Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Usama bin Laden Found Where?


The world of visual media produced by transnational militant groups such as al-Qa'ida and (probably loosely-affiliated) like-minded groups in various countries is often "very dark," as a colleague and friend of mine recently remarked. Many of the motifs depict acts of intense and often brutal violence--violence against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, violence against civilians in Iraq and other Islamicate countries, and violence against these groups' perceived enemies, the "murtaddun" (apostates), namely those Muslims (the vast majority) who do not support their radical ideology.

However, it is also possible to find comedy amidst the darkness. How, you ask? Over the past two days, while conducting research for my current project, "The Art of the Martyr & Mujahid," I found a couple of highly comedic motifs, intensely funny (at least to me) in their ridiculousness.

If the first of these images reflects the truth, I know where al-Qa'ida chief Usama bin Laden is. He is here:

What evidence do I have, you ask? Please see below:


The text says, "The Victorious Sect/Societal Group"

Look at this motif very closely. You may recognize the horsemen. Their identities are revealed below:

Yes, Usama bin Laden is apparently the Dark Lord Sauron from J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fictional-historical world of Middle Earth, the centerpiece of his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. How else could he have gained control of "the 9" from Minas Morgul, the "neither living nor dead," the fallen kings of men, the Nazgul?

Usama bin Laden

Dr. Ayman al-Dhwahiri (Zawahiri), the Witch-King of Egypt

I leave you with this gem, complete with a "radioactive" letter "O" :

Osama Radioactive Love

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

AQIM: Video Stills & 'Advertising' Militancy & 'Martyrdom'


"Lovers of the Pure Beings of Paradise"

LoversHur - Alqimmah
Advertising thread for the new al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) video, " 'Ushaq al-Hur" (Lovers of the Pure Beings of Paradise) from the al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah online discussion forums. The main boards are in a language I do not recognize, but am guessing may be Somali. There are also Arabic and English language boards.

Dozens of stills from the hour-plus-long AQIM video were posted in a new thread yesterday on the al-Falujah Islamic Forums by a user named بغداد خلافة , a major Salafi Sunni jihadi online discussion forum,
صور * تنظيم القاعدة بمغرب الإسلام : أروع إصدار / عشاق الحور 2 في صور).

The stills depict AQIM fighter-martyrs, paramilitary and terrorist operations, weapons, and AQIM leaders. A selection from these stills is posted below, to provide illustrations of how militant-terrorist groups such as AQIM address their constituencies, and potential constituencies.

The first post in the thread included the following text:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله
وآله وصحبه ومن والاه إلى يوم الدين

حقيقة هذا إصدار في قمة الروعة والجمال والحزن والحب
والسعادة والبكاء ................يجعلك تدرف الدموع أنهارا
فيتفطر قلبك حبا لأولئك الرجال الغيارى

أولئك آبائي فجئني بمثلهم إذا جمعتنا يا جرير المجامع

فعلا إصدار روعة الله أكبر

إليكم أيها الأحباب هذه الصور المبكية المفرحة

إليكم هذه الصور الخالدة

إليكم أباة الضيم وعشاق الجنان

In the case of AQIM, the organization's members operate across North Africa, from Morocco to Algeria. It should be pointed out that the majority of the region's peoples, who are predominantly Muslim, do not support AQIM or its radical ideological goal of overthrowing regional governments.

The roses symbolize the "gardens" of Paradise

Al-Qa'ida's chief ideologue, the Egyptian medical doctor Ayman al-Dhawahiri (pronounced in Egyptian colloquial Arabic as "Zawahiri") provides short "updates" on AQ and affiliate operations in the first part of the new AQIM video.

Kamikaze/Suicide bomb belts

UPDATE (May 1): I have verified that the al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Summit/Peak, القمة الاسلامية ) online discussion forums are in Somali, with smaller forums in English and Arabic.

UPDATE 2 (MAY 6): The Ansar al-Jihad Network forums also ran an advertisement thread for the new AQIM video. The thread was published in the last few days of April.

Ansar al-Jihad Rafidi
...or click HERE.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib Releases New Video


'Ushaq al-Hur: Lovers of the Hur (Pure Beings of Paradise)

A new video from al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib ("Maghrib" refers to Morocco and the "western" lands of Muslim North Africa) was released on Saturday. The thread and video links were posted today on the al-Falujah Islamic Forums, a major Salafi Sunni jihadi online discussion forum. When al-Sahab and/or its affiliates releases new videos and audio collections, they post them in threads on message boards, providing the requisite passwords, and upload the files to dozens to scores of online file-share web sites, in effect flooding the Internet. Many to most of these files will be taken down as they are discovered and reported to the file-share web sites.
This new video release, like many, comes in several "sizes" (re: MB), from a massive 898.6 MB to a small 62.6 MB version. The thread for this particular video also included URLs to the YouTube upload (see below).

New Video from AQ in the Islamic Maghrib (Part I)

A PDF of the thread can be viewed below.

