Thursday, April 03, 2008

French Islamicist Gilles Kepel on the Evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood(s)

Note: I was a bit surprised when I heard that the well-known French Islamicist Gilles Kepel had associated himself with the Hudson Institute, an American right-wing looney think tank, particularly given his criticism of American foreign policy in his last book, The War for Muslim Minds. Here is his first article for Hudson in which Kepel analyzes the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood movement from Egypt into the wider Arab Middle East in an environment which increasingly dominated by Salafi thought among Sunnis. I've never agreed with everything Kepel argues and his approach, like that of fellow French Islamacist Olivier Roy, is a bit old fashioned in the fact that he seems incapable of looking at Muslim communities as communities apart from their religious affiliation.

The Brotherhood in the Salafist Universe

February 4, 2008

Nineteen-seventy-one was a watershed year in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist movement at large. The Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser had died the year before, and his successor, Anwar Sadat, adopted an altogether more conciliatory approach toward the Muslim Brotherhood. This effectively brought the era of the Nasserist repression of the Islamist movement in the 1950s and ’60sto a formal close. Although the Brotherhood had been almost entirely destroyed during Nasser’s reign, the era produced several important outcomes that helped to shape the Brotherhood’s rebound and the future development of the Islamist movement as a whole.

First of all, Nasser’s brutal policies helped to elevate those Brotherhood leaders whom Nasser had imprisoned and hanged to the status of Muslim martyrs. These Brothers became widely revered as the first martyrs of the post-colonial Muslim world,and after 1971, this helped to improve the Brotherhood movement’s political prospects as a whole. Said Qutb, who is still often referred to as “the martyr Sayid Qutb,” is especially significant in this regard. His martyrdom automatically con- ferred upon him enormous respect, and this in turn helped the Brotherhood tremendously in their efforts to reach out to ordinary Muslims and to build political legitimacy.

Nasser’s [BELOW] authoritarian policies also helped to de-legitimize the secular Arab regimes that had been formed after the end of the colonial period. The fact that many of the Brothers were sent to prison or concentration camps and then executed came to be seen widelyas a metaphor: Arab society was imprisoned by secular Arab rulers, who were betraying all the popular ideals of post-colonial independence.
Qutb, for example, was incarcerated in Nasser’s prisons until 1965 and then, after a brief reprieve, jailed yet again and hanged in 1966. This sort of betrayal of a Muslim martyr lent new credibility to the Brotherhood’s claimsthat secular Arab regimes did not deserve popular support.

Another important outcome of the Nasserite era was that it sent many Egyptian Brothers into exile. The Egyptians fled to a number of countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others on the Arabian Peninsula; Pakistan and Afghanistan in Southwest Asia; and countries in North Africa and Europe. This Brotherhood Diaspora facilitated not only the spread of the movement’s ideology, but also the establishment of its very strong international networks. In addition to dawaormissionary networks, the Brothers built financial, educational and university networks as well. In this way, theera ofNasserite repression actually fostered the growth of the Brotherhood’s “world web.”

And yet, despite these improvements in the Brotherhood’s overall political prospects after Nasser, the Brotherhood also had new challengers to contend with after 1971—including Islamists themselves. From its founding in the late 1920s to the early days of Nasser’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood was thesingle most prominent Islamist organization. With virtually no organized competition or alternatives, the Brotherhood was seen as the quintessential point of reference among Islamist sympathizers. But as the Brotherhood was being crushed in Egypt, itcame under increasing criticism from within its own ranks and from Islamists outside, and was held accountable for its failures. Why had the Brotherhood been unable to resist Nasser’s oppression when they were such a strong mass movement in the early 1950s? What kind of mistakes had they made? Wasn’t it time for the Islamist movement to find and adopt a new course in order to overcome its shortcomings?

These questions created deep disputes and, ultimately, a schism within the Brotherhood movement itself that came increasingly to the fore after 1971. On the one hand were those who supported the more radical ideas of Said Qutb, and on the other, those who supported the more traditional, politically-oriented views of Hasan Hudaybi, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide in the 1960s. That ideological schism, combined with the general autonomy that the Brotherhood’s international branches gained after its central leadership in Egypt was crushed by Nasser, created even more rifts within the Islamist movement, and led to the formation of a diverse new range of organizations.

Today, the Brotherhood itself can no longer be considered the single, unified entity that it once had been before Nasser’s repression. The divergent roles of the Brotherhood’s branches in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and a number of other countries attest to this fact. Several Islamic political movements—the AKP in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, the Algerian Hamas movement, among others—are ideologically and politically indebted to the Brotherhood, though they don’t necessarily claim the lineage and can not be considered “true green” Brothers. Similarly, the jihadist wing of the Salafist movement, which is today led by al-Qaeda, is clearly an ideological offspring of the Brotherhood, though they have emphatically repudiated their connections totheir parent body. To understand this diversification within the Brotherhood and the Islamic movement as a whole, it is important to understand the new political realities and dynamics that emerged in post-Nasserist Arab societies after 1971.To read the rest of the article, go to:

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