February 1st, 2011

What does the Muslim Brotherhood want? And why do some discount it?

Ever since the turmoil in Egypt began, I’ve been saying that no one knows what will happen there. That is still my position.

But amidst all the speculation, I think we discount the possibility of an Islamist state at our peril—and, to speak bluntly, those who discount it are fools, no matter how learned they may be.

The Muslim Brotherhood—the Islamist fundamentalist group based in Egypt—is such a fine name. Who could be against brotherhood (well, a few feminists; but you know what I mean)? The history of the group is a chilling one, however. And it is no accident that 9/11’s Mohammed Atta and Ayman al Zawahiri were highly educated Egyptians (note that al Zawahiri joined the Brotherhood at the ripe old age of fourteen).

Sayyid Qutb was another Egyptian. He became a leading voice of the “spiritual” wing of the Brotherhood in the 50s and 60s. This was his advice to the Muslim world:

Qutb…taught that Muslims and Muslim rulers who fail to implement God’s laws are takfir [apostate], they live in a state of jahiliyya [ignorance] and must be opposed…This idea has influenced the rise of contemporary takfiri militants who use this doctrine to legitimize the killing of Muslim by Muslim for alleged apostasy. In contrast to Abul Ala Mawdudi [1903-1979], who advocated the establishment of “Allah’s law in Allah’s land” by a gradualist methodology of infiltration into both secular and nominal Muslim lands, Qutb declared direct, immediate action against jahili and takfiri states…and gave such jihadis legitimization for the killing of Muslim by Muslim for alleged apostasy.

The Brotherhood wasn’t all talk and no action. Here’s some of the group’s influence on Egyptian political affairs:

The Society of Muslim Brothers, the oldest and most influential fundamentalist group in Egypt, instigated an uprising against the British, whose lingering occupation of the Suez Canal zone enraged the nationalists. In January, 1952, in response to the British massacre of fifty Egyptian policemen, mobs organized by the Muslim Brothers in Cairo set fire to movie theatres, casinos, department stores, night clubs, and automobile showrooms, which, in their view, represented an Egypt that had tied its future to the West. At least thirty people were killed, seven hundred and fifty buildings were destroyed, and twelve thousand people were made homeless…In July of that year, a military junta, dominated by an Army colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, packed King Farouk onto his yacht and seized control of the government, without firing a shot. According to several fellow-conspirators who later wrote about the event, Nasser secretly promised the Brothers that he would impose Sharia—the rule of Islamic law—on the country…

It quickly became obvious to Nasser that Qutb and his corps of young Islamists had a different agenda for Egyptian society from his, and he shut down [the Brotherhood’s] magazine after only a few issues had been published. But the religious faction was not so easily controlled. The ideological war over Egypt’s future reached a climax on the night of October 26, 1954, when a member of the Brothers attempted to assassinate Nasser as he spoke before an immense crowd in Alexandria. Eight shots missed their mark. Nasser responded by having six conspirators executed immediately and arresting more than a thousand others, including Qutb. He had crushed the Brothers, once and for all, he thought….

I have quoted at length because I would imagine most of us are unfamiliar with the finer points of Egyptian history, and it’s important to get some historical perspective on what’s happening now.

What’s more, these events from the 50s and 60s have had a direct affect on us before, notably in regard to 9/11:

One line of thinking proposes that America’s tragedy on September 11th was born in the prisons of Egypt. Human-rights advocates in Cairo argue that torture created an appetite for revenge, first in Sayyid Qutb and later in his acolytes, including Ayman al-Zawahiri [later to become al Qaeda’s second in command]. The main target of their wrath was the secular Egyptian government, but a powerful current of anger was directed toward the West, which they saw as an enabling force behind the repressive regime. They held the West responsible for corrupting and humiliating Islamic society.

But let’s go back a bit, and see what transpired between Nasser and Qutb:

In 1964, President Abd al-Salaam Arif of Iraq prevailed upon Nasser to grant Qutb parole, but the following year he was arrested again and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government…Qutb received a death sentence. “Thank God,” he said. “I performed jihad for fifteen years until I earned this martyrdom.” Qutb was hanged on August 29, 1966, and the Islamist threat in Egypt seemed to have been extinguished. “The Nasserite regime thought that the Islamic movement received a deadly blow with the execution of Sayyid Qutb and his comrades,” Zawahiri wrote in his memoir. “But the apparent surface calm concealed an immediate interaction with Sayyid Qutb’s ideas and the formation of the nucleus of the modern Islamic jihad movement in Egypt.” The same year Qutb was hanged, Zawahiri helped form an underground militant cell dedicated to replacing the secular Egyptian government with an Islamic one. He was fifteen years old.

