The Muslim Brotherhood once had a militant wing. It then spent decades rejecting the use of violence, but continuing to embrace its most strident ideologues.
After the fall of Morsi the Brotherhood must again navigate this heritage, with an old guard that is cautious and concerned about international opinion, and a youth movement that is passionate and concerned about the situation on the ground.
In his recent article for Foreign Affairs, Mokhtar Awad describes the most recent developments with each.
The old guard has made some strides, however, by controlling the Brotherhood’s international financing, which became far more important following Sisi’s severe crackdown on the group’s domestic financial operations.
With the money inside Egypt reportedly dwindling, there were fewer resources available to finance violent operations. Indeed, since the fall of 2015, there has been a noticeable dip in violence perpetrated by these new violent groups in the Egyptian mainland, which is only starting to pick up again.
These new violent groups do need authorization, however, to be sharia-compliant.
Still, the seeds for a radicalized Muslim Brotherhood, a sort of Brotherhood jihadism, have been planted. During the height of the revolutionary wing’s influence in early 2015, some of its leaders, as it is believed, informally commissioned a group of Islamic scholars to write a sharia-based manual on the question of violence.
The result was a 93-page book titled The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup. It was an obvious attempt at ijtihad, or legal reasoning, by non-Salafi jihadist scholars to reconcile Brotherhood creed with a methodology of violence.
These scholars declared that neither Sisi nor his government were apostates but were instead ahl baghy, or seditionists,who had turned against the religiously legitimate leader: Mohamed Morsi.
And since Sisi and his government had used violence against Muslim believers, they were considered enemy combatants who should be slain, according to sharia law.
But even these radicals still feel compunction to stay within the mainstream Brotherhood heritage.
This theoretical dance around the issue of apostasy is an attempt by the authors to reconcile Brotherhood teachings with violence without inviting damaging comparisons to Salafi jihadism.
Egyptians, and most Islamists, in fact, hold very negative views toward those who declare other Muslims apostates, or takfiris. The authors of the book are so careful that the text does not once mention Sayyid Qutb, the infamous Brotherhood ideologue whose takfirist ideas helped inspire modern-day jihadism.
Instead, the authors reference the Brotherhood founder Imam Hassan al-Banna and use his selection of two swords in the group’s logo, as well as his talk of “strength,” as a justification for violence against the state.
Read the full article for greater context, but here is one anecdote that shows how convoluted this heritage can be. It is difficult to esteem both swords and non-violence.
It warns against kidnapping and sexual assault of the women and children of security officers, but says there is no harm in threatening to do such things to scare them.