While the drama of revolution plays out across Egypt, the capitols of former and current western imperial powers are abuzz with activity. Much of this activity is focused on preventing the success of the Egyptian uprising by replacing the man Hosni Mubarak with another agent of those powers. The top name in the hat at this time appears to be Egypt’s torture chief and recently appointed vice president Omar Suleiman. As most observers of the region know (and as has been reported in media around the world) Suleiman’s history includes assisting in renditions, torture and operating the Egyptian internal security apparatus.
One of the primary targets of that apparatus over the years has been the Islamic social and cultural organization that calls itself Jama ‘at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood). Founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, the group is best known in Egypt for its network of cultural and social aid centers around Egypt. Although founded as a transnational organization with the intent of spreading its form of Islam around the world, today’s Muslim Brotherhood considers itself as primarily an Egyptian movement. However, its members and ideology have helped form similar movements in nations around the world. The Palestinian group Hamas is probably the best known of all of them. Originally a moderate movement that had little to do with politics, the group began changing to a more politically active organization in the 1920s. In this incarnation it became an enemy of secular government and the target of Egypt’s national government. Its members were responsible for a 1954 assassination attempt on nationalist leader and hero Gamal Abdel Nasser, a 1982 attempt on Syrian president Assad, and the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. Yet, Nasser allegedly asked for and received the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood in his overthrow of the throne in 1952 and Sadat enlisted the group and other Islamists in his government’s attempts to push the Egyptian left out of political power. Further-more, Washington’s intelligence services have been known to involve the Brotherhood in their activities, especially during the Cold War. In recent years, the organization has undergone a shift away from radical action and returned to a more moderate role engaging in political, social and cultural work.
According to an article by Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke in the Council on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Policy and other sources, the current version of the Muslim Brotherhood is a considerably more complex organization than that portrayed in most of the western media. It is on the record as being opposed to jihad and in favor of the democratic process of elections, even though it has no plans to run a candidate for president in any upcoming elections. Admittedly, there are elements within the organization that would like to see a socially conservative Islamic state put into place, but those elements seem to be in the minority. A reasonable US analogy to those elements can be found among the right wing Christians that would like to restructure the United States into a Christian theocracy. As long as the rest of the voting population in the United States continues to participate in the political process, there is little chance those folks will get their wish. Likewise, as long as the majority of the Egyptian population continues to participate in the political process there, the likelihood of an Islamic theocracy appears to be quite remote.
As for its philosophy, the doctrine of the group is not that different from many politically involved religious groups in the United States. In other words it is socially conservative, but not socially fascist. For example, regarding a question of concern to many, the Muslim Brotherhood does not regard women as second class citizens unworthy of education or a life outside the home. In fact, its website clearly states that “Any fair investigation of the teachings of Islam or into the history of the Islamic civilization will surely find a clear evidence of woman’s equality with man in what we call today “political rights”. This includes the right of election as well as the nomination to political offices. It also includes woman’s right to participate in public affairs.” In other words, women should involve themselves in the political process. In addition, the importance of education for all citizens is strongly emphasized in its documents. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood firmly believes in the duty of society to help the poor. Indeed, in a country where over 40% live on less than two dollars a day, it is because of the Brotherhood’s aid network that many Egyptians have been able to survive.
It is not my intention here to portray the Muslim Brotherhood as something that it isn’t. It is my intention, however, to explain it as an organization that defies the simplistic utterings of some US officials and legislators as merely another jihadist bunch of terrorists intent on destroying freedom. Those who insist on this interpretation of the group are not engaging in an honest discussion. Instead, they are parroting the Israeli government, which fears any Egyptian government that will not continue the Mubarak regime’s history of collaboration in regards to the embargo on Gaza and the ongoing attempts by Washington and Tel Aviv to engineer a Palestinian surrender utilizing the guise of a “peace process.” It is quite clear that any post-Mubarak government–especially one that includes the Muslim Brotherhood –will be opposed to continuing the relationship with Israel as it exists today. To be fair though, it seems clear that any government in Egypt that does not include Mubarak or his henchmen is unlikely to continue that relationship in its current form.
All of which brings us back to the current machinations by Washington and other western regimes to install Suleiman into any transitional government in Egypt. The primary reason for these workings come down to one thing–Israel. As long as Mubarak or Suleiman are in control, Tel Aviv and Washington believe they can continue business-as-usual. Furthermore, his presence in the transitional regime would enable Washington to try and ensure that any upcoming elections in Egypt go the way Washington and Tel Aviv want them to go. Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to elections. When Mr. Suleiman stated that the protesters should accept Mr. Mubarak’s decision not to run and should go home because he needed time to prepare for the elections, he wasn’t just talking about repairing ballot boxes. One can be pretty certain that the preparations Suleiman is considering have to do with removing certain elements of the opposition from the ballot and rigging the results. After all, why should he change something that has worked so well for the past several years?
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org