While we’re looking at history, let’s not ignore the events surrounding the assassination of Anwar Sadat:

In January 1977, a series of ‘Bread Riots’ protested Sadat’s economic liberalization and specifically a government decree lifting price controls on basic necessities like bread. Dozens of nightclubs on the famous Pyramids Street were sacked by Islamists. Following the riots the government reversed its position and re-established the price controls.

Islamists were enraged by Sadat’s Sinai treaty with Israel, particularly the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad. According to interviews and information gathered by journalist Lawrence Wright, the group was recruiting military officers and accumulating weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch “a complete overthrow of the existing order” in Egypt. Chief strategist of El-Jihad was Aboud el-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose “plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing – he expected – a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country.”

In February 1981, Egyptian authorities were alerted to El-Jihad’s plan by the arrest of an operative carrying crucial information. In September, Sadat ordered a highly unpopular roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Jihad members, the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Bishop, and highly ranked clergy members, but also intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes.

The round up missed a Jihad cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Anwar Sadat that October.

And now please take a look at the following remarks made yesterday by Fareed Zacharia in an interview with Elliot Spitzer, and then some commentary on them by Andrew McCarthy which occurred on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. First, Zacharia and Spitzer:

FZ: The Brotherhood, even the Muslim Brotherhood, does not have the aspirations of the Iranians to create a kind of Islamic state…

ES: You said the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t have the aspirations to create a theocracy. Do they not have the aspirations? Or do they not have the power to do it at this point?

FZ: For the last thirty years or so, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have moved in the direction of wanting to be a conservative, socially religious organization that wants to institute some greater element of Sharia. Now to understand what that means, a lot of that is social welfare stuff. Some of it is things like the veil. Some of it is court procedures in which unfortunately, women would have fewer voices. But it’s not some kind of totalitarian dictatorship. They seem to have accommodated themselves to the idea of democracy, and they have done so for decades now.

Do you think this is likely, after having read the earlier history right up to the early part of the present century? Or do you think we have a fine old bridge in Brooklyn to sell Mr. Zacharia?

I don’t know whether the Brotherhood will succeed in finally taking over after all these long decades of trying. But those who don’t think they still want desperately to do so, and have instead become social workers, are what might be called useful idiots.

And that’s the best thing we can call them. I’m with Andrew McCarthy on this one:

I just think that is willfully closing your eyes and your ears to what they say and what they write. I mean, look, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, just a few months ago, gave a raging speech calling for jihad. I think Mr. Zacharia is paying attention to what the Brotherhood says to their rapt, English audience, and not a whole lot of attention to what they say, either when they think no one’s listening to them, or in the Arabic press, which tends to be virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli, and does aspire to the creation of a theocracy. What more do you need to know than that their slogan, their motto remains to this day the same. The Koran is our law, jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration.

This willful, hopeful closing of the eyes and ears of a large part of the intelligentsia is inexplicable to me, and yet it happens time and again. It happened with Hitler. It happened with Castro. It happened in Iran with Khomeini, whom the left thought it could control and co-opt. It happened with the West and Yassir Arafat, their revolutionary darling turned pussycat. I don’t know how many people agree with Zacharia about the Brotherhood (here’s an influential one), but I fervently hope their numbers are small, and that they do not include our own president and State Department—although I fear they might.

[NOTE: This post is already very long, but I must add a link to Andrew McCarthy’s excellent article covering some of this same territory. I just noticed it, after having written my post; if I’d seen it earlier I might have saved myself the trouble of writing this and just linked to McCarthy!