AQIM Thread
UPDATE (April 27, 2009 @ 3:17 p.m.): Perusing the Internet today for news and bloggage about the new al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib video, it seems that Occident got the scoop, even on the selective translators at the right wing Israeli MEMRI organization, which just published something on the video today (about two hours ago).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kamikaze Bombing Targets Shi'i Pilgrims at Baghdad Shrine, & the 'Shi'i Zarqawi' in Retrospect

The Kadhimayn Shrine, burial place of two of the 12 Shi'i Muslim Imams, in Baghdad, Iraq. Historically, Kadhimiyya was a separate, neighboring city to Baghdad, but now forms a large district in northwestern part of the city.

Suicide Bombers Kill at Least 60 Iraqis at Shi'i Shrine

By Laith Hammoudi & Corinne Reilly
McClatchy Newspapers
[April 24, 2009]

BAGHDAD — In the second day in a row of heavy violence in Iraq, at least 60 people died Friday when two suicide bombers detonated within seconds of each other outside a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad.

Violence in Iraq has been creeping up steadily since March or so. In Baghdad alone, there've been at least 35 explosions so far this month.

More than 80 people died in two suicide attacks Thursday, one in Baghdad and another in the northeastern province of Diyala. The resurgent sectarian violence is raising concerns that security in Iraq is deteriorating just as the United States prepares to draw down its forces and shift its focus to the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under an agreement signed last year between Iraq and the U.S., American troops must leave Iraqi cities by the end of June, and President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw most Americans from Iraq by late 2010. Officials in both governments, however, have said the pullback might be delayed in areas where violence remains high.

Friday's explosions occurred just before noon at a holy site in the capital's Khadamiyah neighborhood that marks the grave of Mousa al Kadhim, a Shiite imam. Crowds were gathered for Friday prayers when the bombers struck, and at least 125 people were wounded, police said.

"There were piles of bodies," said Hammad Faisel, 27, a witness. "I saw a man running after the explosions to get away, but he quickly fell. I watched him die."

Several victims and witnesses said they blamed the recent bombings on al Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. military has said it thinks that the group's ability to carry out major attacks has been reduced severely, but the renewed violence could indicate otherwise.

"The source of this is well-known," said Ali Faisel, 33. "It's al Qaida. They want to provoke sectarian problems and ruin the security situation."

Witnesses said that at least one of the bombers was female, and that she shouted, "God is great," in Arabic just before detonating.

Victims and frantic people searching for loved ones overwhelmed the nearby Khadamiyah Teaching Hospital, where most of the wounded were taken.

Abdul al Ala, 16, lay in a hospital bed with his head bandaged. He was shopping for a cell phone near the shrine when the bombers detonated.

"I fell down and saw glass fly everywhere," he said. "Then someone picked me up and put me in a car. That's all I remember."

Ahmed Zuheir, 37, sat on a bed nearby rocking a crying, bloodied little boy.

"I just came to visit a friend, and then all these victims came in," he said. "No one can find this boy's family. We think they are all dead, so I'm staying with him for now."

"I blame the national police," said Saddam Rasool, a guard at the shrine. "They are supposed to protect the entrances of our neighborhood. How could two suicide bombers get in?"

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Reilly reports for the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star.)


A return of past al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) tactics, tactics that worked so successfully in 2004-2006 in provoking a rabid response from various Iraqi Shi'i militias who retaliated less against AQI and more against random "Sunnis," or those they perceived to be Sunnis based on "concrete" evidence such as first names and surnames. The result was a brief but bloody civil war and the ethno-confessional cleansing of Baghdad's Sunni and mixed neighborhoods. The city was once roughly 50/50 between Arab Iraqi Shi'is and Sunnis. It's now estimated that only 20% of the city's population is Sunni. The Mahdi Army of the Sadr Movement, Faylaq Badr (Badr Corps of the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, one of the three largest Iraqi Shi'i political parties), and other "independent" roving Shi'i militias and death squads have, as Cole and others point out, won the war for Baghdad. Foreign and Iraqi Salafi/Sunni jihadis and Iraqi Shi'i militias, some supported by the Iranian clerical oligarchy, have done all they can to destroy the social fabric of Iraq as a modern nation-state. For this they deserve condemnation.
More than anyone else, the late Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was the ideological godfather of the Salafi jihadi insurgency in Iraq, an insurgency fueled by his murderous hatred of Shi'i Muslims, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and Iraqi Sunnis who did not share his takfiri (declaring other Muslims to be "apostates") ideology.
“[They...Shi'is... are]…a lurking snake, a crafty and malicious scorpion, a spying enemy, and a mortal venom. Here, we are entering a battle on two levels. One is open, against a furious enemy and patent unbelief [the U.S. and foreign, non-Muslim Coalition]; the other is more difficult and fierce, against a cunning enemy who wears the garb of a friend [that of a Muslim], pretends to agree, and calls for solidarity [this may refer to al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr], but harbors evil and takes tortuous paths. He is the heir to the esoteric gangs that traversed the history of Islam and left indelible scars on its face. The attentive observer and careful witness will realize that Shi‘ism is a looming danger and a true challenge. ‘They are the enemies; so beware of them. The curse of God be on them! How are they deluded (away from the Truth)…[al-Zarqawi here anachronistically uses a Qur’anic verse to support his claims about the Shī‘īs].’”[1]

[1] For an annotated translation of al-Zarqawi's letter to AQ chief ideologue Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, see Al-Qaeda in Its Own Words, ed. Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 253.

