A TCJ reader, “Dave,” wrote an excellent comment to a post not too long ago on the unrest in Egypt and the lack of response by the U.S. He links to an article by Barry Rubin of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (aka GLORIA Center) that was first published on October 9, 2010.
This comment is so striking and important that I believe it needs to be highlighted as a separate post. When you consider that Rubin’s article was written months before any of the arab uprisings, it sounds almost prophetic and deserves to be quoted at considerable length. Reporting on a sermon delivered on September 30, 2010 by the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt, Rubin states:
This is one of those obscure Middle East events of the utmost significance that is ignored by the Western mass media, especially because they happen in Arabic, not English; by Western governments, because they don’t fit their policies; and by experts, because they don’t mesh with their preconceptions.
This explicit formulation of a revolutionary program makes it a game-changer. It should be read by every Western decision maker and have a direct effect on policy because this development may affect people’s lives in every Western country.
OK, cnough of a build-up? Well, it isn’t exaggerated. So don’t think the next sentence is an anticlimax. Here we go: The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has endorsed (Arabic) (English translation by MEMRI) anti-American Jihad and pretty much every element in the al-Qaida ideology book. Since the Brotherhood is the main opposition force in Egypt and Jordan as well as the most powerful group, both politically and religiously, in the Muslim communities of Europe and North America this is pretty serious stuff.
By the way, no one can argue that he merely represents old, tired policies of the distant past because the supreme guide who said these things was elected just a few months ago. His position reflects current thinking.
Does that mean the Egyptian, Jordanian, and all the camouflaged Muslim Brotherhood fronts in Europe and North America are going to launch terrorism as one of their affiliates, Hamas, has long done? No.
But it does mean that something awaited for decades has happened: the Muslim Brotherhood is ready to move from the era of propaganda and base-building to one of revolutionary action. At least, its hundreds of thousands of followers are being given that signal. Some of them will engage in terrorist violence as individuals or forming splinter groups; others will redouble their efforts to seize control of their countries and turn them into safe areas for terrorists and instruments for war on the West.
When the extreme and arguably marginal British Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary says that Islam will conquer the West and raise its flag over the White House, that can be treated as wild rhetoric. His remark is getting lots of attention because he said it in English in an interview with CNN. Who cares what he says?
But when the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood says the same thing in Arabic, that’s a program for action, a call to arms for hundreds of thousands of people, and a national security threat to every Western country.
The Brotherhood is the group that often dominates Muslim communities in the West and runs mosques. Its cadre control front groups that are often recognized by Western democratic governments and media as authoritative. Government officials in many countries meet with these groups, ask them to be advisers for counter-terrorist strategies and national policies, and even fund them.
President Barack Obama speaks about a conflict limited solely to al-Qaida. And if one is talking about the current military battle in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen that point makes sense. Yet there is a far bigger and wider battle going on in which revolutionary Islamists seek to overthrow their own rulers and wage long-term, full-scale struggle against the West. If it doesn’t involve violence right now it will when they get strong enough or gain power.
More than three years ago, I warned about this development, in a detailed analysis explaining, “The banner of the Islamist revolution in the Middle East today has largely passed to groups sponsored by or derived from the Muslim Brotherhood.” I pointed out the differences-especially of tactical importance-between the Brotherhood groups and al-Qaida or Hizballah, but also discussed the similarities. This exposure so upset the Brotherhood that it put a detailed response on its official website to deny my analysis.
Yet now here is the Brotherhood’s new supreme guide, Muhammad Badi giving a sermon entitled, “How Islam Confronts the Oppression and Tyranny,” translated by MEMRI. Incidentally, everything Badi says is in tune with the stances and holy books of normative Islam. It is not the only possible interpretation but it is a completely legitimate interpretation. Every Muslim knows, even if he disagrees with the Brotherhood’s position, that this isn’t heresy or hijacking or misunderstanding.
Maybe it is just coincidence and it may be an over-estimation of the MB’s reach and influence to view the spate of uprisings in the Middle East as a carefully calculated stratagem, but it takes no imagination whatsoever to see that: 1) the MB felt sufficiently confident by October 2010 in plainly and openly stating their call for war against the West and any muslim regime that cooperated with the West, and; 2) consistent with that declaration, the MB has quickly and effectively pounced upon the enormous opportunities afforded by the unrest and is systematically seeking to turn that unrest to their advantage.
One evidence of this is brought to light in another article by Barry Rubin on the MB’s campaign, post-Mubarak, to take over the clerical leadership in Egypt.
This is of gigantic importance (see if anyone else covers it). MEMRI has pointed out the opening of a Muslim Brotherhood campaign to replace Egypt’s current clerical hierarchy with its own people. If that happens…you can imagine. Once Islamists are in place making the “official” decisions on what constitutes proper Islam, an Islamist state cannot be far away.
Let me explain the background briefly. Knowing that control over Islam was vital to maintaining control of the country, the Egyptian regime (like nationalist regimes elsewhere) set out to build a systematic structure for doing so. The head of the al-Azhar Islamic university, the chief qadi, the clerics of different mosques, are government-appointed. Sermons are government-approved. A ministry in charge of awqaf (religious foundations) and religion supervises all of this and hands out the money. And the government also decides which clerics appear on television and radio, or even have their own programs.
Over the last decade or so, the “official” clerics have been radicalized, and they support terrorism against Israel. Yet there is still a huge gap between those who accepted the rule by Mubarak’s regime and those who demand an Islamist regime. They hate the Brotherhood and the Brotherhood hates them.
Now, if all of these official clerics are declared to be corrupt instruments of the old regime and are thrown out of office, the Brotherhood will control “Islam” in Egypt. Equally important, they will control a vast amount of patronage and money. Every cleric will have to get along with them or be unemployed. They could authorize which mosques could open. They would control religious education.
