Do Muslim Brotherhood Paths Contradict?
|Thursday, August 14,2008 10:57|
|By Dr. Rafik Habib*|
It is natural that the Muslim Brotherhood has an internal diversity in viewpoints. This diversity takes shape sometimes in specific trends. Observers often care for knowing trends inside the movement. Here we see many analyses around these trends and there emerge categories like the conservative trend and the reformist trend, the old guard and the new guard, and the religious and the political, and others. Some of these classifications aim to understand the movement from within. However, some others work for expanding the internal gap and exploiting any internal real or unreal contradiction.
First of all, we stress that the Muslim Brotherhood is- with all its trends- a conservative socio-political group. That is, it revolves around a view which is based on religion, based on values and traditions, is estimating cultural identity and reference, is adopting a full belief in the family and social traditions, and others.
It is necessary to highlight the difference between the presence of views and trends and the presence of enclaves. Disagreement over views is found in it and is- we said before- natural and healthy. As for the presence of enclaves, it is different because this means that there are differing blocs and organizations inside the Muslim Brotherhood Organization. These differing blocs have their own members of the movement and work systematically. This means that there are several organizations inside the Muslim Brotherhood that are engaged in an internal battle, and they may even plot against each other.
This image is not accurate and it does not match the internal lay-out of the organization. What’s real is that there are trends in which there are differing views adopted by a number of persons. It is natural that persons adopting the same attitude support each other. However, on the organizational level, there is a group that has its bodies and every body plays his role in these bodies. Thus, all trends surface and interact inside the same body and according it rules governing its work.
Add to this a very important point, that the dual classification is not accurate. It doesn’t reflect the reality. It rather helps in formulating the debated key issues or the main trends affecting the movement’s decision making. The organization’s internal reality is witnessing several trends a part of which is due to the clear diversity in experiences and skills among its members, and another part results from its multiple roles and functions.
Add to this another important issue: that the trends inside the organization clearly overlap. There are some who adopt some trends inside a view which differs from those adopting some trends and differ in others. Thus, we may face many and differing types each of which is consisting of a number of trends or views that form other types.
To be able to analyze the internal difference, there should be a specific perspective to see this issue because it is difficult to count all internal differences. There should be an attempt to count the trends that contain big differences between them. Although they are useful and enrich the organization, many internal differences may be temporary and may be detailed to a great extent.
It is important to observe trends affecting movement of the Muslim Brotherhood in general, which may lead to a kind contrast in its role and path to a degree that may result in a contradiction in its paths or it may lead to some kind of apparent or real disorder in its general performance.
Why do paths vary?
We focus here on the trends determining the Muslim Brotherhood’s general decision that formulates its external path. Several internal differing trends may be related to organizational issues which have no presence in general work and presence of the Muslim Brotherhood. These are important issues on the level of the internal structure of the organization.
As for the trends affecting the Muslim Brotherhood’s general and political decisions, they are important because they are related to the organization’s image in front of the public opinion and external observers. These trends in the general discourse and the general decision are related to an important issue: how to understand and assess the reality and how to assess the organization’s position on the ground. Some issues thought by some to be intellectual issues although their analyses prove that they are based on a difference in assessing reality and position of the organization in it. If assessments of those having trends towards the surrounding reality changed we will find out that their view will be in line with the other trend that agrees with them on their new assessment to the reality.
This issue does not only affect the importance of understanding various paths resulting from the diversity of internal views, but it also puts the difference between paths back on track. This is because intellectual difference can be settled only through dialogue, while the disagreement on views and opinions based on a difference in assessing reality, can be settled only through a new assessment of the reality. This is actually a real problem because the Egyptian reality has reached a very complicated and deadlocked political stage. Also, there are fierce conflicts in the region and the international reality is witnessing a US attempt to impose its hegemony on the region, in addition to the Zionist challenge to the nation and its future. This means that we face conflicts and wars, a condition under which it is difficult to assess the reality or expect future results of actions.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the core of the moderate Islamic movement which is facing attempts to curb it and get it out of the public life not only in Egypt but also in all countries that have the Muslim Brotherhood. In this case, views differ over the most appropriate decision and the most appropriate attitude due to these complicated calculations and the factors affecting the organization.
Paths of work
There is, inside the Muslim Brotherhood, a huge amount of experiences. These experiences are full of successes and failures. The accumulation of this long experience of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, along with moderate Islamist organizations in other countries, spawned various equations of observing and assessing the reality. The huge challenges that the organization faced and its ability to survive created standards through which it can measure how far it may succeed or fail. However, these equations varied and also expectations about what the organization shall do. Many views may meet at the general decision making stage. There are some who see a specific concept and propose a certain decision thinking that it will meet the target. There are some who differ with him thinking that these expectations are not accurate and consequently propose another decision. There emerges here the role of diversity in assessing reality and the role of the difference of results between differing trends for what may happen as a result of a certain decision.