One may remember a similar attack in 2004 (two kamikaze bombers who detonated their bombs one right after the other in Kadhimayn, one inside the courtyard and the other near the main gates as people spilled out of the shrine, killing at least 67 people.) From a tactical perspective, devoid of morality and emotion for sure, it is quite a successful tactic.

Several years of such attacks eventually provoked segments of the Iraqi Arab Shi'i community to strike back, both at Sunni militias and, more often than not, random Iraqi Sunnis. Individual gang leaders emerged, driving the violence to even more horrific levels. Foreign and Iraqi insurgents continued a widespread campaign of kamikaze bombings and other murderous attacks on marketplaces, cafes, and streets, targeting Iraqi Shi'is specifically, but also anyone who opposed them.

One of the most bloodthirsty Shi'i death squad leaders was an individual who went by the nom de guerre Abu Der'a, "Father of the Shield," though his real name was reportedly Isma'il al-Zirjawi. He was dubbed by many, the "Shi'i Zarqawi," after the bloodthirsty murderer who headed Tawhid wa'l Jihad (Unity and Struggle), a largely foreign Arab Salafi jihadi militant group that was later relabeled "al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers" (though its actual ties to AQ "central" were tenuous at best). Very little is known about Der'a, though he is suspected of murdering hundreds, and some say thousands, of Iraqi Sunnis, including many civilians unconnected with the Salafi jihadi or nationalist insurgent groups. He and his minions were renowned, in infamy, for their brutal tactics. Their victims were often found with signs of vicious torture on their bodies from welding torches, cinder blocks, bats, and electric drills. Der'a is suspected in the high profile kidnapping and assassination of Khamis al-'Ubaydi, a lawyer for deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn, in 2006.

Der'a's ties to the large Iraqi Shi'i paramilitary organizations, specifically the Mahdi Army of al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, were always unclear. He was publicly criticized by al-Sadr and his senior aids. Regardless, during his campaign of terrorism and murder against Iraqi civilians, Der'a was a "free agent" of sorts, despite the expected allegations by U.S. military and government spokespeople that he was an "Iranian agent" (every Shi'i everywhere in the world is an "Iranian agent" to such ignorant/ideologically-driven people).

Two different insurgent groups claimed to have assassinated Dera'a in December 2006. The first was the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a loose umbrella for several foreign and Iraqi Salafi jihadi groups. The second was the Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), an Iraqi nationalist insurgent group led by Isma'il al-Jaburi. The IAI is an organization composed primarily of Iraqi Sunnis, but which includes a sizeable minority contingent from other Iraqi ethno-confessional groups. The IAI's stated goal is to free the country from foreign occupation, and it does not reportedly subscribe to the militant Salafi jihadi ideology of other insurgent groups, like AQI and the ISI.

UPDATE: BBC News reports that the two kamikaze bombers were women. Several women have carried out such attacks since the U.S. and British invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in March 2003. One Iraqi woman bomber failed to set off her bomb belt in a Amman luxury hotel in Jordan in 2005.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jews Shouldn't Make Films About "Mozlems," Sayeth European Jewish Congress 'Prophet'

The irony is crisp: A speech about "tolerance" from a bigot.

'It is strange that Hollywood Jews would make a film about Muslims'

[Only to a bigot such as yourself, Moshe...]

By Ofri Ilani
Ha'aretz; Israel [April 20, 2009]

The president of the European Jewish Congress on Monday waged a verbal attack against members of Hollywood, specifically the makers of Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

"I have seen two movies recently made by Jews in Hollywood," said Dr. Moshe Kantor. "One was Valkyrie, which is a pro-Nazi film. [Hmmm...a film about a plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the German Nazi party...Yes, very "pro-Nazi." Kantor joins his slander-loving soulmate, Dershy, in the netherworld.] The other is Slumdog Millionaire, which deals with the Muslim population in India, and in which one of the characters says, 'Allahu Akhbar' before dying."

"This is strange in my opinion," Kantor said at a press conference at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University.

Kantor added that it is crucial for Jews to understand the educational value of cultural and artistic works.

"Schindler's List was the [popular] movie at the end of the last century," said Kantor. "What is the popular movie today? Slumdog Millionaire, which deals with Muslims. This reflects the fact that values in the world have changed." [Not the "Mozlems"!!! Heavens, Nooooo! Kantor probably cries himself to sleep each night, lamenting the fact people, thankfully, aren't as bigoted as he is. What a waste of air and space...An individual worthy of contempt...]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Society of the Muslim Brothers: The Brotherhood & the Wars

By Joshua Stacher
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Kent State University

Middle East Report
, No. 250 [Spring 2009]

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.....

