Has the Muslim Brotherhood Failed and should it Disband?

azzamtamimiWell-intending or ill-intending, some people here and there proclaim that what happened in Egypt in 2013 marked the beginning of the end of the Muslim Brotherhood. Not only that, such people insist that the Brotherhood should disband because they believe that it has failed and has no role to play.

Some of those who say this attribute themselves to the Brotherhood or to its Youth Wing. Until quite recently, some even occupied quite senior positions within the movement.

I had not yet been born when the Muslim Brotherhood endured its first major tribulation in 1954. Then, several of its prominent figures were hanged, hundreds were imprisoned and thousands were banished, driven underground or abroad. I was 10 when the movement endured its second major tribulation in 1965. This time too, several of its top leaders, including distinguished ideologue Sayyid Qutb, were hanged, hundreds were imprisoned and thousands were banished as before.

I do not recall that I was conscious of the details of what was going on at the time but I remember quite well that some of my own relatives, who looked up to Egypt’s military dictator Gamal Abdel Nassir as the saviour of the Ummah and the liberator of Palestine, rejoiced at the misfortune of the Brotherhood and celebrated its persecution. Nassir’s media machine had done an “excellent” job tarnishing the image of the Brotherhood and misleading the Arab masses from the ocean to the Gulf.

I can today imagine what some people said about the Brotherhood when it were subjected to those mass persecution campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s. I can imagine that what was said then might not have been much different from what we hear today of blame being squarely put on the Brotherhood, of sharp criticism directed against its leadership and of calls for the organisation to disband and get out of the way.

It is as if those who are furiously critical of the Brotherhood, holding it responsible for the crimes that have been perpetrated against them by the military junta in Egypt, as well as against those who stood with them against tyranny, cannot find the road ahead to work unless the group disbands and vacates the arena for them so as to unleash their innovative powers and accomplish for the Ummah the kind of victories and achievements this ageing, more than 80-year-old, group has failed to accomplish.

This is not to say that I am against those who call for the necessity of reflecting on recent experiences, not even against those who criticise and call for reform. Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor any other group of humans is infallible or above questioning and critique. Yet, in much of the critique directed against the Brotherhood since the brutal coup last year, I find little objectivity, if at all, and hardly any fairness. Some of the issues raised by people, rightly, would require thorough investigation and await the testimonies and explanations of those who made the choices and took the decisions, many of whom are either in prison or underground.

Young men who are particularly zealous in their critique demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge of the intricate details. Much of what is claimed is based on hearsay and is heavily influenced by anti-Brotherhood propaganda.

Some of those who judge the Brotherhood as having failed may indeed be issuing such a verdict because they had certain hopes or aspirations that never materialised. One wonders if that was the case, why the Brotherhood should be held responsible for the frustration of such dreams. The Brotherhood has never promised people paradise in this world. It only preaches and invites to that which it believes is good for humanity in this life and in the hereafter; it encourages people to struggle and forebear in the hope that their worldly affairs will improve and that they will secure a better life after resurrection.

The Brotherhood never said that its objective is to please or appease; its ultimate objective is not the pleasure of any human entity but that of the lord of all humanity. Its slogan has always been: “Allah is our aim, the messenger is our model, jihad is our means and dying in the cause of Allah is our most sublime wish.”

Whenever I hear someone accuse the Brotherhood of failure, I am reminded of the story narrated in the Quran, Chapter 85, known as Surat Al-Buruj (The Zodiacal Signs). A despot claiming to be divine ordered a ditch to be dug and fire within it to be kindled in order to burn those who, having recognised he was only human, refused to revert from tawheed (monotheism) to shirk (polytheism). Would you say that those who chosen to burn to death instead of subjugating to a tyrant had failed? Or would you say that the boy who willingly sacrificed himself – receiving an arrow in the forehead – in the hope that his martyrdom helped the people discern truth from falsehood had failed?

Undoubtedly there were, on the day of that massacre, some who were intimidated by the tyrant and deterred by the fire raging in his ditch to the extent of opting for a return to slavery so as to live a little longer and avert a vicious death. Perhaps some of them had no hesitation to judge those who perished in the fire as having failed or lost or incurred defeat. So, which of the two parties was right and which was wrong?

Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood organisation never claimed a monopoly over social, religious or political activism. It never claimed that the arena has room only for it and it alone. So, what is the point of insisting that it should disband and vacate the arena? Those who feel competent and believe they are capable of achieving what the Brotherhood could not achieve should take to the square and launch their own project. The Ummah needs every constructive effort. But it makes no sense at all for some to insist that the Brotherhood should pull down its own roof in order for some kind of imaginary palace to be erected on its remains.

Some disgruntled youth say that they are fed up with the movement’s ageing leaders who hold fast to their seats and are not willing to let go. They ask them to retire and leave the arena for the younger generation to lead. As they talk, these youngsters sound oblivious of the fact that the elders they detract are today behind bars simply because they refused to surrender. They endure their current tribulation defiantly, steadfast and confident that soon they’ll be vindicated and that what they go through is something those who struggled before them for freedom, justice and dignity had to go through.

Some people seem to have made a hobby of devouring the flesh of others who have either perished or have been incarcerated or banished. They gloat about what they consider to be mistakes, miscalculations and bad choices. They boast that had they been in the shoes of Morsi or Al-Shatir they would have done a much better job. What a waste of time and energy, what a futile exercise!

The same allegations are repeated over and over again despite lacking knowledge of the circumstances that led to those decisions or choices. And suppose that some of these decisions turn out to be wrong and some of these choices turn out to be far from the best, which is inevitable anyway, so what? An ijtihad is a process you undertake to the best of your ability and knowledge based on your own analysis of the circumstances and the needs of the moment. You could be right and you could be wrong. According to the Islamic tradition, in either case a performer of ijtihad is rewarded for making an effort, once if the ijtihad is wrong and twice if it is right.

My sincere advice to those who are unhappy about the performance of the Brotherhood, and especially to those who were once members of the group but no longer see eye to eye with its leadership, is to move on, for the arena is so spacious and expansive. May you be blessed! Endeavour to do what you think is right and seek to succeed where others have failed.

Many individuals opted to leave the organisation since it was founded in 1928. It is not a big deal. Those who departed went in different directions and pursued different routes. Some have done well and some have not done so well. Those who do well it is themselves they benefit and those who incur ill, it is upon themselves they incur it. The Muslim Brotherhood organisation is not Islam, nor is it an Islamic community, but a community within the broad Muslim Ummah. It endeavours and struggles on the basis of a certain consensus among its members. Those who choose to leave the Brotherhood do not commit a sin, for as they freely entered they have every right to freely leave.

However, the claim that the Brotherhood has expired and the demand that it disband is nothing short of futile. Above all, the Brotherhood is an idea, and ideas do not die; it is a hope, and hopes do not expire. It is a reform project, and reform is at the core of the Muslim faith. So, to those who are in a haste, to those who are frustrated and to those who are desperate, I would say do not write off the Brotherhood. So long as there are brothers, the Brotherhood will remain. The group will recover as it did many times before.

Those of you who live long enough will see that after difficulty there will be ease and after calamity there will be relief. This crisis will soon prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Dr Azzam Tamimi (a British Palestinian academic and political activist)
Source: Memo Middle East Monitor