamic from the original fervor with which al Banna sought to shape public opinion is thus readily apparent : i nstead of directly trying to persua de the electorate to support a pre established agenda, the Freedom and Justice party is engaging in an effort aimed at tailorin g a plastic platform to the views of the electorate. This has resulted in a considerable degree of ambiguity especially pertaining to the use of certain Islamic symbolism Khalil al Anani at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has among others, several inconsistencies. He claims that the use of the Arabic word shura (consultation) is used interchangeably with the Arabic word for democracy. In al such a practice tempt to balance the discourse of the conservatives with that of the reformers in the Brotherhood, with shura being favored by the conservatives and democracy appealing to the reformers (Al Anani 2011). This behavior reiterates the more general duality of discourses within the Brotherhood itself with old and new members having incongruent perspectives on The newly adopted strategy of reducing the political distance between religiou s and liberal factions appears to be an instant success judging from recent polling data. The November 2011 election for the lower house of parliament for example, gave the party 40% of the seats a great victory considering the fact that only about 50% of the seats were contested (AlJazeera, 2011) At the same time, however, such victories conceal the apparent lack of substance in the area of decision making and legislation Kristen Stilt (2010) maintains that the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party today views Islamic Sharia as merely a statement of general guidance and direction. In the view of its leadership, Sharia is derived from the


ERIK O TORSTENSSON University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 14, Issue 1 | Fall 20 12 4 traditional sources accepted by most Islamic schools of thought. The Quran and a limited range of sahih Sunn a are hence considered the primary sources and are used in conjunction with the two main interpretative methodologies ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) and ijma (consensus of the jurists). The platform furthermore points out that the doctrinal rules ( fiqh ) are unique for every environment and generation thus suggesting that Sharia remains a malleable concept. Stilt (2010) points out that according to the Brotherhood the Islamic Sharia is distinguished by complet e flexibility and power to face new events and changing practices and customs because God provided it with suitability and lasting power over the spread of time and place ( p. 93 ) The factor that determine s to what extent the Sharia can be reinterpreted is thus the level of detail provided by the primary texts and not necessarily the subject matter The rules governing religious practices such as prayer are clearly regulated in the Quran and Sunna and therefore not subject to change over time. On the oth er hand, matters related to social and economic interactions change over time and from different societies and can therefore be reinterpreted in a manner that is consistent with current conditions and applicable to new cultural demands. While this distinct ion might seem straight forward on an abstract level, the situation becomes far more complex once the above principles are converted into law. Prayer is, for example recognized as a religious requirement by all of the major schools of jurisprudence and, cr ucially, adopted as one of the five pillars of Islam Th is situation naturally raises the question of whether or not it is a duty of the state to enforce this rule among the citizens and punish those who refuse. If the Brotherhood chose to reject government meddling in religious matters it would of necessity have to uphol western democracies which, for the most part, champion secularism. Following the example of western democracies could nevertheless lead the Brotherhood on a slippery slope and limit its relevance in s ociety as it could be construed as maintaining a superficial commitment to Sharia : a potential betrayal of its core principles. On the other hand, going too far in the other direction might in the secular s ense thus rendering it unelectable in political contests. As Stilt (2010) points out, the difference between creates two fundamentally different realities for the governed population. Therefore, acc ording to Stilt (2010) What the Brotherhood would seek to carry out under the heading of the purposes of Sharia remains unclear ( p. 93 ) This blurring of the lines between the divine and the mundane highlights that the Brotherhood continues to operate on a fluid continuum between a civil state and a religious state and that its leadership, largely prefers an all inclusive approach so as to incorporate both religious and secular elements. Nathan J. Brown (2008) has pointed out that the deliberate ambigui ty with which the Brotherhood approaches the question of Sharia stems from the fear that a clearer stance could further divide its leadership which continues to hold incongruous positions on even the most basic topics. CONCLUSION T he Freedom and Justice Party represents a strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood that is aimed at shaping politics after public opinion rather than, as in its early days shaping public opinion directly. Fu rthermore t his rhetorical and tactical evolution whi le a clear demarcation merely a temporary strategy but a lasting effort unlikely to change in coming decades A careful analysis suggests that the younger constituency of members to a large extent seeks t o reinterpret Islamic values just as Christian scholars have continuously done for many centuries. We are hence now seeing the dawn of a new discourse that allows for a new type of debate