The shoes thrown by Muntadhar al-Zaydi at George W. Bush during the former president’s farewell tour of Iraq have added an icon to the international culture of protest. During Israel’s wintertime war on Gaza, which, according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health, killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and left over 5,300 injured and maimed, demonstrators in London threw shoes at 10 Downing Street. In February, a heckler in Sweden hurled footwear at the Israeli ambassador. Popular frustration at Operation Cast Lead was, of course, even more intense the closer one got to Gaza.
Deputy Guide Muhammad Habib. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/Reuters/Landov)

In Egypt, where President Husni Mubarak was exposed yet again as local enforcer of the long-standing international blockade of Gaza, nationwide protests spanning the political spectrum called the state to action. On January 9, al-Jazeera reported that nearly 100,000 people took to the streets of Alexandria for a “day of rage.” The same day, according to the independent newspaper al-Masri al-Yawm, some 200,000 Muslim Brothers staged over 90 demonstrations after Friday prayers.[1] The most frequent demands were that the government abide by two Egyptian court rulings that natural gas exports to Israel be halted, open the border crossing at Rafah for humanitarian relief, and expel the Israeli envoy in Cairo. The Mubarak regime met these demands with silence, but not with stillness.

To preempt huge demonstrations in the capital, the regime pulled the bulk of its security forces into Cairo. After Friday prayers every week throughout the Israeli assault, police were stationed at the entrances of Metro stations near major mosques like al-Fath in Cairo’s central Ramsis Square. The mosques themselves were blanketed with security personnel. In the rest of the country, the regime allowed the demonstrations, but then carried out mass arrests of the participants. No group felt the regime’s hammer blow as acutely as the Society of Muslim Brothers. According to the group’s official website, nearly 1,700 Brothers were arrested for their Gaza-related activism. Yet it was another shoe throwing incident that truly defined the political moment.

“Are You Muslims?”

In Parliament, deputies of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) defended the regime’s stance against the seething anger of the opposition, including the 86 affiliates of the Muslim Brothers who have served in the legislature since 2005. The kettle boiled over when, in open session on January 10, NDP MP Hasan Nash’at suggested that the Brothers’ bloc was working on behalf of Egypt’s enemies—meaning Hamas. Members of the Brothers’ delegation shouted back. Nash’at escalated the attack: “You are traitors!” For Ashraf Badr al-Din, who represents Ashmoun district in the Minufiyya governorate, this was too much. He removed his shoe and launched it at Nash’at. A skirmish ensued, and the Brothers trooped out of the hall yelling that NDP members were the traitors because they had closed the Rafah border and continued to export gas to Israel. The group demanded an apology from the speaker of Parliament, Mubarak loyalist Fathi Surour. It was not forthcoming. Other verbal battles broke out throughout the day. On the Foreign Relations Committee, Brother MP Sayyid ‘Askar argued, “Islam comes before Egypt,” to which the NDP’s Mustafa al-Fiqqi, who owes his Damanhour seat to egregious rigging,[2] replied, “No, Egypt comes first.”

Nearly all the opposition and independent papers led with a picture of Badr al-Din readying his projectile. It was a public relations coup for the Brothers, the photograph capturing the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Egyptians about the government’s position. The regime struck back, referring Badr al-Din to the Ethics Committee the following day, where he and his colleagues heard a torturously ironic lecture on civilized parliamentary behavior. Surour concluded by rhetorically asking the Brothers, “Are you Muslims?” A decent Muslim, he implied, would not have shamed the assembly in such a fashion. On February 11, Badr al-Din was suspended from Parliament until November, though deputies resisted calls to divest him of his seat.

The disagreement between the state and the Brothers is not about whether Egypt or Islam comes first—though it serves the interests of both sides to frame their dispute in this way. Rather, the bone of contention is the regime’s subservience to Washington, in the teeth of the opposition of the Egyptian people, to whom the Brothers faithfully try to appeal. Not that any Egyptian needed reminding, but the Brothers worked assiduously to keep Gaza visible during the fighting. Al-Jazeera played on muted flat-screen televisions during meetings with senior leaders. Signs displaying bloodied Palestinians hung in the hallways and off the facades of their office buildings. At the door of the Doctors’ Syndicate, controlled by the Brothers, a large paper Israeli flag covered the floor, making it impossible for those entering the building not to step on the symbol of Jewish state.

A policewoman arrests a Muslim Brotherhood activist during a rally in support of Palestinians in Gaza in downtown Cairo, January 21, 2009. (Mohamed Ahmed/AP)

There are at least three wars raging simultaneously around Egypt’s Muslim Brothers—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the state’s battle with the Brothers and, most importantly, the contention for leadership within the group. All these struggles have deepened the conservatism that, for the time being, is winning out within the Islamists’ leadership.

“Goodbye Kiss”

While the Brothers are focused on Egypt, they are deeply concerned with one regional issue—the question of Palestine. As a minority bloc in Parliament, the Brothers can make only symbolic efforts at steering a course independent of the regime. During the Gaza war, as previously, the group and its charity arms attempted to ship medical and food aid to the Palestinians, only to be blocked by the Egyptian military.