If you don’t feel like plowing through the McCarthy piece, however, I’ll just quote the end, which bears on the ending of my post as well:

The Obama administration has courted Egyptian Islamists from the start. It invited the Muslim Brotherhood to the president’s 2009 Cairo speech, even though the organization is officially banned in Egypt. It has rolled out the red carpet to the Brotherhood’s Islamist infrastructure in the U.S. — CAIR, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the Ground Zero mosque activists — even though many of them have a documented history of Hamas support. To be sure, the current administration has not been singular in this regard. The courting of Ikhwan-allied Islamists has been a bipartisan project since the early 1990s, and elements of the intelligence community and the State Department have long agitated for a license to cultivate the Brotherhood overtly. They think what Anwar Sadat thought: Hey, we can work with these guys.

There is a very good chance we are about to reap what they’ve sown. We ought to be very afraid.]

27 Responses to “What does the Muslim Brotherhood want? And why do some discount it?”

  1. br549 Says:

    Where do we want to do this? Over here, or over there? Seems like those are the two questions coming up. The vacuum is going to suck in a lot of nations.

  2. Parker Says:

    What the Muslim Brotherhood wants: The return of the caliphate and a planet ruled by sharia.

    Why do some discount it? Wishful thinking, a pressing need to feel guilty about the colonial era, listened to John Lennon’s Imagine too many times, or __________ ? Take your pick.

    When it all comes down to dust, it really doesn’t matter why an ostrich sticks its head in the ground. All the ostrich knows is that it doesn’t see anything scary. Nothing but dirt here folks, move along everybody.

  3. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Stockholm Syndrome.
    Years ago, the late Sen. Moynihan talked about taking his then quite young children and some friends to see some kids’ adventure movie. Swiss Family Robinson, possibly. At some point, a huge snake is menacing an oblivious character. Ominousity builds. One of the kids blurts out, “That snake likes me.”
    The opposite is too terrifying to contemplate.

  4. Tom Says:

    We swim in a sea of bullsheet, entirely self-generated. GWB’s annual trips to the mosque, and his declarations of “islam is a religion of peace” come to mind.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey: I will have to remember that.

    I’ll call it “the snake likes me” syndrome.

  6. Oldflyer Says:

    “Some elements of Sharia law”. That reminds me of the classic definition of rape. Need I repeat it?

    Somehow the cat always escapes the bag. This time with a statement that was intended to sound completely innocuous.

    Need we even bother to ask which elements of Sharia would be acceptable to any rational society?

  7. sears poncho Says:

    The Muslim Brotherhood declared war on the USA, October, 2010. What does that say about Zacharia? Fellow Traveler or useful idiot?

  8. ElMondoHummus Says:

    Hmmm… Zacharia claims their goals do not include political power. Yet at the same time, people wishing to put a moderate face on the Egyptian street protests go out of their way to assure the West that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t involved.


    Let’s be honest: We’ve learned from watching the Palestinian radicals, the Iranian ones, and the Afghani ones that what the radical Islamicists tell the west never reflects the actions they actually take. But what they tell each other and preach to those they wish to bring into the fold does. Too many westerners have trouble learning that lesson.

    We suffer under the illusion that a murderer will never broadcast their intentions in advance; neither will a bully, or a thief. Unfortunately, all we’ve seen, from University of Texas shooter Charles Whitman’s confessions to his psychiatrist, through Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho’s warning of wanting to “repeat Columbine”, to Jared Loughner today show us that they in fact do announce their intentions well ahead of the fact.

    And at risk of Godwining this topic, there’s a very notable example that highlights this: Adolf Hitler.

    Malicious folks are indeed well predisposed to threaten ahead of time. It’s fair to work at determining whether any specific threat is genuine or hot air, but it’s ignorant to ignore the threats they make. And it’s abysmally ignorant to make excuses for them.

  9. Sergey Says:

    An advice from Spengler:
    “The best thing the United States could do at the moment would be to offer massive emergency food aid to Egypt out of its own stocks, with the understanding that President Mubarak would offer effusive public thanks for American generosity. This is a stopgap, to be sure, but it would pre-empt the likely alternative. Otherwise, the Muslim Brotherhood will preach Islamist socialism to a hungry audience. That also explains why Mubarak just might survive. Even Islamists have to eat. The Iranian Islamists who took power in 1979 had oil wells; Egypt just has hungry mouths. Enlightened despotism based on the army, the one stable institution Egypt possesses, might not be the worst solution.”
    This allows some genarilizations on other backward countries, which Western liberals will never be able to contemplate. In such countries general population and even its more advanced middle class are relatively reactionary compared to ruling class. The only modernizing force is govenment itself, with all its repressive apparatus, army and police. Popular protest movements and revolutions in such circumstances tend to twart and destroy all progress that was achieved under repressive regimes and throw the countries backward, not forward. Even the scale of repression and atrocites tend to increase, not decrease, after such “liberation”. Pushkin, the Russian Bard, wrote in his diary: “In Russia the government is the only true European”.

