The Muslim Brotherhood’s Fatal Mistake

Brotherhood's Fatal Mistake
(via the Washington Post)

In his recent article for Foreign Affairs, Eric Trager says the Brotherhood miscalculated at Rabaa, and in post-Morsi policy in general.

It certainly hasn’t worked out well for them, but I have one small quibble, perhaps:

Indeed, from the moment of Morsi’s July 3 overthrow, the Brotherhood’s leaders understood that they were in a kill-or-be-killed struggle with the new military-backed government.

A ‘be-killed’ moment, maybe. There were extensive negotiations going on at the time, between both international and domestic forces. The official discourse held that there was a way for continued Brotherhood political participation.

Trager outlines the pre-Rabaa violence against Brotherhood protests, though. Many, perhaps including the Brotherhood, didn’t really believe the official discourse.

But the possible quibble is with ‘kill’. Did the Brotherhood realize success depended on their violence? That was not part of their official discourse, nor did it seem an underlying reality, as Trager notes:

Although the Brotherhood mobilized violence against its opponents multiple times during Morsi’s presidency, its leaders called for nonviolence following Morsi’s overthrow, with Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie infamously proclaiming, “Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets.”

The article is full of great quotes, with links. But why is this ‘infamous’? It seems honorable. The Brotherhood was certainly willing to ‘be-killed’:

“If they want to disperse the [Cairo] sit-in, they’ll have to kill 100,000 protesters,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad told journalist Maged Atef two weeks before the massacre. “And they can’t do it [because] we’re willing to offer one hundred thousand martyrs.”

If honorable, it was still tragic, and tragically wrong. Several hundred died, thousands more jailed. But tens of thousands were not willing to pay the price boldly promised.

And it is honorable to risk so much blood? Maybe. Many senior leaders are in prison, but others fled to safety abroad. A good number had family members killed. They bet their organization, and perhaps the prize was worth it.

But Trager shows some were willing to bet more, perhaps undoing my quibble:

From the younger Brothers’ perspective, this was a dangerously naïve strategy, leaving them and their comrades defenseless during the assault that followed.

“Our dear brothers were saying, ‘we are peaceful,’” Amr Farrag, a prominent Brotherhood youth based in Istanbul, later lamented in a Facebook post. “‘Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets.’ Fine, so we got smacked on our necks.”

Another prominent Brotherhood youth, Ahmed El Moghir, later revealed that the Cairo demonstration site was “sufficiently armed to repel the Interior Ministry and possibly the army as well,” but that most of these arms were removed only days before the massacre due to senior Brotherhood leaders’ “betrayal.”

So maybe the ‘kill’ is appropriate to go with ‘be-killed’. Take all testimony with a grain of salt.

A good number of policemen died clearing the square. The great majority of protestors were not armed. When the Interior Ministry displayed weapons captured after the operation, they were not that many.

But is that because they were removed? Why? Cold feet? Conscience? Facilitation of martyrdom and political sympathy?

Much more is needed to understand, but the quote is clear.

The Brotherhood is complicated. But they also miscalculated. What next?

Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

As President Morsy Preaches Peace, Muslim Brotherhood Sanctions Jihad

Morsy hailed at Tahrir Square

In both his presidential campaign and inaugural addresses, President Mohamed Morsy has assured the world of Egypt’s commitment to peace. Yet in the run-up to the final election on June 14, the Muslim Brotherhood published an Arabic article calling this commitment into question.

‘How happy would Muslims be if the leaders of the Muslims … would make recovery of al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] their central issue – to cleanse it from the filth of the Zionists and impose Islamic sovereignty over all quarters of Palestine,’ wrote General Guide Mohamed Badie, the group’s top leader.

Furthermore, he referenced a fatwa given by ‘Muslim scholars’ without further designation, ‘Jihad with life and money for the recovery of al-Aqsa Mosque is an individual duty incumbent on every Muslim.’ The article was published on IkhwanOnline, the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This message is very different from the public statements of Morsy, who emerged from the Brotherhood to win Egypt’s first free democratic presidential election.

