February 1, 2011

Pay No Attention to the Lunatic Right: Why Americans Shouldn’t Fear the Muslim Brotherhood

(Updated Below)

The Hosni Mubarak Fan Club just keeps growing bigger and bigger.  From Bill O’Reilly and Pamella Geller (those two really ought to tie the knot) to John Bolton and Mike Huckabee, the Lunatic Right continues explaining why we can’t let democracy prevail in Egypt.  Because, they warn, if Egyptians are given freedom, then they’ll just turn to the Muslim Brotherhood, which, don’t ya know, is an organization comprised of “jihadists who hate America and who will help al-Qaeda all day long” (O’Reilly).    

Unsurprisingly, all this shrieking about the Muslim Brotherhood being in league with al-Qaeda has no basis in reality.  The Brotherhood has long renounced violence.  Writing in Foreign Affairs, Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke chronicle [.pdf] how the Brotherhood rejected the more radical teachings of Sayyid Qutb (rightly referred to as the father of global Islamic terrorism) in the 1950s and 1960s.  In the years that followed, the group “followed the path of toleration and eventually came to find democracy compatible with its notion of slow Islamization.”
On the other hand: “Having lost the internal struggle for the Brotherhood, the radicals regrouped outside it, in sects that sought to topple regimes throughout the Muslim world. (Groups such as al Jihad would furnish the Egyptian core of al Qaeda.) These jihadists view the Brotherhood’s embrace of democracy as blasphemy.”

Far from engaging in terrorism, Leiken and Brooke write that it appears that the Brotherhood today “works to dissuade Muslims from violence, instead channeling them into politics and charitable activities.”  It’s not surprising then that, as Nathan Brown of George Washington University writes, al-Qaeda “openly and consistently attacks the Brotherhood as having sold out.” 

Of course, such facts as these aren’t going to get in the way of the Lunatic Right.  Writing in the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn insists that the Muslim Brotherhood really does have al-Qaeda ties.  As proof, he points to “Rajab Hilal Hamida, a member of the Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliament,” who has publicly defended the likes of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.  Of course, if you do a simple Google search, you’ll learn that, unlike Joscelyn claims, Rajab Hilal Hamida isn’t actually a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He’s a member of the secular Ghad Party, as can be evidenced here and here and here. So much for Joscelyn’s first argument.

Trying to further establish the Muslim Brotherhood-al-Qaeda connection, Joscelyn writes that “just this week CNN reported that the Saudis found in a recent investigation that the Muslim Brotherhood maintains ties to al Qaeda.”  But if you read the CNN report, you’ll learn that Saudi Arabia didn’t conclude that “the Muslim Brotherhood maintains ties to al-Qaeda.”  Rather, Saudi Arabia concluded that “some in the Muslim Brotherhood had ‘historic sympathies and connection’ with members of the terror group.”  Given that there are millions of members within the Muslim Brotherhood, this is hardly surprising, and it doesn’t prove anything about the organization as a whole.  In the same way, noting that some US soldiers kill Afghan civilians for fun and collect their fingers as trophies doesn’t prove that the US Army [as a whole] does this.

Now I don’t write any of this to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood is a perfectly benevolent organization with perfectly pacifistic members who have all fully embraced the tenets of secular democracy.  It definitely has its problems. (For more on this, see the Crisis Group’s 2008 report, “Egypt’s Muslim Brothers: Confrontation or Integration?”)  But although the group has its problems, it’s simply preposterous to conclude, along with O’Reilly and Joscelyn, that it is allied with al-Qaeda. 

As Leiken and Brooke write, “The Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy.”  For this reason, it’s important that the Obama administration follow the advice of former CIA Officer Bruce Riedel and “not be afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Living with it won’t be easy but it should not be seen as inevitably our enemy.” 

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Update, 2/7/11: 

From Eurasia Review:
Egypt’s main opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, have rejected calls by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for an Islamic Revolution similar to the Iranian revolution of 1979 to be established in Egypt. 
“The MB regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” said a statement published on the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website just hours after Khamenei’s remarks on Friday, while “asserting that the Egyptian People’s Revolution includes Muslims, Christians, from all sects and political.”

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