The MB-affiliated cleric, Muhammad Zoghbi, is quoted in the MEMRI translation of his February 15, 2011 television appearance as calling on the leaders of Al-Azhar University as well as the mufti of Egypt to resign.
Al-Azhar was subjected to a dangerous scheme, which was intended to shatter it and bring it down. This scheme consisted of three aspects: First, the politicization of the positions of the sheikh of Al-Azhar and the mufti of Egypt, as well as the position of the minister of religious endowments. These positions must be filled through elections. By no means should these officials be appointed by the president. Why? Because this politicization has led the people to lose their trust in Al-Azhar and its sheiks. [...]
“Therefore I say to the ‘sons’ of Al-Azhar: Let us all join the campaign, led by Sheik Khaled Al-Gindi, until we liberate Al-Azhar, just like Egypt was liberated. The liberation of Al-Azhar is even better than the liberation of Egypt, because while Egypt is the mother of the Arab region, Al-Azhar is the mother of all the Muslims on planet Earth. If Al-Azhar gets back on its feet, the entire nation will be back on its feet, and if Al-Azhar is back on track, the entire nation will be back on track. The president of Egypt must be subordinate to Al-Azhar and respect it. [...]
This has the eerie feeling that we have been here before. 1979 in Iran, perhaps? This is the very same pattern: de-legitimize the current religious leadership as being too connected and tainted by the old regime, then call for the appointment of new leadership subject to your own choosing. Finally, make it clear that the political leadership, “must be subordinate to Al-Azhar and respect it.” As Rubin notes, the real levers of power in Egypt can then transfer to the religious clerics. If the Muslim Brotherhood can control these levers then they will be in position to dictate the shape and make-up of power in Egypt just as the mad mullahs did in Iran.
What about Libya? The infamous cleric, Sheikh Qaradawi, has reportedly issued a fatwa that Gaddafi be killed. The MB has been present in Libya since at least the 1950′s, at first openly and later, under Gaddafi, as a banned group operating covertly. It stands to reason that the fall of Gaddafi would present a huge opportunity for the MB to expand its influence there.
What lessons can we draw here?
Surely one is that the U.S. cannot play defense in its foreign policy, by merely propping up friendly authoritarians. When we line up on the side of dictators and thugs, we are sending a very clear message to people oppressed with our support that the U.S. talk of human rights and freedom is only so much hot air. This, in turn, gives ample ammunition to groups like the MB who can effectively argue that their version of Islam is the only, true solution. The U.S. has effectively ceded the playing field, so to speak, to the enemy. Not only that but the U.S. has effectively given up– to continue the sports metaphor– developing any kind of farm system where we can have influence in developing future leaders who can puncture the lies of the Islamists. We find ourselves with no, real options in Egypt for the precise reason that we never seriously and strategically pursued democratic formation in these countries. We have, shamefully, left the Egyptian people with no one to turn to except the MB.
Another lesson is the importance of long-term, strategic thinking. Note the striking difference between how the MB plays the game and how the U.S. has played it. The MB was founded in 1928 with a clear purpose and objective to take power in Egypt and, from there, to re-establish theocratic Islamic states throughout the Middle East. The MB has shown incredible patience and cunning, adopting conciliatory postures when they were weak or faced overwhelming opposition, but taking advantage of opportunities when available. For over 75 years, the MB has been building its organization and extending its tentacles in Egypt. And not only Egypt but throughout the Middle East by providing the ideological support (and perhaps logistical support) for groups like Hamas and opposition groups in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The U.S., by contrast, has no, obvious, long-term strategy in the region. In fact, our policy, to the extent that we have one is neglect (at best) and, as practiced by the Obama Administration, a positive refusal to “interfere” in the affairs of any Middle East nation, even the worst such as Iran and Syria. No, we go out of our way to extend a hand to them. Surely the Islamofascists must be laughing their turbans off in amazement.
In fact, there is a clear note of triumphalism in Badi’s September 30, 2010 sermon (as translated by MEMRI):
Resistance is the only solution…. The United States cannot impose an agreement upon the Palestinians, despite all the means and power at its disposal. [Today] it is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and it is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan. [All] its warplanes, missiles and modern military technology were defeated by the will of the peoples, as long as [these peoples] insisted on resistance – and the wars of Lebanon and Gaza, which were not so long ago, [are proof of this].
The Administration’s conciliatory gestures and haste to exit Iraq and Afghanistan simply embolden the enemies of freedom and convince them to redouble their efforts. Worse, there is every indication that the Administration has no clue what it is doing and simply bounces around from event to event, reacting and recalculating its position with every new day and every news cycle.
Everyone should be closely watching events in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East for signs that the Muslim Brotherhood is actively instigation or, at least, co-opting the unrest to its advantage. One pattern that may be emerging is that the protests seem to be fiercest in those countries that have governments which cooperate to some degree with the war on terror. Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen. All of these states have cooperated to one degree or another with the West in the war against Islamic terrorism or have not actively encouraged jihad against the West. In the case of Libya, it may be a case of sheer luck for the MB which they are now seeking to fully exploit. In any case, Qaddafi has been no friend to the MB. Watch for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to be hit with “spontaneous” unrest in the next weeks or months.
Conversely, we have not seen the same sort of protests in Syria which is as autocratic as any Arab state. The MB has a significant, if low profile, presence there as well. But the Syrian regime fully supports the aims and methods of the MB, so any uprisings there, if my theory holds true, would be short-lived and anemic.
If the Brotherhood can seize power in any of these nations, the Long War is going to get very ugly, very quickly.