‘We will preserve all international treaties and charters,’ said Morsy. ‘We come in peace.’

Though Israel was never mentioned by name, the inference was obvious.

The international community is watching closely as importance lies in what Morsy does, not in what he says. Still, his assurance is understood as one of the necessary guarantees to the Egyptian military as well as the United States to not stand in the way of a Brotherhood presidency.

Yet the principle of action over rhetoric is necessary also concerning domestic Brotherhood politics. As US-MB delegations were in continual contact, Badie’s article sanctioning jihad betrays little intention to honor a peace treaty. On the other hand, at this point, they are just words, not actions.

Which words should be believed?

According to Sheikh Osama al-Qusi, an Egyptian Salafi scholar with no love for the Brotherhood, the word jihad does not necessarily imply fighting. ‘The term with life designates that one must be ready to give his life for the cause of Islam. It may include engaging in battle, but this is not demanded.’

Even so, al-Qusi links ‘jihad with life and money’ to its Qur’anic source, where God instructs the Muslims, ‘Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and are killed.’

Speaking with Lapido Media, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan makes a different distinction. ‘As a citizen I am different from the state or the presidency,’ he says.

‘Just because we have gained the presidency should we give up on our principles concerning Palestine, including that Jerusalem is for us?’

Ghozlan then reiterated Morsy’s assurances that Egypt would respect all international treaties. Indeed, the rest of Badie’s article references non-violent methods to expose Israeli occupation of Palestine, such as the ‘Miles of Smiles’ aid convoys from March 2012 to break the blockade of Gaza.

Dr. Nadia Mostafa, professor of international relations at Cairo University, agrees with this non-violent interpretation. ‘We can make jihad,’ she told Lapido Media, ‘in a different way.

‘It does not mean to make a suicide bomb. Jihad with life means we must offer everything in our life for the just cause, even to the last extent in which I die.’

Badie’s article, indeed, does not call specifically for jihad. It urges patience on the Palestinian people and a focus on reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Yet it also urges persistence, that they should make their ‘motto and starting point the confrontation of the Zionists’. That is, perhaps, it is a Palestinian struggle, even if they should be encouraged that ‘every sincere Muslim mujahid in every nation of the world stands with you’.

For Mostafa, Palestine is the issue which will decide the presidency of Morsy. But it must not be allowed to distract from critical domestic issues, including overcoming the secular-Islamist divide. She expects, however, a firm rejection of the Gaza blockade.

‘The Brotherhood will say what they have to say, but we must separate between them and the presidency, and I believe Morsy understands this well.’

Mohamed Morsy formally ended his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood following his official declaration as president.

As president, however, he is not expected to have much love for Israel, no matter his international obligations. Political analyst Sameh Fawzy expects a zero-tolerance strategy towards Israel.

‘Egyptians have had a very limited margin of normalization with Israel over the last decades,’ Fawzy told Lapido Media. ‘This margin is expected to be even narrower than before.’

Therefore, while the Muslim Brotherhood may well continue its strident rhetoric, Fawzy believes the Israel file will remain in the hands of the foreign ministry and security apparatus.

While these cabinet positions are still being negotiated, many analysts believe these ministries will remain firmly under military supervision, if not direct control.

This combination is not predisposed to result in war, but the consequence may well be a continuation of the status quo. For Fawzy, the bilateral outlook is bleak.

‘Cold peace is the expected option.’


Published first at Lapido Media.


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The MB’s Organizational Structure: Any Christian Similarity?

Today the court postponed ruling on a case calling for the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood as an entity. It will be reviewed again on September 4, at which point the group may be declared illegal and forced to disband.

The following is an effort to understand the structure of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as an effort to compare it to a more familiar Western expression of religion: The small group Bible study. Too often the Brotherhood is only seen from its top administrative levels, which fill the headlines of newspapers and command cries of conspiracy and caliphate. It is hoped a greater understanding of its organizational reach can provide perspective about the group as a whole, through which the current legal questions are being asked.

