Sunday, March 03, 2013

Ikhwan phobia: Truths and myths

When Imam Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan), met with late King Abdulaziz Al-Saud during the Haj of 1948, he asked for permission to open a charter of his organization in the Holy Land. King Abdulaziz told him: In Saudi Arabia we are all Ikhwan, and I am their head.

What he meant was that the Saudi version of Muslim Ikhwan, which preceded any similar movement and concept in the Arab world, was already in place. It was also a diplomatic way of saying no to the establishment of political Islam in Saudi Arabia.

The Society of the Muslim Brothers (MB) that started in 1928 as a purely Islamic social organization in an increasingly Westernized Egypt, then a British colony, later took on politics as well. By the end of World War II, the MB had an estimated two million members. Its ideas gained supporters throughout the Arab world and influenced other Islamist groups with its “model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work.” Today, it is the most influential and one of the largest Islamic movements and political opposition organizations in the Arab world.

According to Wikipedia, the Muslim Brotherhood started as a religious social organization; preaching Islam, teaching the illiterate, setting up hospitals, and even launching commercial enterprises. But in 1936, it began to oppose British rule in Egypt. The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, the sayings and traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), as the “sole reference point for ...ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community ... and state.”

The movement officially opposes violent means to achieve its goals, although it, at one time, encompassed a paramilitary wing and its members were involved in the assassination of political opponents, notably Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud Al-Nukrashi Pasha.

Th Egyptian government, under King Farouk, dissolved the organization and arrested its members after the Arab defeat in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The Ikhwan fought bravely in that war, and shared with the Free Officers, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, a resentment toward weak and inefficient Arab governments and armies. Therefore, the MB supported the military coup of 1952, but after its members were accused of the attempted assassination of Nasser in 1954, the organization was once again banned and repressed. They were suppressed in other Arab countries as well and many were killed in Syrian President Hafiz Al-Assad’s Hama massacre in 1982.

The MB is financed by membership fees. Some of these contributions come from members working in oil-rich countries. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates provided safe havens to Ikhwans escaping Nasser’s crackdown. Because many were highly educated, they were given prominent positions in institutions of general education, media and Islamic teaching. A good number of them were influential in establishing religious colleges and designing school curriculum.

Today, after 84 years in the shadows, prisons or underground, the Ikhwans are finally in the driving seat. After prevailing in Turkey, Sudan, Yemen and Gaza, the MB and its affiliates have won executive and/or parliamentary elections in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Libya and Kuwait.

This creates great opportunities and challenges. The Ikhwan can finally deliver what they have promised if they rule in the Islamic spirit of good governance. However, while their supporters are in the millions and are well organized and strong, their many well-supported rivals are also united and determined to see the MB experiment fail. Their adversaries include local and international opponents of Islamic rule and those who doubt the Ikhwan’s intentions.

So now is the prefect time for MB parties to prove themselves worthy of people’s great expectations and to disprove the accusations of their detractors. These accusations include that the MB favors a Taliban-like rule and has  a hidden agenda to activate sleeping cells, topple Gulf regimes and extend the MB system to include the rest of the Muslim world.

If the MB succeed, they may, once and for all, put an end to Ikhwan phobia and Ikhwan bashing. That would be good for them, for their countries, for Islam—and for the rest of us.

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