In response, some prominent Brothers make the case that the group should eschew potential engagement with the United States, chief patron of the Mubarak regime. As Muhammad Mursi, a member of the Brothers’ Guidance Office, emotionally puts it, “We don’t ‘invade’ people. We choose to use ideas to win support. The American taxpayers are buying the hatred of other people. We will never forget in the future how to hate America because of all this running blood. Yes, the Zionists are doing it, but with the diplomatic support of the US. As long as they are doing this, the resistance will never stop. You can be strong and militarily superior but no one will listen if you’re doing inhumane things.”[3]

If Muntadhar al-Zaydi called his flying shoes a “goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people” to Bush, many Middle Easterners considered Bush’s unflagging support for Operation Cast Lead to be a similar parting shot at them. The former president unquestionably rendered the region more polarized than when he arrived in office. From the regime change that fragmented Iraq, to the carte blanche given the Israeli military, to the contradiction between his “freedom agenda” and unmitigated support for dictators like Mubarak, Bush left behind a Middle East that is less democratic, less tolerant and less hopeful than it was in 2001. The anti-Americanism in Mursi’s commentary is part of the wave of reactionary sentiment that Bush’s policies encouraged.

The Gaza war was an enabler of the anti-engagement trend among the Brothers. It bolstered the credibility of the group’s more conservative leaders when they lobby the base that the pragmatic wing’s participatory spirit has led the Brothers to a dead end, where they are just as powerless to affect Egyptian foreign policy as they were when underground. Instead of contesting the regime in the widest domain possible, the conservatives argue that the Brothers should prioritize peaceful “resistance” to the US-Israeli military order, in solidarity with those who have taken up arms against it.

Stormed by the Castle

Since winning an unprecedented number of seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brothers have been subject to unrelenting pressure from the state to block their effective participation in governance. The linchpin of the state’s strategy has been to tighten the legal screws on the Islamists. With the March 2007 amendments to the constitution, the status of the group was downgraded from legally banned (as it had been since 1954) to constitutionally prohibited. Article 5 of the constitution now explicitly states that no group or political activity based on religion is permitted.

Essam al-Erian, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. (Nasser Nuri/Reuters/Landov)

While this measure all but ensures that the Brothers will never be able to compete for the country’s highest office, it also expands the state’s security rationale for extirpating the Brothers from national political life. While it may seem like semantics, the results of this policy shift are apparent on the ground in two cases that are suggestive of what 2010 parliamentary elections portend. According to Deputy Guide Muhammad Habib, the past is prologue.[4]

In elections for the upper house of Parliament during June 2007, the Brothers lost all 19 of their races in rigged balloting. Yet the regime’s manipulations on this occasion pale in comparison to those during the postponed municipal elections in April 2008. In those contests, the organization claims it wished to field 10,000 candidates for the 52,000 positions on offer.[5] Over 6,000 Brothers filed the requisite paperwork, and 2,664 of those obtained court orders affirming their right to compete after being excluded by the security-bureaucratic machinery. The authorities ignored the judicial decisions. Only 20 of the Brothers made it onto the ballot. All lost as hundreds of the Brothers’ candidates and campaign workers were imprisoned.

The leadup to these elections reveals the internal strain the state placed on the Brothers. The candidates initially vowed to contest the elections from prison.[6] Essam al-Erian, a key reformist voice, wrote, “We decided to run for office in order to continue struggling for peaceful reform, to mobilize the streets against desperation and to encourage more people to join the struggle for freedom and democracy instead of losing hope and resorting to violence.”[7] Running from jail, the reformists said, would put the regime on the defensive. But a day before ballots were cast, the Brothers announced their decision to boycott, at the behest of the more conservative faction.

The boycott is not the faction’s only victory as a result of state interference. A revolving door of detentions of the rank and file and more methodical targeting of leading Brothers has also fomented discord, to the conservatives’ benefit.

The single most important development in state-Brother relations is the December 2006 arrest—and eventual imprisonment—of Khayrat al-Shatir. A prominent businessman, al-Shatir was the organization’s liaison with state security and a staunch proponent of engaging Western governments. His op-ed during the 2005 elections exemplifies the pragmatic political thought he advocated at the Guidance Office at that time.[8] Al-Shatir was also responsible for mobilizing the youth of the Brothers into trained units—attracting the regime’s attention. As one young Brother commented, “He breathed life into the youth…. That is why he and his son-in-law were arrested and tried in front of a military tribunal but the head of the student department was left alone. A lot of people talk about his money, but it was because he is a man of organization.”[9]

In the week after the fixed 2008 local elections, the military tribunal convened by Mubarak in 2007 finally sentenced al-Shatir to seven years in jail. With his arrest, the Brothers lost an important balancing figure at the Guidance Office. It is hard to separate al-Shatir’s personal influence from that of the larger arrest campaign, but the result has been that conservative elements have asserted themselves. The more conservative Brothers wish to retrench in a bunker of relative safety, drawing down the extent of their vocal participation in formal politics, ceasing negotiations with the regime and resuming a focus on evangelism (da‘wa). According to one younger Brother not in the leadership structure, “[Conservatives] have different thoughts about politics and about society than many of us. They focus only on preserving the group.”[10]

The 2005 elections and the Brothers’ exciting first year in Parliament may prove to be the apex of the pragmatists’ internal clout.

