The article’s headline is derived from a book by Tharwat Al Kharbawi called “The Secret of the Temple: The Hidden Secrets of the Muslim Brotherhood.” There are twelve editions of the book printed by “Nahdet Misr” Publishing House. The book has won the bestselling award in Cairo’s Book Exhibition.
The book was not the author’s first on the group he abandoned. It was the second one after the “Brotherhood’s Heart” which was published in 2002. Truth is, I have no intention to write a book review. Many authors have written reviews and commented on the book. The author himself and several television stations were not negligent in reviewing the book and using its information to comment on current events which since the “Arab Spring” the Brotherhood must have been a part of after more than one Arab country denied the it roles of power. Many people in Arab countries thought that for the spring’s democratic, civilian and liberal flowers to blossom, leadership must be for groups that are far from being “political Islamic” ones.
But this has not happened. The situation looked like revolutions or uprisings that happened in several Arab countries aimed to only topple regimes to replace them with the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, “the temple’s secret” which became common did not hold many secrets as its story is the traditional common one in political sciences. This traditional common story comes under the name of parties or “militant” organizations, that is parties which internally correlate through a “militant” ideology and which often drive their member to sacrifice themselves by either going to jail or dying for the sake of defending a certain concept that is either a local and nationalist one or one that is of a global trend.
‘The temple’s secret’
The Muslim Brotherhood’s mechanism and practices were not different than totalitarian organizations that were common during the 20th century. It attempted to attain authority in more than one country. Most probably, it had a global organization. Perhaps, the brotherhood’s movement was different than that of totalitarian organizations in how it swiftly moved from the 20th century to the 21st century and remained represented in more than eighty countries in the world. It adapted with the changing circumstances so it was not the same in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and other countries. Even its jurisprudence in the West or where Muslims are a minority had clear distinctions.
“The temple’s secret” is thus still unknown. The secrets we were told were not that different from what is common and maybe necessary in the organizations of militant nature. Abandoning them and rebelling against their rulings is very common in the literature of similar organizations. But most of the time, abandoning them is no more than propaganda scars. We rarely find in many publications about these organizations anything that calls on the latter to review or develop their traditions and work mechanisms.
Since the Muslim Brotherhood will be with us in Arab and Islamic politics in the upcoming years, maybe it is about time it is regarded with the seriousness it deserves. This does not necessarily mean to believe in what it believes or adopt its political stances. It rather means to understand the practical flexibility which it moves through and within. All we have to do is observe the brotherhood’s positions in Turkey where there is an urgent desire to join the EU while maintaining strong ties with NATO and the U.S. on the foreign level and the frank “secular” principles on the domestic level. All we have to do is also observe the positions of different brotherhood organizations in Egypt Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Afghanistan and Sudan where stances differ and contradict in several occasions.
Perhaps the issue does not seem difficult to analyze when it comes to foreign causes where the necessities of Western superiority and the dependence on Western countries make necessities permit prohibitions. The issue is more difficult to analyze when it comes to dealing with the orientations of other types of “political Islam” whether it is “jihadi,” “salafi,” traditional or any other.
Stance toward the brotherhood vary between attempts to contain or comprehend it and hesitate when it comes to fundamentalist Shiite parties that the brotherhood sometimes rejects or admires. Rejection and admiration both happen with different degrees of intensity. There is no mystery in the brotherhood’s policies other than that which is related to relations with Iran and Hezbollah, which sometimes look to be among the first of mujahedeen or look like they have the denounced attempt of infiltrating the Sunnis.
“The temple’s secret” does not lie in the group’s domestic relations or between it and its members. It always remains hidden regarding economic and social policies that the brotherhood seems not to have given the interest they deserve. Although some of the brotherhood’s members became part of the group called businessmen and became heavily present in Arab Gulf countries and some European countries where they can be introduced to the world of banks and world economy, it was not enough to comprehend the development the world has witnessed during the past years. Perhaps this happened because the world is no longer like it was and because several economic crises occurred within the last five years. Or maybe this happened because “globalization” has become very complicated even for the progressive countries. So how will the situation be with a group that lived under circumstances of being chased or imprisoned? The brotherhood confusion clearly showed when it seized power. A prominent Gulf official told me that during the fifteen years of the ruling of Tunisia by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia never requested economic aid from Gulf countries and that after the revolution and after Ennahda seized power, not a single week passes without a Tunisian official requesting aid.
The situation has not been very different in other countries of the “spring.” The economic situation seemed very far from flourishing. It seemed the economic wisdom contains a lot of secrets difficult for temples to comprehend.
Thus, the secret was not revealed because it was looked for on the level of gossip more than it was looked for on the level of the cause’s core.
This article was published on Alsharq el-Awsat on Feb. 13, 2013.
Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.