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The Brotherhood (transcript)
Read the line-by-line transcription of the Empire episode, "The Brotherhood".
Last Modified: 14 Apr 2011 15:20

This is the transcript for the episode "The Brotherhood".

Marwan Bishara

They are widespread across the region…

Kamal El-Helbawy

The Muslim Brotherhood are spread in 80 countries.

Marwan Bishara

…well-organised…

Man Wearing Spectacles

The Muslim Brother is a reality.

Marwan Bishara

…and better positioned to benefit from the Arab Revolution.

Dr Omar Ashour

The slogan 'Islam is the solution', it's like saying [that] apple pie is delicious.

Marwan Bishara

As they vie for influence and compete in free elections, we ask: what [is the] future for the Muslim Brotherhood?

Marwan Bishara

This is Empire.

Marwan Bishara

Hello and welcome to Empire. I am Marwan Bishara. The Muslim Brotherhood have been an integral part of the popular upheavals that swept through the Arab world. And while they didn't initiate them, the Brothers are now strategically positioned to benefit from the southern political opening in the region.

Their affiliates have long rooted for change, albeit a change they reckon should lead to further Islamisation of the Arab states and societies. But are the Brotherhood unified around one strategy? What are their relations like with other Islamist groups, and how they will reconcile their ideology with democracy? [These are] are some of the questions I'll be discussing with my guests: Dr Katerina Dalacoura, Lecturer of International Relations at London School of Economics; Azzam Tamimi, Director of the Institute for Islamic Political Thought; and Dr Khalil Al Anani, Fellow at the Middle East Institute at Durham University. And, last but not least, Gilles Kepel, Professor and Chair of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at Sciences Po in Paris.

But first, a quick history, and geography, of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Members of Muslim Brotherhood

Brotherhood! Brotherhood!

Voiceover (Man)

The Muslim Brotherhood.

Voiceover (Man)

Muslim Brotherhood.

Voiceover (Man)

The Muslim Brotherhood.

Voiceover (Woman)

The Muslim Brotherhood.

Voiceover (Man)

The Brotherhood

Voiceover (Man)

Muslim Brotherhood.

Voiceover (Man)

The Muslim Brotherhood.

NARRATOR

WHAT IS THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD?

NARRATOR

FEAR MONGERS IN THE WEST SEE IT AS A THREAT TO CIVILISATION.

Radio Reporter

If the Muslim Brotherhood take Egypt, it destabilises the entire Middle East. It sets the Middle East on fire.

Leland Vittert

The police and military cannot overcome the Muslim Brotherhood there in Egypt.

News Reporter

It's really become like the mothership for jihadists throughout the Middle East.

Man With Microphone

Chanting

NARRATOR

OR IS IT THE BENIGN SOCIAL MOVEMENT ITS LEADERS CLAIM?

Kamal El-Helbawy

In Egypt and in the Arab world, we are the only genuine democratic movement or group.

Professor John Esposito

The Brotherhood has remained a non-violent opposition movement within a violent state.

NARRATOR

FOUNDED IN EGYPT IN 1928 BY HASSAN EL-BANNA, THE MOVEMENT'S GOAL WAS TO SPREAD ISLAM ACROSS AN EMPIRE STRETCHING FROM SPAIN TO INDONESIA AND THEIR MESSAGE OF 'ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION' CAUGHT ON.

Kamal El-Helbawy

It started as a social movement and as a movement to bring moral values and good character in the society. And then later on, after almost ten years, they began to interfere in politics.

NARRATOR

BUT POLITICS IN THOSE DAYS WAS A BLOODY AFFAIR.

Dr Omar Ashour

In 1946, they started conducting several armed operations against the British targets. In 1948, they assassinated the Prime Minister of Egypt, Mahmoud Fahmi an-Nukrashi. By February 1949, Hassan el-Banna, the Head of the Brothers, was assassinated in retaliation.

NARRATOR

THE BROTHERHOOD FOUGHT BACK. THEY BACKED A MILITARY COUP IN 1952.

Dr Omar Ashour

The man of the Muslim Brothers in the army was a colonel and he was the officer that convinced - between quotations - the King to step down. It was a coup.