The War Within

The influential scholar Khalil al-‘Anani argues that there are four key generations within the Society of Muslim Brothers.[11] The oldest generation, including General Guide Mahdi ‘Akif and Guidance Office members Mahmoud Ghazlan, Mahmoud ‘Izzat and Lashin Abu Shanab, is the most conservative religiously and politically because of the repression and state-sanctioned torture of the Nasser years. The elders’ prominence, in turn, boosts the fortunes of the more conservative elements in the 1970s generation. This group al-‘Anani describes as politically pragmatic but religiously conservative, pointing to such figures as Muhammad Habib, Muhammad Mursi and al-Shatir. The 1970s generation also encompasses such reform-minded Brothers as ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futouh and Gamal Hishmat. The third generation, centered in the provinces, is not well known, but is seen as more categorically conservative due to its rural roots and Mubarak’s harsh treatment of Islamists in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The logo of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, the Muslim Brotherhood, also known as the Society of the Muslim Brothers, and a digital portrait of its founder, Hasan al-Banna.

Lastly, there is what al-‘Anani calls the “technological generation,”[12] featuring such names as Ibrahim al-Hudaybi (the grandson and great-grandson of past General Guides), Society website editor Khalid Hamza and blogger-journalist ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud. This faction seeks to modernize the Brothers’ political and religious discourse, as well as to democratize the group’s structure. According to al-‘Anani, “They want a political party, accept democratic values such as freedom of expression, are interested in coalition building with other trends, and understand the complexity of international conflicts and the need to cut deals with the US.”[13] While he concedes that the young Brothers do not hold central positions, he insists that such thinking matters.

Throughout the Society’s 81 years of existence, disenfranchised groups have split off to the right and the left. While splinter groups that employ violence such as al-Jihad or al-Gama‘at al-Islamiyya receive more attention, the technologically savvy Brothers resemble the precedent of Hizb al-Wasat, which, under the leadership of Abu al-‘Ila al-Madi, broke with the Brothers in January 1996 but has since failed to cohere. Rather than repeat al-Madi’s mistake, today’s youthful cadre wishes to remain a part of the Society and reform it from within.

This type of thinking about the Brothers is seductive, evoking as it does archetypes of authoritarian elders out of touch with a changing world and young democrats pounding on the door. A Los Angeles Times journalist has waxed eloquent about young Brother blogger Mustafa al-Naggar’s democratizing desires.[14] Other articles exploring the same theme and the same set of Brother bloggers have also appeared, including in this magazine.[15] The generational argument is being adopted as the explanation for political proclivities, with the old said to be more conservative, the younger more liberal and those in the middle the gatekeepers who will slow the pace of change. Al-‘Anani, for his part, says the young generation’s pitfall will be that they lack the backing of the 1970s generation.

The Brothers’ leadership, naturally, resists the notion that significant divides exist within the rank and file. Deputy Guide Habib contends, “There is a mixing [of trends] but no struggle inside the group.”[16] Muhammad Mursi argues similarly: “Ideologically, there is one stream with a few eddies.”[17] But Brothers of all trends concur that such disagreements as do exist do not track neatly with generation. As one Brother observes, “Generationally, we are in all places. People can be in the same generation but think about politics, da‘wa and society differently. People like Saad Husayni and Muhammad Mursi are completely different from Khayrat [al-Shatir]. They want different things.”[18]

It is more instructive to categorize the Brothers by political orientation. Young Brother ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud says, “There are the pragmatists and conservatives. But there are also those wanting to follow the apolitical ‘Amr Khalid-type of Islam, as well as a core of salafis who have strict interpretations of Islam. In addition to those are people that use technology and are open-minded about the world. I am with the last group, but we are a minority. The problem with those [analysts] attracted to our language is that they fell in love and started running behind us. That is not the Brothers.”[19] One could add to this list a small group of liberals.

This plurality of trends makes the debates within the group heated and healthy, and is one secret to the Brothers’ longevity and predictable responsibility. Yet the persistence of factions is also an Achilles’ heel, as seen in the chaotic launch of a party platform in 2007 or the perennial waffling about street politics.

It is best, moreover, to conceive of Mahdi ‘Akif as a chief executive officer rather than an eminence grise exerting the largest influence on the organization’s policy. The elders are respected for their seniority and their suffering, but the real political struggle is happening at the levels below them. The multiplicity of competing trends ends up pitting those who lobby for open, pragmatic participation against those focused on the Society’s survival as the ultimate concern. The principles are the same, but the interpretation of those principles determines whether politics drives the da‘wa or the da‘wa produces the political approach.

The pragmatists are more willing to negotiate with the Egyptian state, so as to be ready to take advantage of cracks in the authoritarian order. It is this group of activists who commanded student union elections in the 1970s, engineered the takeover of most of the professional syndicates and served in parliamentary coalitions with the Wafd and Labor Parties during the 1980s. The core of this grouping was also sent to prison by the military tribunals of 1995. While describing their worldview as Western is inaccurate, they are ideologically flexible and open to compromise. As the head of the political department, Essam al-Erian, argues, “All [of us] are interested in da‘wa, but there are some that are open to the world and those that are closed.”[20] Proponents of this trend focus on finding fellow travelers. They frame their positions on the basis of political and civil rights; notions of rule of law, rather than moral or religious rectitude, drive their thinking and strategy. Indicative is Muhammad Habib’s analysis of the political scene: “Since the results of the [2005] elections, there have been focused attacks that leave no role for a political life. The system is using military courts and freezing financial assets. It is a system that does not follow the law or constitution or judicial rulings…. There are no real freedoms as a narrow slice is ruling and enforcing politics [on society].”[21] There is nothing particularly Islamist about this analysis; it could easily come from the mouth of a secular opposition leader.