Please feel free to skip a few paragraphs if the following details become tedious.

The lowest level of organization in the Muslim Brotherhood is called the ‘family’. This consists of between 5-9 people who meet regularly, led by an established member. It focuses on general education into the Brotherhood ‘way’, so to speak. Membership in a family is not permanent; people are shuffled so as to build better and wider community. But every Muslim Brother, no matter how lofty his title, is constituted into a regular family meeting somewhere.

The family, however, is not an administrative structure. Instead, members of families in a particular neighborhood or district comprise a ‘branch’, which numbers no more than 90 people. Once it expands beyond this number the district is divided into two branches.

The up-to-90 members of a branch then elect 40 of their number to serve on the Branch Consultative (Shura) Council. In turn, the council elects 7-9 members for the Branch Administrative Council. See this geographically, for example, as the Maadi neighborhood of Cairo.

This pattern will repeat itself as the organization moves upward in hierarchy. The basic idea is that the Administrative Council runs and supervises the activities of the Brotherhood within its geographical scope. These activities include preaching, youth, politics, religion, students, service, etc. The Consultative Council is the group with its ear to the ground, running the different programs, so that the Administrative Council can make decisions and filter information upwards in the chain of command.

Every 3-4 branches then constitute a Region. Members of the Consultative Council in each branch elect 40 members to serve on the Region Consultative Council. These 40 then elect between 9-11 individuals to be on the Region Administrative Council. Geographically, this could represent South Cairo, for example.

Next, between 8-12 regions are grouped together, and the respective Consultative Councils elect 80-90 members for Administrative Office’s Consultative Council. This group proceeds to elect 13-15 members of the Administrative Office, which runs the affairs of the Brotherhood on roughly the governorate level. At this point the geographical scope might include all of Cairo.

At the highest level of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Administrative Office’s Consultative Council elects around 100 members to the General Consultative Council. This body elects and advises the Guidance Bureau, which currently has 18 members. Finally, the Guidance Bureau elects the General Guide, sometimes called the Supreme Guide. This is the position currently occupied by Dr. Mohamed Badie. For past leaders of the Brotherhood, click here.

Those who skipped ahead can pick up reading again now.

The important consideration now is to find an understandable parallel to the Muslim Brotherhood from Western culture. Along these lines it may be easier to consider whether or not the group should be dissolved on legal grounds.

From the lowest ends of Brotherhood bureaucracy, their ‘family’ appears to be akin to the concept of a small group Bible study. For those unfamiliar with American evangelical Christian culture, these Bible studies usually comprise up to ten individuals who meet weekly to monthly to study and discuss a predetermined passage of the Bible, often with the aim of finding application in one’s life. Yet within the religious discipline is the development of fellowship, knitting the group together in mutual and oftentimes local service.

These Bible studies are often but not always connected to a local church, but have no obligation to register with the authorities in any formal way. In fact, such oversight would be interpreted immediately as a curb on religious freedom and an invasion of privacy, representing ‘Big Brother’ government at its worst.

Now, it is not uncommon for these independent small group Bible studies to use pre-developed study guides or curriculums. There are numbers of options to choose from – Beth Moore, John Piper, Wild at Heart. Sometimes there can even be leadership training options offered to small groups, sponsored by these larger organizations. Sometimes there are regional conferences which celebrate unity and build fellowship among a larger constituency.

Moreover, many churches, especially larger ones, work to create extensive networks of these small group Bible studies. Inasmuch as the pre-developed study guides offer their resources for cost, however minimal, they are registered with the government as a business or a charity. These churches also are registered with the government. The network of Bible studies, however, is not. These are simply composed of ordinary citizens who open their homes to friends and neighbors.

But what would happen if these small group networks began to informally advocate for a particular presidential candidate? Or, along other lines, what if they collected donations to organize clothing drives for poor neighborhoods in their communities? Or, what is the situation if these networks spill over national borders into Mexico or Canada?