NARRATOR

THE BROTHERHOOD TRIED TO ASSASSINATE GAMAL ABDEL NASSER IN 1954. THE MOVEMENT WAS BANNED AND THOUSANDS OF MEMBERS WERE THROWN IN JAIL AND TORTURED. MUBARAK TREATED THEM NO BETTER, UNTIL EVENTUALLY THE BROTHERHOOD RENOUNCED VIOLENCE AND CONCENTRATED ON SOCIAL SERVICES AND INFRASTRUCTURE.

NARRATOR

THE BROTHERHOOD HAS SPAWNED COUNTLESS SPLINTER GROUPS FROM AL-JAMA'A AL-ISLAMIYA IN LIBYA TO HAMAS IN PALESTINE AND JORDAN. THEY HAVE INFLUENCE FROM ALGERIA TO YEMEN, SYRIA TO SUDAN.

Kamal El-Helbawy

I hope you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood are spreading in 80 countries. As individuals, we have [members] everywhere in the world.

Member of Muslim Brotherhood

Chanting

NARRATOR

THE POLITICS OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IS PRAGMATIC AND CONSTANTLY EVOLVING.

Dr Omar Ashour

Ideology does not determine their behaviour whatsoever - it's a pragmatic group. The Muslim Brothers in Algeria, for example, sided with the military [and] with the coup plotters against another Islamist party.

The Muslim Brothers in Kuwait, until five years ago, were really opposing womens' suffrage - the woman's right to vote. At the same time, the Muslim Brothers of Egypt were fielding female candidates for MP.

Dr Omar Ashour

The Muslim Brothers in Iraq, for example, supported the intervention, the coalition intervention in Iraq; the Muslim Brothers in Egypt opposed it. Even the red lines - if you wish the ideological red lines- get compromised when the setting is right, when the context is right.

Member of Muslim Brotherhood

Chanting

NARRATOR

EVEN THE BROTHERHOOD'S ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL HAS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS.

Translation For Mohammed Mahdi Akef

We do not recognise Israel, but we will not fight them. We do not have anything to do with them. We have nothing to do with Palestinian internal politics. My concern is the greater Islamic cause.

PEOPLE SHOUTING

NARRATOR

BUT WHEN THE REVOLUTION DID FINALLY COME TO EGYPT, THE BROTHERHOOD WAS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN.

Professor John Esposito

The Brotherhood was late, you know, coming in.

Group of People

Chanting

Kamal El-Helbawy

The youth were [there] from day one, [and] even before day one. But the leader took a decision after one or two days to participate fully.

Professor John Esposito

When things really got nasty, it was the Brotherhood that brought a sense of organisation and how to respond.

Professor John Esposito

When the grooms came in they played a role.

Kamal El-Helbawy

On the day of the Battle of the Camel and the Horses, it was the Muslim Brotherhood members who managed to protect them from more attacks.

NARRATOR

WILL THEIR CONSERVATIVE ISLAMIST PRINCIPLES GARNER THEM THE POPULAR SUPPORT NECESSARY IN A NEWLY DEMOCRATIC REGION? WILL THEIR IDEOLOGY GAIN POWER IN OTHER NEWLY LIBERATED LANDS? OR, WILL THE YOUNGER GENERATION, CLAMOURING FOR REFORM, WANT TO CHANGE THE VERY NATURE OF THE BROTHERHOOD?

Professor John Esposito

You have a lot of young people say, "Look, what I'm concerned about is not necessarily becoming a Muslim Brother, I'm concerned about economic change, I'm concerned about a greater future, I'm concerned about freedoms."

Marwan Bishara

Gentlemen, Katerina, welcome to Empire. Khalil, let me start with you. Let's start with the recent development in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood rooted for the yes vote on the constitutional amendments. It garnished some 77 per cent of the vote. Is this a preview of things to come?

Dr Khalil Al Anani

Well, I think it's really unfair to assume that people who voted for 'yes' in favour of [the] Muslim Brotherhood. I think people are taking by what's happening in Egypt by this kind of vacuum that left after the collapse of the Mubarak regime. So, they voted yes not only because they support the Brotherhood, but mainly to get stability in the country.

Marwan Bishara

But, Azzam, do you think they are good that, the Muslim Brotherhood, jumping on popular causes and they are more than hence gaining legitimacy and popularity?

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Well, you're putting it rather negatively. Perception is very important and what really matters is how people perceive the Muslim Brotherhood, whether you're talking about Egypt or any other country in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood are not seen as alien or as opportunists or as different, they are considered to be part and parcel of society.

Marwan Bishara

Gilles, you just came back from the Middle East. Tell me, how do you see the Brotherhood? How unified are they nowadays?