The pragmatist faction’s members can be found on the group’s two most important bodies: the 90-person Shura Council and 12-member Guidance Office. A number of pragmatist figures also help to oversee the approximately 30 departments dealing with civic, political and social life.

The other leading trend—more ideologically rigid—also has membership in the various departments, and on the Shura Council and Guidance Office. They tend to view politics as a byproduct of the outreach mission, which one performs by being a consummate Muslim to convert citizens to an Islamic lifestyle. Muhammad Mursi reveals this outlook when discussing the process of preparing candidates for 2010 parliamentary elections. “We believe that a candidate is serving God by serving society. Preparing him means [for him] to become a really good Muslim. It requires that you live and work in your constituency. You raise your family there. It means you attend the weddings and funerals of your neighbors. People see you in the mosque—not the bar.”[22] Though the conservatives care about political and civil rights, what informs their political positions is an adherence to centrist interpretations of Islam.

One Brotherhood member resolutely dismissed the idea that social class is indicative of an individual’s political orientation. “I personally know the sons of millionaires in the Brothers. And most of them are conservative. Whether one is open-minded or close-minded is because of the differences between the countryside and the cities. People in the countryside have different values and perspectives. When you migrate from the country to the city, your mind opens.”[23] To others, such as Mursi, this analysis is ludicrous. As he laughingly says, “This is Egypt. Everyone is from the countryside.”[24] Indeed, it is highly debatable that urban or rural origins predict whether a Brother will be pragmatist or conservative.

Peasants vs. City Slickers

In May 2008, the Shura Council conducted a secret election to elevate five new men to the Guidance Office. The Guidance Office is the highest policy body and oversees the group’s operations in the governorates. Needing to fill three vacated slots (including that of the jailed al-Shatir), the group decided to elect an additional two people as backups in the event of deaths or more arrests. The election turned into a referendum on the Society’s future trajectory. The result produced a noticeable shift toward the more conservative faction.

Parliamentary bloc leader Muhammad Saad al-Kitatni and Muhi al-Din Hamid filled the first two positions. Al-Kitatni sits closer to the conservatives than the pragmatists, while Hamid is a close ally of Secretary-General Mahmoud ‘Izzat—a leading conservative. The backup positions were split evenly, with Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman representing the conservatives and Usama Nasr, a close associate of al-Shatir, aligned with the pragmatists.

The last Guidance Office race came down to a choice between Essam al-Erian and the Brothers’ MP from Mahalla al-Kubra, Saad Husayni, a confidante of Muhammad Mursi. According to one Brother familiar with the vote, al-Erian amassed 36 votes but Husayni cruised to victory. Al-Erian declined to go into particulars as he recalled the vote. “What do you want to know? It was a security vote. It was democratic but the pressure influenced the outcome. It is better for the conservatives. Tough conditions empower the hardliners.” Al-Erian would not define a conservative precisely but hinted at issues of transparency. “They like closed meetings,” he said.[25] Asked what his 36 votes say about the group’s orientation, al-Erian feigned a smile and replied, “I do not know how many votes I got. All I know is who won. The composition of the Shura Council gives the countryside the advantage.”[26]

Taking into account al-Erian’s defeat, four of the five positions went to the less ideologically flexible. As al-‘Anani argues, “The chief beneficiary of these elections is the regime itself, as it has thrown the group into the lap of conservatives and has dashed the hopes of reformists to steer the group toward change.”[27] Seven of the remaining nine Guidance Office members lean more to the right than the center.

In keeping with al-Erian’s implication, Husam Tammam, author of a recent book on the Brothers,[28] penned an op-ed arguing that the group should no longer be considered an urban movement. As he notes, most newcomers to the Guidance Office in the past decade have come from the provinces rather than cities. They have brought with them the stereotypical villager’s shortcomings—“traditional” values, suspicion of the new, unquestioning loyalty to leadership and lack of critical thinking skills. The Westernization process in cities, he adds, leaves people seeking comfort in the familiarity of an authentic Egypt. “The Muslim Brotherhood can run effective campaigns and even win elections in many areas in Egypt’s countryside. Yet it is my belief that the countryside is affecting the Muslim Brotherhood more than the Muslim Brotherhood is affecting it…. The new breed of Muslim Brotherhood leaders is rural in its ways.”[29] The internal elections for national positions would initially suggest that conservative leaders do benefit from rural bases of support.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, Muhammad Mahdi 'Akef.

And yet, it seems a leap to conclude that rural ways are the engine of the increased conservatism. One can assume that candidates draw their chief support from the places where they reside. As has been noted, parliamentary candidates live and work amidst their constituencies. It is these grassroots ties that enable them to defeat other parties when elections are relatively free of state security interference. Just as protests are blocked in the capital but allowed in the periphery, so the security forces are less worried about manipulating electoral exercises outside Cairo. Though regime shenanigans in the capital stack Cairo and Giza governorates with regime loyalists, the Brothers do comparatively better in rural governorates, and are most successful in the Delta.