The situation is not exactly parallel, but at increasing levels of organization and complexity the question is fair: At what point should government regulation begin?

When the Muslim Brotherhood began, Hassan al-Banna utilized this ‘small group Bible study’ methodology to spread the message of Islamic renewal throughout Egypt. He wished to see the individual, family, society, and eventually state return to the principles advocated in the Quran and prophetic traditions. It was, first and foremost, a preaching organization, composed of small groups linked together creating common identity and purpose.

At different times in its history, the Muslim Brotherhood has moved away from its roots in preaching to consider politics, or even violence. Following the January 2011 revolution the group’s leadership was faced with a choice – to remain primarily a preaching and service organization or to enter full force into the political struggle.

There were voices on each side, but the majority opinion was to create a political arm – the Freedom and Justice Party. This party pushed against the limits of Egyptian law which stated no political party may be based on religion. But the final government ruling was that the party’s ‘Islamic reference’ was sufficient distance from Islam to allow its formation. This ruling is being challenged in court, also postponed to September. Nevertheless, the political party is fully registered and accountable to government oversight.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not. It never has been.

What is the Muslim Brotherhood, then? Is it simply a collection of ‘small group Bible studies’ with a developed administrative network? No members of the bureaucracy described above receive any salary for their leadership and administration. They collect dues and use these to finance programs and activities, but individuals do not profit financially from their association; they are volunteers.

As such, it is more fitting to call the Brotherhood a non-governmental organization, perhaps along the lines of the Rotary Club. Yet given the level of financial arrangement (with international donations circulating as rumors) along with the Brotherhood’s influence on the ground, government oversight would seem necessary and acceptable.

The Brotherhood has stated it will register under the NGO law, once a new government is formed and the restrictive, perhaps oppressive laws of the past are annulled. It also states that it could never file in the past due to the efforts of the Mubarak regime to discriminate against them.

Yet one reason for such discrimination is because, ultimately, the Brotherhood does not believe in the concept of the modern nation-state. While working for the good of Egypt, the group clearly advocates for some conception of a revival of the caliphate. Not only did they consider the rule of Mubarak illegitimate, they also worked toward a future in which such national boundaries become irrelevant.

Here, we move beyond the small group Bible study model. Even if such networks were to advocate for a certain presidential candidate or the reform of certain laws, none to my knowledge are calling for a return to Christendom.

This is not to argue in favor of a court ruling against the Muslim Brotherhood come September. In the middle of revolutionary struggles over legitimacy, it is quite possible the verdict could be a political move to silence opposition. Or, it could be a threat to hang over the group’s head in effort to control their actions, if not their rhetoric. Too much is going on between all parties to draw strict lines of black and white.

Yet it is not unreasonable to ask the Muslim Brotherhood to behave transparently. To a great degree, they do. The information above was supplied freely by Islam al-Bishlawi, Central Cairo Secretary for Youth in the Freedom and Justice Party, to whom thanks is offered. Yet to my knowledge, their finances are not open for public view. Billing themselves a ‘Muslim’ organization, does such secretiveness befit Islam or run counter to its sense of ethics or morality?

In September, perhaps, the court will decide.


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Statement of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Leaders of the Evangelical Church in Egypt

At head of table: Rev. Bayadi (L) and Dr. Badie (R)

This text is transcribed from documents received from the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, headed by Dr. Andrea Zaki, a chief participant in this meeting.

The text reads:

Based on a welcoming letter from Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi, President of the Protestant Community of Egypt and Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki, Vice-President, sent to the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, which addressed some public opinion issues at this critical stage in Egyptian history after the January 25th Revolution and gained the attention of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood, and based on the two parties’ communication, the General Guide called for a meeting to gather the leaders of the evangelical church and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting took place on February 28, 2012, at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The General Guide has agreed to visit the headquarters of the evangelical church upon invitation.

