Muslim Brotherhood Ripe for Re-radicalization

By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is author of the upcoming book‘Will the Middle East Implode?’ The views expressed are his own.


Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie sits at a police station after being arrested by security forces in Cairo, in this Egyptian Interior Ministry handout picture provided on August 20, 2013.

REUTERS/Egyptian Interior Ministry/Handout

Wednesday’s massacre by the security forces in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt has left hundreds dead and perhaps thousands more injured. The old order is lashing out with ferocity against those who dared challenge it. What is worse, a substantial segment of the Egyptian public – mesmerized by the rhetoric of the military brass and its civilian henchmen – consider this a “restoration of democracy” to use John Kerry’s Orwellian term to describe the July 3 military coup.

It is becoming increasingly clear that history is repeating itself as tragedy in Egypt, although with its own peculiar twist. This year reminds me of 1954, when Colonel Nasser, who had led the Egyptian military coup against the then corrupt monarchy in 1952 with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, turned against his Islamist allies, banned the party, threw its leaders in jail and ultimately executed several of them. The Brotherhood, which had emerged into the open after years of clandestine activity against the monarchy, was forced underground once again.
More important, the events of 1954 started the process of radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood under its chief ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, who helped spawn militant and extremist groups that engaged in dramatic acts of violence and terror, including the assassination of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981.

The ideological reaction to Nasser’s crackdown on the Brotherhood was far more significant since it led to the emergence of what came to be known as Qutbism, named after the activist and intellectual who popularized this strand of Islamist thought through his writings (most of which were composed while undergoing torture in Nasser’s jails). Qutb’s central thesis was that Egypt under Nasser (and by implication the rest of the Muslim world under secular nationalist and often authoritarian regimes) had reverted to the age of jahiliyaa, pre-Islamic ignorance, and that it was the duty of the believers to overthrow political systems that reflected jahiliyya and re-install hakimiyya, the sovereignty of God or a political system based on Islamic law that enjoined fairness and equity among human beings.

Qutb’s more extremist followers took his ideas to what they considered to be their logical conclusion. They argued that since no compromise was possible between the two poles of jahiliyya and hakimiyya it was a zero-sum game where one party had to lose completely for the other to be victorious. This was the case not only because of ideological polarization, but also because the secular, authoritarian regimes, according to Qutb’s followers, would not tolerate political participation on the part of Islamist groups and movements. Therefore, they argued, it was an Islamic duty for the believers to rise up in arms to overthrow these repressive and taghuti (Satanic) regimes.

It took the Muslim Brotherhood about three decades to fully shake off the impact of Qutb’s ideology and decide to take part in Egyptian politics, even though the Mubarak regime severely circumscribed its activities and never allowed it to form a legal political party. The Brotherhood came to accept the rules of the game despite the fact that elections were openly rigged and, more generally, the political cards were stacked against it. Its perseverance paid off when, after Mubarak’s ouster, it received a plurality of votes in the parliamentary elections and its candidate won the presidency even if by a narrow margin. It seemed that the Brotherhood’s integration into the democratic system was now almost complete.

Unfortunately, the coup of July 3, the killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the security forces thereafter and Wednesday’s massacre of hundreds of Brotherhood members and sympathizers has irreversibly damaged the process of Egypt’s largest and most important Islamist party’s integration into the democratic process.

Wednesday’s events must have made clear to the Brotherhood faithful, not only in Egypt but across the Arab world, that Qutb and his disciples were right and that politics in the Muslim world is indeed a zero sum game and the taghuti(Satanic) regimes will never allow Islamist political formations access to political power.

The time is therefore ripe for the rise of another Sayyid Qutb and his call to arms. If this happens – and it seems more than likely – it will be the beginning of another chain of violence and counter-violence. And it would also likely have significant international implications, not least for the United States, whose Secretary of State has in effect endorsed the coup as a “restoration of democracy.”


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