Thus, paths of work have been formed inside the Muslim Brotherhood. These paths are methods for dealing with reality and achieving targets and purposes of the movement. The difference in paths is not a disagreement over targets. Paths vary according to stages of work they present. They differ also in the method of work style, and vary also- this is an important issue- in the time range on which it focuses in the public discourse and the action plan. These differences may combined indicate that the difference is in principle; this isn’t right in most cases. The message of the Muslim Brotherhood is a melting pot while the diversity of paths means a diversity in the path of achieving this message, specifying the various stages of work, and defining the stage under focus in the current moment.
There emerges also a diversity in the action plan and a diversity in the discourse that accompanies the difference in view over the path of the organization ’s work. Everyone with a specific view are convinced that the path they propose is the most appropriate while the other path is not appropriate, is not effective, will not achieve targets of the organization, may paralyze it or may endanger it. Therefore, we may find some kind of internal tension over some decisions, not because some want to impose their views but because some see that a certain decision is serious. His feeling of danger makes him defend his viewpoint in a way that may exceed limits.
There are two important paths but they can’t be purely spotted; namely, they don’t reflect views of some persons all the time. They rather reflect views of some people for some time, which is an important issue. This is because the issue that some trends have a clear form eases the classification process, but it isn’t so on the ground.
Grassroots Organizational Path
This path is mainly based on focusing on recruiting more members, building and expanding the organization’s ranks. Supporters of this path see that expanding membership in the organization is the main instrument for achieving its purposes. Through increasing membership, the organization gets to represent most of the society or active majority, and it can draw more supporters to turn into a societal majority. This societal majority will eventually be translated into a political majority that may achieve the desired political reform according to the view of the organization, consequently building the aspired civil state with an Islamic reference.
This view sees also that expanding the grassroots of the organization in several Arab and Islamic countries will enable the group to achieve its final ends: of achieving Islamic unity and the all-out Islamic cultural improvement.
Supporters of this path see that the strength of the organization is measured according to the number of its members, which is by the way undeclared and difficult-to-predict number both in Egypt and other countries. This makes the group’s ability to recruit more members an evidence of its ability to expand in the society, and is an implicit evidence that it will eventually reach a public size that enables it to achieve its targets on the public level.
Supporters of this path see also that recruiting more members is the core of the organization ’s work of perfecting the character of the Muslim individual, and that this process is necessary not only in this stage but also after the emergence of the aspired state. This is because the process of educating the individual and society is continued and it is required before and after achieving the Islamic Renaissance.
This path is mainly based on a long-term plan. It isn’t based on the idea of accelerating the pace of the reform process carried out by the organization because the path itself is based on the rule of building bases. It sees that any achievement whose size and responsibility beat those of the abilities of these bases will spawn a huge failure, and may lead to foiling or endangering the organization ’s project. Thus, supporters of this path measure their decisions against the size and abilities of the grassroots. Add to this the fact that the idea of this path is based on forming grassroots supporting the organization, believing in its idea and ready to sacrifice for it, not only the political election support.
This path isn’t a missionary path. That’s a path which is based on religious work. It is actually a path that highlights the political work, sees it as a continued struggle operation, and that it should never stop. It should rather put stages and tries to avoid jumping on stages according to one’s viewpoint. This path is based also on necessarily establishing a political party, but it links the stage of establishing a political party with a stage of developing the organization ’s political, a stage in which the group gets closer to competing on power, the stage in which the organization sees- according to supporters of this path- that it has to reach power to implement its view about political reform.
The Spearheading Political Path
This path is mainly based on political work as a spearhead in the reform process, not only the political reform but also the comprehensive reform according to the viewpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood. This it does not mean that supporters of this path highlight reform or change from the upper authority. They are also convinced that the reform process takes place mainly from the public. Supporters of this path see that the political reform is one of the main tools required for completing the comprehensive reform process and that it is an important part for this process.
Here emerges the key difference between the Grassroots Organizational Path and the Spearheading Political Path. Supporters of the political path see that the political reform process has a relative priority over the version proposed by supporters of the Grassroots Organizational Path. There emerges here a difference in the reform stages, but they meet according to the Muslim Brotherhood in the final ends.
This does not mean that supporters of the political path have a political change view based on revolutionary or radical foundations. They are also supporters of the gradual reformist method but they see that there should be a faster progress in the political path. This- they think- serves the social reformist path which is considered a cornerstone for all trends inside the Muslim Brotherhood.
Related to this view is a concept that highlights further expanding the development of the political work. This means that supporters of the political path are convinced that more achievements can be realized in the political field, despite the current circumstances.
There emerge here differences in assessing the situation, followed by differences in assessing what the organization can carry out in the political field. Supporters of the political path see that the group can assume a bigger role is in the political field, whereas supporters of the Grassroots Organizational Path see that circumstances are not appropriate for developing the political work of the organization in a more effective way than the current status quo. They see also that the organization ’s organizational grassroots is not sufficient for developing the political activity in a faster pace.
