Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Illusion of Change

While the drama of revolution plays out across Egypt, the capitols of former and current western imperial powers are abuzz with activity. Most 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 governments. 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 1993 assassination of Anwar Sadat. However, 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. Furthermore, Washington’s intelligence services have been known to involve the Brotherhood in its 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 not in favor of jihad, nor is it opposed to the democratic process of 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 U.S. analogy to those elements can be found among the right wing Christian element that would like to restructure the United States as 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: “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 that includes the Muslim Brotherhood will be opposed to continuing the relationship with Israel as it exists today. However, 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 Suleiman is in control, Tel Aviv and Washington 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. Still, when Mr. Suleiman stated that the protesters should accept Mr. Mubarak’s decision not to run and go home because he needed time to prepare for the elections, he wasn’t just talking about repairing the ballot boxes. One can be pretty certain that the preparations he 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 the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

4 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. mary said on February 7th, 2011 at 9:47am #

    Cameron the UK PM and Miliband the Opposition leader would like to see a smooth transition’. I bet they would. Cameron said he had been on the phone to Suleiman. Again I bet that conversation was interesting.

    Has anyone heard of this? Some White House scaremongering? i.e. we mustn’t allow these dangerous weapons to fall into the wrong hands?

    Concerns grow over Egypt’s WMD research
    U.S. has been quiet about Cairo’s weapons programs, but revolt changes the calculus

    With Egypt in revolt and the country’s future uncertain, concern is growing over whether a new government in the Arab world’s most militarily and industrially advanced country could accelerate an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

    At the heart of the concern is intelligence indicating that Egypt has quietly carried out research and development on weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, biological and missile technology.

    The research and development has continued virtually without pause over the past three decades, according to interviews with U.S. officials and a review of intelligence and other government documents by NBC News.


  2. mary said on February 8th, 2011 at 2:12am #

    Yesteday Cameron was proudly declaring his friendship with Suleiman and told the Commons that he had been on the phone to him earlier in the day.

    This article reveals that the UK and EU governments have been propping up the nasty regime by selling them weapons.
    The British government refuses to say whether it would follow the example of Germany and France and suspend exports of arms and riot control equipment to Egypt. Instead, UK officials say decisions will be taken on a “case by case” basis in line with its own and EU guidelines.

    Officials “will assess whether the current circumstances in Egypt and the granting of a licence will contravene the criteria”, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said.

    The criteria says that arms will not be sold to countries or regions where they would exacerbate tensions and contribute to the abuse of human rights. However, Britain sold £16.4m worth of arms to Egypt in 2009, the last year for which figures are available, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (Caat). 81 export licences were approved for a wide range of weapons systems components.

    EU countries have dramatically increased their arms sales to north African countries in recent years, from €372m to €2bn, according to the European Network Against Arms Trade.

    EU countries’ arms sales to Morocco amounted to €1.36bn in 2009 – €343m to Libya, €293m to Egypt, €275m to Algeria, and €52m to Tunisia. European arms exports to four of the five countries doubled between 2008 and 2009. The exception was Egypt, where sales increased but not to the same extent.

    “The EU arms export figures are shocking,” Kaye Stearman, a Caat member, said. “It is obvious that these weapons are bought primarily by north African governments to prop up their authoritarian governments. At a time when these same governments are experiencing popular protest, it is inevitable that some of the EU weapons will be used to crush internal opposition.”

    “While some EU countries, such as France and Germany, have belatedly suspended arms exports to Egypt, this is not good enough. There should be an immediate arms embargo on the whole region.”


    William Hague, Foreign Secretary, is in Tunisia today and will visit ‘other North African countries’. What is he up to, one asks.

  3. Deadbeat said on February 8th, 2011 at 3:23am #

    IMO all this focus and discussion of the Brotherhood is extremely premature and dismisses the origin of the resistance movement — via middle class students. However the represses and oppressed aspirations of the Egyptians was always present and needed a spark. However at this moment, Mubarak is still in power and nearly 300 brave Egyptians are now dead in their struggle for liberty.

    No one knows at this time the outcome so I think its best to chill on the Brotherhood and to support the Egyptian people in throwing off the yoke of Zionism that has retarded Egypt and Arab aspirations for the past 30 years.

  4. Deadbeat said on February 15th, 2011 at 11:37pm #

    There needs to be more perspectives from people who are directly struggling against Zionism and Western Imperialism. Here’s the perspective of Hassan Nasrallah whose organization faced down the Israelis in 2006

    On the Egyptian Revolution and the American Strategy

    An excerpt:

    The friends of Israel and America — intellectuals, political leaders, and media outlets close to America and Israel — want to convince the world that what is taking place in Egypt is just a revolution of bread, a revolution of the hungry. The truth, however, is told to the whole world by the protesters in Liberation Square, the protesters in Egypt. It is expressed by their slogans, by their blood, by their smiles, by their anger, by their stances. . . . This means that we are witnessing a complete revolution in its essence, in its fundamental parts. It is a revolution of the poor. It is a revolution of freedom-loving people, of freedom seekers. It is a revolution of those who refuse to be humiliated and insulted because this nation has been under subjection having surrendered its will to America and Israel. It is a political, social, and human revolution. It is a revolution against everything — corruption, oppression, hunger, the squandering of the capabilities of this country, and the regime’s policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.