Professor Gilles Kepel

Well, I don't know if we can still talk about a unified Muslim Brotherhood, and because as you know they have not really played the biggest part in the, in the Arab democratic revolutions, they are now trying to adjust to it. And as a result the movement is now being fragmented, it's looking at its, at its future, and there is a huge debate within its ranks.

I was, I was just back from the Gaza Strip and actually most of the Hamas people I was to meet there had gone on a seminar to Turkey to sort of discuss with others the strategy of the Brothers for the future and how to, how to cope with, with this big change that they had not expected.

Marwan Bishara

Katerina, do you have a sense of just how influential are the Brotherhood today in the Arab world?

Dr Katerina Dalacoura

I think they will, in elections get a significant plurality of votes. This is what analysts have been saying for a while now. And I think the opportunity at the moment is that indeed the Brotherhood will become registered as a political party and participate in elections and participate in the political process. I think this is going to be beneficial for them and it's going to be beneficial for Egypt and for democracy in Egypt in the long run.

Marwan Bishara

But, Azzam, how exactly can you reconcile the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the people? How can you reconcile Islam with democracy today in real political life?

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Well, there was really never a clash between democracy and Islam, except in the minds of some people. It depends on how you define democracy and how you understand Islam. Those who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood school of thought accepted that democracy as a set of procedures in order to guarantee that the government is elected by the people and is accountable to the people; [this] was accepted by the Muslim Brotherhood and became part and parcel of their thinking.

There are other Islamic groups that disagree with the Muslim Brotherhood and that have a different definition, or perception, of democracy and as a result they reject it.

Marwan Bishara

Would they accept a democratic constitution or they will insist on the Sharia as being the constitution?

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Well, they would want Sharia to be, to be implemented, but they would, they would agree that this should come through the will and approval of the people. So, it would have to go through the vote, and as a matter of principle it's up to you as a political party what sort of programme you submit to the public…

Dr Azzam Tamimi

…and then the public have the freedom to say yes or no.

Dr Khalil Al Anani

I'm sure at the Brotherhood principally they believe in democracy, they believe in this kind of political pluralism. But principally, when it comes to details, to how can you apply this in reality, in fact there's some problems with the Brotherhood discourse.

For example, in Egypt they got three controversial points. The first one, they didn't define what the roll of religious men in terms of legislation process. The second thing, still their position from Christians and women is still regressive and they need to change this and unify this. And, here I would think there is some spirit and division between the younger generation for Brotherhood and the older one.

I would say that the young generation for Brotherhood really took a very significant part in the revolution in the last few weeks, in fact, believe in equality, believe in tolerance and believe in the good relationship between different persons of the Egyptian society regardless of the gender or the religion. But still, the older generation still doesn't have this kind of progressive mentality.

Marwan Bishara

Gilles, do you think there is a, a mini revolution going out there in the Muslim Brotherhood on the lines of the larger revolution going out in the Arab world?

Professor Gilles Kepel

There is a major division between the young generation and the older generation. And what seems quite clear to me was that after the referendum in Egypt last Sunday, the older generation, to some extent, has been standing in line with the members of the armed forces thinking that they would organise a sort of sharing of powers between the two. Something which is quite adverse to what the younger brothers are wanting, because they feel more in line with the other youth who took part with them in the movement on Tahrir Square than with their elders.

And I believe that this is something that we shall have to, to watch very closely in the days or in the weeks to come. To what extent do we have a movement which remains as it is through generation lines, or on the contrary shall we have different ways of, of thinking politics between the, the, the old turbans, as we say, and the, and the younger kids?

Marwan Bishara

In fact, Katerina, we're talking now not only about the younger Brothers but also the younger Sisters, because they also have been quite active in the public squares, if you will, of the, of the Arab region.

Dr Katerina Dalacoura

I think that the concentration of the Brotherhood on moral and social issues in the last few years, in lieu of developing a genuine political programme, has meant that they have placed a lot of emphasis on, on, on women, and my sense of their ideas of world views is that they are still within the traditionalist framework.

Marwan Bishara

Azzam, they've come a long way, but not long enough?

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Well, I think this neo-Orientalist approach is completely wrong. We shouldn't judge the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamic movement according to liberal standards. I, as a Muslim, I don't give a damn about liberalism or what the westerners want to see in our societies. What really matters to me is what I want to see in my society.