  10. Sergey Says:

    Plese, read the whole thing:

  11. Sergey Says:

    Intelligentsia is the most myth-creating segment of population in modern world. This is their most important social function, this is true dream industry, not only Hollywood, but all academia, journalists, creative types in advertisment and PR, artists and musicians. They all began their day with “Imagine…” and proceed to invent some adorable picture of world events to make some sense from senseless existence. Before modern times, this was a function of Church, and was done with some discipline and intellectuall rigor. But when liberals came to power in dream industry, it became crazy and utterly divorced from reality, logic and respect for truth.

  12. Dmitry Says:

    The Egyptian people are fighting for freedom: freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom to protest and freedom to elect whoever they choose.
    If the last point means that Muslim Brotherhood gets elected, then so be it. It’s Egyptian people who would’ve made the decision – and if they don’t like it they may go out to protest again. The one thing the Egyptian authorities are right at is not really listening to calls from outside. The world does not exist to align to how the USA works. USA only owns their territory – not any other sovereign country. So leave it – it’s down to the people of Egypt to choose their fate.

  13. Sergey Says:

    Delusional people do not deserve freedom, they deserve straitjacket, medication and locking up in lunatic asylum. The whole Arab world is nothing else as lunatic asylum at open air, and I certainly prefer that it was not run by inmates.

  14. Karin McQuillan Says:

    Nazism launched the Brothers and is still at their core

  15. Karin McQuillan Says:

    hi – we should talk. my bio reads like yours: born in new york, lived in massachusetts for 25 years (tho no more), became a neocon and then a conservative after 9/11, walk the pariah road in my liberal reform synagogue…we even have the same hair…check out my article on the Moslem Brothers at American Thinker.


  16. nolanimrod Says:

    In Wright’s book The Looming Tower he provides a couple of interesting anecdotes about Qutb and his spiritual progeny.

    It seems Qutb himself was throroughly radicalized not on some pilgrimage to Mecca but at a sock hop in the gym at the University of N. Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, the same place we used to write for all those helpful government pamphlets.

    Seems the shameless display of bare shins and bestocking’d female feet did it for Qutb and he was forever after determined to root out any hint of Western corruption.

    Tower also has an instructive passage involving Osama bin Laden and his band of merry beheaders. It seems they were holed-up in a cave hiding from the Russians when Dr. Z decided to give OSL come IV medication.

    Dr. Z would set up the IV stand, hang up the bag, insert the needle, and at that point the Russians would get lucky with an artillery shell which hit near the cave and cause the usual sound effects and flying rocks, dust, etc.

    Then a period of calm would ensue and Dr. Z would go back to work. Just about the time he was putting in the needle the Russians would get lucky again.

    The third time this happened the mujahideen in the cave were convinced that the bag of IV solution was attracting the shells and deterred Dr. Z from setting another one up.

    The Israelis are currently exploiting this childlike credulousness by spreading the story that they are ruining Egypt’s tourism business by training sharks to eat tourists at Sharm el Sheikh

  17. Twitter Trackbacks for neo-neocon » Blog Archive » What does the Muslim Brotherhood want? And why do some discount it? [neoneocon.com] on Topsy.com Says:

    […] neo-neocon » Blog Archive » What does the Muslim Brotherhood want? And why do some discount it? neoneocon.com/2011/02/01/what-does-the-muslim-brotherhood-want-and-why-do-some-ignore-it/ – view page – cached Ever since the turmoil in Egypt began, I’ve been saying that no one knows what will happen there. That is still my position. […]

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    Dmitry: how naive you are.