The participants consented on the importance of the current historical moment Egypt is going through after the revolution, which requires everyone to take social and historical responsibility to advance the country. The participants emphasized that Egypt’s future depends on community cohesion and unity, and stressed on the basic values of the Egyptian society that represent its social and cultural identity and brings its citizens together.

The participants agreed on the following:

  • The sons of the country are all partners in one destiny and one future.
  • The joint struggle of all Egyptians of all segments of society, that was manifest in the January Revolution, represents the cornerstone of societal unity; the struggle reflects that full citizenship, based on equality, is the foundation of this society.
  • All sons of the country have the same rights and responsibilities as the constitution states. Equality among all citizens constructs societal unity; efficiency is the only criterion to hold a public position; and equality of economic opportunities is the basis of justice.
  • The Egyptian society is based on solidarity, interdependence and compassion among all people, which represents the bond that includes all citizens without discrimination. Therefore, education should promote the values of tolerance, solidarity and pluralism.
  • Respect for beliefs and sanctities is obligatory. Prevention of any contempt of others’ beliefs and the incitement of hatred is a compulsory social responsibility of loyal citizens.
  • Freedom of belief and religious practices as well as freedom to build or renovate religious houses – in light of the law and the right for citizens to resort to their own religious laws concerning their personal affairs along with other rights mentioned in the Islamic Sharia’ – are all considered part of the values of the Egyptian society and a base for its cultural authenticity.
  • The participation of all citizens in defending the country is the responsibility of all, and it is the crucible where all segments of society are melted and form national unity. This national unity is crucial to fighting all internal and external enemies of Egypt who want to drive a wedge between its societal segments.
  • The religious values are the motives of the renaissance. Therefore, everyone must mobilize these values to achieve a better future for Egypt.
  • Societal responsibility obliges all leaders, institutions and religious movements to fight against all types of strife, intolerance and discrimination, and consolidate the unity of society.
  • The Egyptian society’s identity represents the frame for all its people. All people have made contributions to this identity and deserve its legacy. Protection of societal values is considered the basis of cultural uniqueness and the responsibility of all citizens who contributed to building Egypt’s civilization together over time.

All participants of this meeting made emphasis on the importance of communication between the two parties to promote joint activities, especially among the youth, such as encouraging active participation, advocating for values and religious morals, and carrying the social responsibility of fighting the illness that affected the Egyptian society under the previous regime. This will guarantee everyone the right to participate in building a new Egypt that achieves the demands and dreams of the revolution.

Attendees from the Muslim Brotherhood:

  • Dr. Mohamed Badie (General Guide, Head of the Executive Office)
  • Mr. Mohamed Mahdy Akef (former General Guide)
  • Dr. Rashad Mohamed Bayoumy (Vice-General Guide)
  • Dr. Hosam Abo Bakr al-Seddik (Member of the Guidance Office)
  • Mr. Walid Shalaby (Media Counselor to the General Guide)

Attendees from The Evangelical Church in Egypt:

  • Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi (President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki (Vice-President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. George Shaker (Secretariat of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. Soliman Sadek (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Fagala)
  • Dr. Rev. Makram Naguib (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Heliopolis)
  • Dr. Rev. Atef Mehanny (President of the Evangelical Seminary)
  • Dr. Helmy Samuel (Member of the Parliament)
  • Dr. Rafik Habib (Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services)
  • Rev. Refaat Fathy (Secretariat of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Rev. Sarwat Kades (Chairman of the Board of Dialogue of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Emad Ramzy (Secretariat of the Board of Directors of CEOSS)
  • Rev. Daoud Ebrahim (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Eid Salah (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Mr. Farouk al-Zabet (Head of the Congregation of the Evangelical Brethren Church)
  • Dr. Fready al-Bayadi (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Nady Labib (Head of Cairo Presbyterian Council)
  • Rev. Refaat Fekry (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Ard Sherif)

Please click here to access the agreement in Arabic