By unintentionally privileging the Brothers in rural areas, the regime allows power bases to develop that can rival the group’s constantly policed urban centers. The power centers that emerge each guard their turf. The divide within the Society, therefore, should not be attributed to an essentialized or imagined rural culture. Just as the establishment of the Society, as Sami Zubaida reminds us, was not a simple “return” to classical Islamic heritage,[30] so today’s struggles within the group are a product of contemporary history—in particular, the Brothers’ institutional memory, heightened state repression and the polarizing impact of US policies.

Shoe Bombs

Leading Brothers shun the concept of classifying the Brothers into groups. As Habib scoffs, “This is an academic theory. We work on an institutional basis, and there is no internal struggle.”[31] But there is no disputing that the current balance of power within the Shura Council and Guidance Office favors Brothers from the rural Delta governorates. This structural bias has produced a platform from which to vie with other factions for control over the group’s institutions.

Just because the pragmatists do not pull the levers of power within the Muslim Brothers does not mean they will vanish. The struggle for the Society’s soul continues.

But, in the short term, concerns for group preservation will trump ideological flexibility and openness. The Brothers will withdraw from politics as they continue to proselytize Egyptian society. They intend to run in the 2010 elections, but it is unlikely that they will compete for a third of the assembly’s seats as they did in 2005. The pending release of an updated party platform promises to reveal disappointingly limited advances in the Brothers’ official positions on religious minorities, women’s representation and the establishment of an ambiguously explained Higher ‘Ulama Council. The Brothers will certainly not challenge the presidential succession should Gamal Mubarak take over his father’s office, as is widely expected. As one young Brother says, “The system benefits from the conservatives [because] it is impossible for them to bargain with the regime. The Brothers will not move at the moment of change [in power]. The Brothers will be silent.”[32]

Hidebound, corrupt and hopelessly compromised by its dependency upon Washington, the Egyptian regime does not have the option to open up political competition. Its chief political organ, the NDP, cannot defeat the Brothers in parliamentary deliberations, on election ballots or in the realm of public opinion. The state, then, is forced to solve its political problems using violence and intimidation. In such a climate, the urge to disengage from politics flourishes.

It is hence unlikely, for the time being, that the Brothers will cause political explosions larger than the throwing of shoes. No mere ineffectual protest, it is a moral claim, a classic weapon of the weak to be deployed when the channels of responsible political participation remain closed. As ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud remarks, “It isn’t funny at all. George Bush bombs us with real bombs and we can only reply with shoes.”


[1] Al-Masri al-Yawm, January 10, 2009.

[2] Joshua Stacher, “Damanhour by Hook and by Crook,” Middle East Report 238 (Spring 2006).

[3] Interview with Muhammad Mursi, Cairo, January 12, 2009.

[4] Interview with Muhammad Habib, Cairo, January 8, 2009.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Reuters, March 5, 2008.

[7] Essam al-Erian, “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Belongs on the Ballot, Not Behind Bars,” Forward, April 3, 2008.

[8] Khayrat al-Shatir, “No Need To Be Afraid of Us,” Guardian, November 23, 2005.

[9] Interview, Cairo, January 11, 2009.

[10] Interview, Cairo, January 11, 2009.

[11] Khalil al-‘Anani, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun fi Misr: shaykhukha tusari‘ al-zaman (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq al-Dawliyya, 2007).

[12] Interview with Khalil al-‘Anani, Cairo, January 11, 2009.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Jeffrey Fleishman, “Egypt’s Opposition Faces Internal Dissent,” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2008.

[15] See Marc Lynch, “Young Brothers in Cyberspace,” Middle East Report 245 (Winter 2007); Joseph Mayton, “Muslim Brotherhood Bloggers Could Be Washington’s Hope,” Middle East Times, December 9, 2008; and Samantha Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” New York Times Magazine, January 25, 2009.

[16] Interview with Muhammad Habib, Cairo, January 8, 2009.

[17] Interview with Muhammad Mursi, Cairo, January 12, 2009.

[18] Interview, Cairo, January 11, 2009.

[19] Interview with ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud, Cairo, January 11, 2009.

[20] Interview with Essam al-Erian, Cairo, January 12, 2009.

[21] Interview with Muhammad Habib, Cairo, January 8, 2009.

[22] Interview with Muhammad Mursi, Cairo, January 12, 2009.

[23] Interview with ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud, Cairo, January 11, 2009.

[24] Interview with Muhammad Mursi, Cairo, January 12, 2009.

[25] Interview with Essam al-Erian, Cairo, January 12, 2009.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Khalil al-‘Anani, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Internal Elections,” Brookings Opinions, June 3, 2008, accessible online at

[28] Husam Tammam, Tahawwulat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Cairo: Madbouli, 2006).

[29] Husam Tammam, “MB Goes Rural,” Al-Ahram Weekly, October 23–29, 2008.

[30] Sami Zubaida, Islam, the People and the State (London: I. B. Tauris, 1989), pp. 40–41.

[31] Interview with Muhammad Habib, Cairo, January 8, 2009.

[32] Interview, Cairo, January 11, 2009