    Democracy often means one person, one vote, one time. Power-hungry groups will always try to hijack a democracy. That’s why democracy and voting means absolutely nothing without a constitution that protects the rights of the people. The USA’s founding fathers knew that. Iran is an excellent example of how the people cannot speak after the initial transition, and cannot go out into the streets to effectively change what they would like to change. See this piece I wrote about the importance of a constitution that protects against tyranny–including a tyranny voted in by the majority.

  19. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Dmitry doesn’t seem to have figured out that, under his scenario, the Iranians chose their fate. Seems not to be much of a way to unchoose it.

  20. Harry The Extremist Says:

    I think the entire “Muslim Brotherhood” should be boiled in pig fat.

    Sorry, just living up to my moniker.

  21. Dmitry Says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    neo-neocon, even if democracy truly means that, it shows that people want it – it’s better than their current system of one person, rigged votes, all the time. And who knows – maybe the same uprisings will happen if islamists take over – without the aftermath of Iran. In fact, people like ElBaradei, whom the US seems to support, do propose drawing up a new constitution. Yes, we can’t argue that it will be of the same quality as what the Founding Fathers desired in the USA – instead, hopefully, pro-democracy groups will choose it, and few will be unhappy. And if Islamists take over, people would, undoubtedly, intervene – we’ve seen that they can do that very well. Iran has little effect on the uprising – yes, they support it, but they are stupid in thinking that it’s an islamic revolution – yes, that’s what they want to see, but not what they will see. I still think nukes would be an acceptable policy with the Middle East – most of the time 😛

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    Dmitry: Iran is not better today than it was under the Shah. Nor is the entire world, as a result of Iran being a repressive and terrorist-supporting theocracy about to develop nuclear weapons.

    So no, it’s not clear at all that the results are better. Maybe some day they will be, if the Iranian people throw off their present yoke and manage to replace it with liberty plus protection of their rights, but I wouldn’t sit on a hot stove till that happens.

    Same with Egypt.

  23. OpinionEditorial — Blog — Middle East Mess Says:

    […] two things happen. Either the nation of 80 million people will disintegrate into anarchy, and the Muslim Brotherhood will insinuate itself into power, pushing the notion that only religion − their extremist brand […]

  24. Mubarak: the devil we knew « amy kane blog Says:

    […] neo-neocon: What does the Muslim brotherhood want? And why do some ignore it? […]

  25. Upstate Crunchy Says:

    As for willful ignorance of the jihadist threat, well, that’s been the case for at least a decade. Within weeks of 9/11 I was asked to lead a group study of the Qur’an so my faculty colleagues “could better understand the roots of Muslim discontent.” After a couple weeks one blithely ignorant soul said “I think Muhammad had authority issues–he seems awfully angry.”

    Skip ahead to today and there remain folks–well meaning, well educated folks–who simply refuse to acknowledge that Sharia law (or some interpretation of it ala Mr. Zakaria) would completely undo CENTURIES of Anglo-American jurisprudence. But since Islam is viewed as the underdog, it gets a complete pass from the academic left. As Rabbi Jacob Neusner once wrote: “A Christian nation? We could do much worse.”

  26. ecks why Says:

    islam is a horrible ideology for human rights

    4 key things about islam

    1. mythical religious b.s. – all religions have this (faith) because its part of being a religion, having beliefs without proof until after the believer dies. the problem is people will believe almost anything

    2. totalitarianism – there is no free will in islam sharia law governs all. there is no seperation of church and state in islam: only submission to the will of allah as conveniently determined by the imams who spew vapors to feather their own nests. there are no moderate muslims they all support sharia law, see dar al harb

    3. violence – of all religions islam leads the pack in violent tenets for their ideology & history: containing eternal canonical imperatives for supremacy at all costs using violence & intimidation as basic tools to achieve these goals.

    4. dishonesty – only islam has dishonesty as a fundamental tenet: this stems from allah speaking to mohamhead & abrogation in the koran which is used to explain how mo’s peaceful early life was superseded by his warlord role later, see al taqiyya

    really there are NO redeeming qualities for this muddled pile of propaganda named islam

    islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics in yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedom

    graphics version:

    thanks for reading 🙂

  27. Maquis Says:

    “Or do you think we have a fine old bridge in Brooklyn to sell Mr. Zacharia?”

    Rather, Mr Zacharia has a fine old bridge in Brooklyn to sell us.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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