Columns / Discourse / February 16, 2011

World Politics Corner: Muslim Brotherhood

Thought, especially the basic thought of groups, is an evolving process that needs to be studied in whole, not in part. Otherwise we assume that thought is unchanging. As simple as this seems, it is not always simple in practice, specifically when it does not fit a certain storyline people like to promote. It is not malicious, for the most part, but bred out of ignorance.

With the recent events in Egypt, we come to another lovely example of how the study of anything can be easily disregarded to promote a certain story. This is in relation to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). There are the pundits claiming their view that it is a “radical” organization which will turn Egypt into Iran, and then there are the absurd claims by people who need a title all their own, like Glenn Beck. On top of that, there is the use of imagery in written media. The article “Ideology Shadows Fight to Rule Egypt” in USA Today, which reported on a member of the MB while emphasizing the gore of slaughtering a goat to eat: “As he spoke late Saturday, the ‘thump thump’ of a cleaver could be heard just outside the unadorned office. A man was hacking up a calf on a wood stump, arranging the meat on a plastic sheet on the patio floor. A bright puddle of blood ran into the street as the animal was slaughtered for a feast celebrating the Brotherhood’s hopes for the future.”

Just a note: almost every Muslim slaughters a goat at least once a year for a religious holiday based on the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, then God replacing the son with a ram. This story is shared with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The meat is supposed to be divided into 1/3 for your family, 1/3 for your neighbors and 1/3 for the needy. I’ve done it, and it has less gore than “Transformers 2.”

Aside from the most obvious forms of manipulation, let’s look at the covert censorship on this issue. The MB is not like Al-Qaeda; it has denounced the actions of Al-Qaeda (even recently denouncing Al-Qaeda’s call to terrorize Coptic Christians in Egypt) and denounced the use of violence back in the ‘70s. How is it that experts, such as Bruce K. Rutherford and Juan Cole to name distinguished ones, understand that and the pundits don’t? Or is that a silly question?

In fact, it is quite easy to gain access to the MB stance on issues; their English website is accessible from U.S. servers on They even, ironically enough, have a section called “MB v. Qaeda,” which lists the differences between the two. In a big heading it says, “Terrorism has no religion.”

The story that American news agencies like to put out is that the MB was the only organized political party in Egypt because they worked from Mosque to Mosque, (secular groups had a harder time organizing under Mubarak, and who backed him again…). They also like to point out that Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri came out of the MB. What they fail to mention is that they left the MB when it denounced violence as a means. They left because they did not like the idea of pacifism, not because they wanted to expand the MB’s reach.

Speaking of its reach, most notable experts admit that although the MB is the most organized, they also have the most obstacles to overcome. The biggest is the lack of interest. Most MB members are of an older generation, and the youth see them as outdated. Locally, they have been struggling to gain interest from the youth movement that started the revolution. This is not to say they would not have any seats in the parliament when elections occur, but that they probably will not be a force to be reckoned with.

The MB is a conservative group. They do want an Egypt that respects its “Islamic Civilization” and I will be willing to concede that it probably includes Sharia law. But based on real experts, the MB’s lack of popularity and having been to Egypt and knowing its people well, personally, I doubt that they will gain much backing. Let’s not forget to factor in the military, which is independent of MB sentiments. So why are we afraid of the MB bogeyman?

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