There are conflicting viewpoints over the appropriate size and the appropriate quality of the organization ’s grassroots that enable it to develop its political work and exercise a direct and intensive pressure on the ruling regime to impose the political reform. Supporters of the political path see that the current grassroots are sufficient for developing the organization ’s methods to exercise pressure on the regime, while supporters of the Grassroots Organizational Path see that the grassroots aren’t sufficient and that exercising a direct pressure on the ruling regime and initiating a showdown for the sake of political reform is too early to the extent that it may compromise the organization.
We understand from this that there is a difference of concept between both paths around the size and efficiency of the organization. Supporters of the political path see that some amount of force and spreading are sufficient for developing the organization ’s role in imposing reform as long as there is an acceptable popular support, whereas supporters of the grassroots organizational path see that the group must enjoy a societal popularity and majority and that the biggest part of this majority is affiliated to the organization, enabling them to form a public opinion which not only supports them but is also believing in their message to the extent that this public opinion can represent blocks of people who are ready to confront the ruling regimes as well as international and regional conditions.
Another important issue in the strategic thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood emerges here. Some see that it is impossible for the social reform process to continue for a long period of time and that it may face some kind of a sudden or complete obstruction. This means- according to them- that the grassroots reform process should be reinforced with a wide political role that may prevent the ruling regime from hitting the organization ’s project. Supporters of the Spearheading Political Path highlight the organization ’s use of its force in the form of a limited confrontation with the regime as a kind of deterrence so that it doesn’t maintain its tyranny or corruption. They see that the organization can do this. The importance of developing the political role increases here. Therefore, supporters of the Spearheading Political Path see that the organization should working for establishing a political party from now, or even a party under construction, although this attitude is retreating sometimes, not because of not settling relation between the organization and the party until now, or not reaching a final say on working through an organization and a party, but because of another important reason which is clear for supporters of both paths: The fear that the Grassroots Organizational Path may be positioned in the organization, and the Spearheading Political Path is positioned in the party or the party under construction, leading to further increasing differences between them in the method of work.
To complete the form of the Spearheading Political Path- spearheading in the sense that its takes the initiative. This is because working in the political path requires- according to its supporters some kind of initiative in the public work and political field, adaptation to requirements of the status quo, conforming with requirements of the existing laws, the intelligent handling of the current political discourses. This makes supporters of the Spearheading Political Path focus on the organization ’s role in solving its problem with the ruling regime, given that they realize that the problem is basically coming from the ruling regime. They also focus on the importance of developing the political discourse and offering an applicable political view which is related to the status quo, without focusing on the organization ’s all-out future project. Supporters of this political path work on short-term plans and they concentrate more on the role that the organization can carry out it in the short run. This actually delays many issues, specially those related to the emergence of an Islamic state and Islamic unity, not because they aren’t main issues in the organization ’s message, but because they are postponed issues.
The direct political handling- like that in political parties- focuses in its discourse on short-range plans, not long-term ones, unlike supporters of the Grassroots Organizational Path who give a priority to the political confrontation- that’s the competition on reaching power- at the end of the road and through a long-term plan. At that time, the societal and political backing majority will be the organization ’s key pillar to try to carry out its final targets.
Can Both Paths Intersect
Although these paths are related to work plans and in spite of the unity of the final purpose- the unity of message- these paths move the group into different trends, make it work with various paces, make it work in a way that indicates that it is in a stage and work in other times as if it is in another stage.
This is the problem of this forced marriage between both paths: working according to a certain path, and then working according to another path and then working according to both paths a third time.
This spawns differences in the organization ’s attitude. These differences are picked in the observers’ analysis to the organization ’s decisions and actions in the public field. There may appear even other differences in the organization leaders’ statements.
We see that the two paths aren’t at odds. Both of them can be one path that achieves the group’s targets. There is no key conflict between them. There are only differences in viewing and how to change the reality.
We think that the forced marriage between both paths is no longer appropriate. We also see that a third path may or should emerge and will be able to lay down an action plan for the organization, an action plan which is based not on the simple gathering of both paths. It will rather be based on a complex gathering between both of them. The complex gathering means keeping compatible elements in both paths, and amending incompatible elements in this or that path. This is a possible- or even inevitable- process. Because choosing one of the both paths may curb the organization ’s ability to achieve its targets if the Grassroots Organizational Path is overblown and may compromise the group’s survival and effectiveness if the Spearheading Political Path is overblown.
Therefore we say that: Due to the all-out reform method adopted by the organization, it needs a multiple method which is based on a reformist path that adopts the grassroots and political dimensions with more balance and integration.
*Rafik Habib is an Egyptian Coptic Intellectual. The original article appeared in Arabic in Islamonline.net, and was rendered into English by Ikhwanweb.