When the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, King Fuad the First ruled, and in 1936 his son Farouk succeeded him, and ruled until the Officers’ Revolution in July 1952. During the monarchy, the Brotherhood acted very freely, because the regime was incredibly ineffective. In December 1948 an activist from the movement assassinated the prime minister, Nukrashi, and two months afterward the movement’s founder and leader – Hassan al-Banna – was murdered, apparently by agents of the regime.
The regime of the Officers was much more determined and decisive, and in general, conducted a stubborn battle against the Brotherhood because it saw them and their activities as an attempt to undermine its legitimacy and stability. In the year 1966 President Gamal Abd al-Nassar hung the ideologue of the movement, Sayyid Qutb, because he claimed in his writings that any regime that does not implement Shari’a is like the heresy that preceded Islam, or idol worship, and therefore it is justified to conduct a jihad against it. The Egyptian constitution that was in force until it was suspended in February 2011 forbade the establishment of parties on a religious basis, which meant that the Muslim Brotherhood movement was blocked from participating in the official political process of the state as a legitimate member.
Because the Brotherhood was marginalized politically during the years of the Officers’ Regime, they found their fertile ground for activity within the economically and politically marginalized people, and turned their energies to charitable activities within the society of the tens of millions of Egyptians living in the poor, unplanned neighborhoods at the margins of the cities, without running water, without sewage, without electricity, without telephone lines, without medical services or educational services, without work and without hope. It was the Brotherhood who supported these miserable people for years, out of a feeling of commitment, responsibility, and mutual trust rooted in Islamic values, which does not differentiate between religion, society, politics, economics, and culture. The regime allowed them to operate among the weak neighborhoods, since it did not see acts of charity and kindness as a danger to the stability of the regime, and because the Brotherhood’s activities eased the burden on the state of caring for the poor population. The people held the Brotherhood in high regard, because for many years, the Brotherhood supported the poor wholeheartedly; and because they are not corrupt and greedy like the “fat cats” who ruled the state and because they relate to the people with respect, unlike the regime, which humiliated them and oppressed them cruelly.
In the last years of the Mubarak regime, the state, meaning the president, allowed the Brotherhood to run for seats in parliament as independents, but not as representatives of a party that was forbidden by the constitution. The number of seats that they won never reflected the high regard with which the public regarded them, but it did reflect the amount of power that Mubarak agreed to allow them. In the elections for parliament in the year 2005, as a result of the pressure of Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush, Mubarak permitted the Brotherhood to “win” 88 seats, about one fifth of the seats in the “Peoples’ Council,” apparently in order to fend off the pressures of the western world to implement a democratic regime in Egypt, because Mubarak feared that a democratic regime would certainly result in a takeover of the state by the Brotherhood. The threat worked, and in the elections of 2010 the Brotherhood “won” only one seat, without the White house uttering a peep. At that time President Obama still preferred secular democracy over Islamic democracy.
Those who initiated the street riots that broke out in Egypt on the 25th of January, 2011, which some call the “Arab Spring,” were throngs of Egyptian secular youth, some of whom were educated, sick of the corrupt and the cruel regime, which was slated to be inherited by the son of the ruler. “The Muslim Brotherhood” did not take a meaningful part in the demonstrations, but rather sat on the sidelines watching to see which side would win. After the military forced Mubarak to resign on the 11th of February, the Brotherhood went out to al-Tahrir Square in order to take advantage of the opportunities that it had awaited patiently for many years. The Qur’an (Chapter 2, Verse 152) states that “Allah is with the patient,” and indeed Allah is with them: in the period that preceded the November 2011 elections to parliament, the Brotherhood activated Operation Da’wah” (Islamic outreach), in order to translate their investment of years of community efforts into political support by the public. Spokesmen of political Islam, headed by Yosef al-Qaradawi, mobilized themselves in support the Brotherhood, and the result was that almost half of the seats of parliament were won by the “Party of Freedom and Justice”, the representative of the Brotherhood, and a quarter more of the seats were won by the “Party of Light,” the representative of the more conservative Salafi groups. This is how the decisive majority of the Egyptian parliament was suffused with the color green, the color of Islamic Paradise, in a truly democratic way.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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