aimed at producing the concept of an Islamic democracy that is recon cilable with both the Sharia and notions of individual freedoms. While it is still unclear how the Muslim Brotherhood and other actors in political Islam will attempt to define such a state in more practical terms, the newly founded Freedom and Justi ce Party represents an effort in that direction. This has prompted scholars such as John Walsh (2006) to state that The evidence does not support the suggestion that the faade Foreign states such as the United States must therefore be careful so as to not present a false dichotomy between Islam and Arab countries on the one hand and democracy and Christianity on the other in the fashion that has been ubiquitous in the media followin g the civilizations philosophy. Indeed, Sanford Lakoff (2004) has found that the absence of democracy in the Arab world results from conditions peculiar to Arab countries rather than from the influen ce of Islamic religious beliefs ( p. 133 ). Muslims live in democratic countries therefore means that there is reason to be optimistic about the future ( Boix 2006, p. 6 ) This would further seem to open up a dialogue between western leaders and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. Leiken and Brooke (2007) have made the potential benefits of an open dialogue clear by maintaining that a conversation with the Muslim B rotherhood makes strong strategic sense ( p. 121 ) This is especially so as the Brotherhood, having branches in approximately 70 countries, has networks even on American soil ( Crane 2005) While their ties to the Egyptian organization are rather diffuse, it is believed that both the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) have some connections to Brotherhood factions ( Poole 2007 ) The Brotherhood is i n that sense not a


THE T RANSFORMATION OF POLITICAL I SLAM University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 14, Issu e 1 | Fall 20 12 5 monolith, but a dynamic chameleon that come s in many different shapes and fashions The tendency to treat it as an Islamist organization is therefore not only overly imprecise, but also unhelpful if we want to understand the most influential political force in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. REFERENCES Acikalin, S. (2009). Muslim B E gyptian governments from 1952 to 2008: An accomodational and confrontational relationship. The Graduate School of Social Science of Middle East Technical University Ankara, Turkey Al Anani, K. (2011). Eg ypt's freedom & justice party: T o be or not to be independent. Carneg ie Endowment for International Peace Retrieved from http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/06/01/egypt s freedom justice part y to be or not to be independent/6b7p Boix, C. (2006). The roots of democracy: Equality, inequality, and the choice of political institutions. Hoover Institution at Stanford University 135. http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy review Brooke S. & Hamdi, S. gyptian revolution. CTC Sentinel 4 (2), 1 3. Brown, N, and Hamzawy A (2008) T he Draft party Platform of the E gyptian Muslim Brotherhood: For ay Into Political Integration or Retreat Into Old Positions? Carnegie Endowment for International P eace. Chaliand, G., Blin, A., Schneider, E. D., Pulver, K., & Browner, J. (2007). The history of terrorism: From antiquity to al Qaeda Berkeley: University of California Press. Crane, M. (2005). Does the Muslim B rotherhood have ties to terrorism?. Council on Foreign Relations, Retrieved from http://www.cfr.org/egypt/does muslim brotherhood have ties terrorism/p9248#p1 Denny, F. M. (2006) An Introduction to Islam Upper Saddle Ri ver, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall Egypt el ection tallies favour Islamists (2011). Aljazeera Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera .com/news/middleeast/2011/12/201112135719182598.ht ml Egyptians embrace revolt leaders, religious pa rties and military, as well. (2011). Pew Global Attitudes Project Pew Research Center Publications. Retrieved from http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1971/egypt poll democracy elections islam military muslim brotherhood april 6 movement israel obama Hamdi, S. (2011). PBS Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/revolution in cairo/interviews/shadi hamid.html Ha rnish, C., & Quinn, M. (2009). Democratic ideology in I slamist opposi tion? Civil State Middle Eastern Studies 45(2), 189 205. Lakoff, S. (2004). The reality of M uslim exceptionalism. J ournal of Democracy 15 (4), 2004. Leiken, R., & Brooke, S. (2007). The moderate M uslim B rotherhood. Foreign Affairs 86(2), 107 121. Mahmoud H. (2011). El A wa: We want E gypt a civil, not a religious state, Copts indispensable part of E gypt's social fabric IkhwanWeb The Muslim Brotherhoo d's Official English Web Site Retrieved from http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=28295 Mitchell, R. P. (1993) The Society of the Muslim Brothers New York : Oxford University Press Musli m brothers see corruption free E gypt flourishing. (2011 ). Al Arabiya News Retrieved from http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/02/23/138826.html Osman, T. (2010). Egypt on the brink: From Nasser to Mubarak New Haven: Yale University Press Poole, P. (2007 ). The militarization of the Egyptian Muslim B rotherhood. American Thinker Retrieved from http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/02/the_militarization_of_the_egyp_1.h tml Stilt, K (2010 ). Islam is the s olution : Constitutional v isions of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Texas International Law Journal 4 6 ( 73 ) : 73 108. Print. rothe rhood : U nderstanding centrist I slam. Harvard International Review Retrieved from http://hir.harvard.edu/perspectives on the united states/egypt s muslim brotherhood