Western Myths and Muslim Brotherhood Realities

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Written by Andrew E. Harrod

Many in American political circles have long believed that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate organization-one that has embraced democratic procedures. But this fallacy was recently debunked by MB expert Eric Trager, who burst such illusions with insight that is essential for any policymakers contending with the Middle East.

The elite Society of the Muslim Brothers is supported by many throughout the Arab world and has influenced other Islamist groups such as Hamas. As of 2015, it is now considered a terrorist organization by Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days contains “detailed interviews of a broad range of people deep inside the Muslim Brotherhood, deep inside the Egyptian state [and] deep inside American foreign policy hierarchy dealing with Egypt.” To kick off the book launch, Washington Institute for Near East Policy Executive Director Robert Satloff introduced Trager and praised the book’s well-researched and vitally important content.

According to this volume, the MB’s rise and fall from power in Egypt in 2012-2013 “is not merely a closed chapter of Egypt’s political history, nor is it a closed chapter in the broader history of where the Middle East is going.” The MB and similar groups “remain parts of the Egyptian political fabric, and they remain important actors in countries elsewhere in the Middle East.”

Trager gave a personal account of the people power of Cairo Egyptians whose demonstrations-beginning on Jan. 25, 2011-led to the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak. “As an American, it hit every myth that I think I-and probably most Americans-want to believe about the world: that people fundamentally yearn for freedom,” Trager said. “Watching people march against a dictator is something that I will never forget, and I feel frankly honored to have been able to witness.”

But Trager focused on the Arab Spring’s darker side in Egypt that was manifested by the MB’s rise to power. The MB’s 1928 founder Hassan al-Banna envisioned a long-term plan in which individuals and families in Egypt were indoctrinated into an Islamic political ideology that was then spread throughout multiple Muslim countries around the world. In his mind, this process would result in a “global Islamic state” with “Islam as an all-encompassing concept meant to guide every aspect of life.”

The author explained that becoming a “Muslim Brother” and joining this “very totalitarian organization” is a long, arduous process that takes between five and eight years.

You ascend through multiple ranks. As you rise through the ranks, you are tested on your commitment to the organization and its cause. If you are the kind of person who asks too many questions-if you disagree too openly-they will demote, they will investigate you; they will throw you out.

Egyptian-American journalist Nancy Youssef said that the MB paired hierarchical regimentation with popularly appealing social services; thus, for many Egyptians, “to be a Muslim Brother is a very extensive process. To support them is a pretty easy one.” Youssef called the Muslim Brotherhood’s social component “a big deal. It was providing people services that the government didn’t, and saying that it was in the name of the religion they loved.”

Trager commented that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t even attempt to hide these totalitarian tactics and goals. The candid answers that Muslim Brothers gave during his interviews belied common speculations that the MB tried to mask its character from an unsuspecting outside world. “There is this idea that the Muslim Brotherhood presents one image to the West and one image locally,” he said. “Not in my experience.”

Saying that he remains baffled that the MB’s transparent anti-Western ideology did not dissuade American policymakers from seeking friendly relations with the group’s government during its 2012-2013 year in power, Trager added, “There was an idea in Washington that the Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate organization-that it was an organization that had embraced democratic procedures.” While many in D.C. thought that the MB had renounced violence in the 1970s, Trager said that “that analysis privileged the Brotherhood’s tactics during a very specific period of time over its core ideology, which was pursuing power so that it could resist the West. That has never changed.”

Among other things, the group’s “very theocratic constitution,” drafted under the auspices of the MB led-government of President Mohamed Morsi, “demonstrated quite clearly that it was not, in fact, a moderate organization,” he said. But the group’s religious zeal is no substitute for competency, since Trager shared that the vague answers concerning matters like education or foreign policy given to him by Muslim Brothers revealed that “in truth, they do not have a very specific vision. While the Muslim Brotherhood was structured in such a way that it could rise to power very quickly, once it was in power, it was aimless. It was divisive. It was autocratic. It alienated the population very, very quickly.”

Following the July 2013 military overthrow of the Morsi government, Egypt’s repression and economic woes are actually worse today than they were under Mubarak, yet Trager noted that “there is a lack of enthusiasm for the next uprising. The experience of Egypt’s first elected government-the Morsi government-left a very bad taste in many Egyptians’ mouths.” Piggybacking off of Trager’s comments, Youssef and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Egypt expert Michele Dunne pointed out Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi‘s crackdown on dissent. “The repression has been like nothing the Egyptians have ever experienced,” Dunne said. “The price of going out into the streets or doing anything like that has become extraordinarily high.”

All in all, the presentations given by the event’s panelists placed severe doubts upon the efficacy of American policy in advancing liberty amidst the conflict-ridden Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Egypt and Iraq. Youssef said that she “is increasingly skeptical that any outside power can come in and create an institution within a country. Those kinds of changes have to be organic and built internally.”

In conclusion, Trager soberly said,

Washington can’t get an 80-year old organization right-an organization that has a website, that has YouTube videos, that has been (up until recently) relatively easy to meet its officials in Cairo or elsewhere in Egypt or even, frankly, beyond. If it can’t get that right, how does it get right 160 militias that emerged in the last five years in Syria? How does it pick the moderates elsewhere?

Article originally published at FamilySecurityMatters.org.