On the Muslim Brotherhood’s political ethos

Hazem al-Amin

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There’s a resemblance you cannot miss among the Muslim Brotherhood groups in different countries. It’s a resemblance that goes beyond methodologies and concepts. One that is more substantial. When an observer’s senses reach this far, he must attribute this resemblance to politics out of fear of racial traps that have emerged during the Brotherhood era the region is going through.

What we mean by caution here is that one must interpret the Brotherhood on levels that exceed politics and reach the psychological components responsible for many orientations and thus interpret the unconscious Brotherhood relation with components of modern life, including the state and its apparatuses. The Brotherhood in Egypt lost governance, but they still possess the biggest share of governance in Tunisia and they aspire to attain it in Jordan and prepare to confront it in Syria.

But forgetting politics when attempting to understand the Brotherhood’s relations with government and society is wrong, as this is also politics. Their bodies’ resistance of the tie is not void of politics. Their unaware and unconscious weakening of the traditional pillars of state, inherited from obsolete regimes, is also not void of politics.

Not their own

The state is not their state even if they head its governments. Their state is the inherited temples which they await to topple once they finish the task of adapting the countries they governed, or are about to govern. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem that the Brotherhood has clear alternatives to the state which they are about to weaken. Perhaps this was their biggest mistake in Egypt. It also seems that this was their mistake in Tunisia.

There are two levels of political presence. The first one is official and it is represented by the ruling apparatus and governments, while the second one is represented by partisan institutions which the Brotherhood are skillful at controlling. These two levels will inevitably clash. Amidst the weakness of the government and the strength of faith in the Brotherhood and its party, the partisan level will win over the governmental one.

This has previously been experienced by Iran, through the idea of a president and a supreme leader. The concept was produced amidst the weakness of faith in the traditional pillars of the inherited state. This is marked in the Iranian case by a weak army but strong revolutionary guards and a weak president but a strong supreme leader. This is not the case of a modern state that emerged out of the experience of elections.

Across the region

In Tunisia, the ruling Ennahda party is marginalizing the factions of the authority which it heads. It’s probable that this is not the fruit of an aware decision made by the movement. This is how they understand authority. When Rashed al-Ghannouchi says that Tunisians are going to Syria to fight due to some sort of “youths’ zeal,” he does not imply that the Tunisian government is responsible for the repercussions of this act (jihad in Syria). He thus puts “the youths’ zeal” ahead of the state’s interests. The state, according to his customs and in his subconscious, is an apparatus that’s separate to the nation.

According to the Brotherhood, the state is a fruit of colonization

Hazem al-Amin

It’s in this particular formula that the Brotherhood spirit lies - a spirit that entails clear naivety and that reveals a huge difference between it and between the recessed Khomeini spirit. The latter spirit, when it sends men to fight in Syria alongside the regime, does so without being pushed “by youths’ zeal.” Hezbollah fighters go to fight there in a silent malicious manner. The Brotherhood, however, sends its Salafist men from Tunisia thinking that it’s decreasing their numbers from there and supporting the Brotherhood with them in Syria. The result in Tunisia is that professional killers who assassinate men like Chokri Belaid and Mohammad al-Brahmi return. The ruling Ennahda party thus gets involved in Belaid’s and Brahmi’s blood. The result in Syria is that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which grew bigger in number thanks to Tunisian fighters, kicked Syrian opposition factions, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, from vast areas it controls in Syria.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a party of the state. According to the Brotherhood, the state is a fruit of colonization. The tense relationship between the Brotherhood and the countries they ruled cannot be explained except through this formula. The concept of the economy of tunnels in Gaza is based on this formula. Hamas considers that the work of its government is the continuous fighting which is not linked to negotiations on the long run. Its needs, and its society’s needs, are being met through the tunnels.

Such governance limits the meaning of the state as modern experiences have defined it. The first ten minutes of Mohammad Mursi’s last presidential speech were full of “in the name of God” and “thank God.” This introduction was not due to ignorance of how presidential speeches should be, but it was an introduction aiming to put the traditions of religious speeches above the traditions of presidential ones.

As for Tunisia, Ennahda has kept silent regarding its interior minister’s false statement that 100 Tunisians returned pregnant from Syria as a result of sexual jihad. The movement kept silent although this incident targets it as a government responsible for its people. Ennahda’s silence is part of the nation’s silent over injustice against women.
According to the Brotherhood, women are of a weak status and it’s thus possible to overlook injustice against them.

It’s not a coincidence in this context that Ennahda Movement after around three decades of removing Habib Bourguiba from his office recalls the latter as an immortal rival. Bourguiba is the founder of the state which Ennahda inherited and which it despises.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Oct. 25, 2013.


Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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