Whether it is to do with women or who heads the state of whatever, this is something that we decide for ourselves, on the basis of our understanding of our values or our religion and on the basis of the needs of our people. And, therefore, I wouldn't consider liberal democracy as the standard against which I would measure the progress or regress of the Ikhwan.

Marwan Bishara

How about gender equality?

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Well, that, that's, again that's a cultural issue. I mean, the West, it talks a lot about gender equality and it's a mirage; it doesn't really exist in reality. There is no such thing as absolute equality. And it should be left to us, the Muslims in our own societies, to decide how we want to govern ourselves and not according to the whims and desires of liberal democratic thinkers in the west.

Marwan Bishara

Gilles, there is a certain cultural relativism here?

Professor Gilles Kepel

Well, I believe that one very big, important thing that took place with those Arab democratic revolutions was that cultural relativism was brushed away in the public square of Tunis and in Cairo, and that the Arab youth that took to the streets did not care anymore about this Arab exception, if you want, they wanted to be part of universal history.

They had seen dictatorships fall in Latin America, they had seen dictatorships fall in Eastern Europe, in a number of non-Arab Muslim countries, and now they want to be part of it. And definitely people in the Arab world are deeply engrained with their, with their culture, with their tradition and so on and so forth, but they're also part of the universal history.

And when you, when you go back to the beginning of the, of the movement, the Brothers were, were not present. And they, they, they came back after a while, but they, now I believe that they are trying to surf the wave of democratisation to adjust to it. Some of them are probably extremely sincere into that. But they are the ones who are trying to adjust to, to the movement and not the contrary.

Marwan Bishara

Katerina?

Dr Katerina Dalacoura

What we see in the last few years and even decades in the case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a gradual adoption of democratic principles, values. It is, I think, an implicit recognition by the Brotherhood that this is the only game in town. Now, this further push towards an opening of the political system, again the Brotherhood will have to follow.

I am not this optimistic about women's issues. We will see a combination of accepting, at least the trappings of democracy and democratic principles on the one hand, combined with an emphasis on social and moral issues and that's been a longstanding formula of Islamist parties in the region.

Marwan Bishara

Khalil, how do you think all of this is gonna play with the other Islamist group in the Arab world?

Dr Khalil Al Anani

The ideology for Brotherhood: you can find some similarities between different factions of Brotherhood over the Arab world. But the argument used to be that, if there is some kind of political repression and security oppression against any movement, not to mention the Brotherhood, they will have to, first of all, focus on the how to be unified, how to react to this kind of external threat. Now the external threat has gone.

Now there is no kind of threat to the regimes anymore. Now this challenge is how can you democratise your internal structure to accommodate and integrate young generations. Second, how can you give concessions and play down the concern that come from other political factors? Now, as long as you have sustainable democracy, this will push Brotherhood and all other Islamist parties to modernise and democratise their discourse and ideology.

Marwan Bishara

And, we have an example of that: Azzam in Palestine. So, we have the Muslim Brotherhood there, played a role, succeeded in elections, until they were boycotted terribly by the international committee. Do we have a model there that other[s] will look into?

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Democracy as understood by Islamic movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, is to do with governance and accountability. It's not to do with moral values, because these derive from Islam. And when Hamas had an opportunity to participate in the elections, it played the game according to the rules available – it won the vote.

But then, if it had its own way, it would push through democratic means for its own vision of what it believes society should be like. Similarly, the same thing will happen in Egypt, will happen in Morocco, will happen anywhere in the world.

I think sometimes when people talk about democracy there is a confusion between the procedural aspects of democracy and the ideological underpinning which, in the western tradition, comes from secularism. And secularism in Islam, it is completely incompatible with Islamic thinking.

Marwan Bishara

So, do you think, Gilles, then we could be on the way towards Muslim democrats on the lines of the Christian democrats in, in, in past times?

Professor Gilles Kepel

In terms of Muslim, Muslim democracy, well when we look at what happens in Turkey, it is clear to me that within the, the ruling AKP Party you have a number of people who are definitely truly democrats and Muslims, and who are trying their best to, to create the sort of global way of thinking with their, their peculiar Muslim and also Turkish heritage.

And this is… I believe that what we see now is there is a process in the making within the, the whole world of the Muslim Brotherhood because, and I would not talk about a unified Muslim Brotherhood as I said earlier on, because they are now facing the big challenges of their history. And they can be part and parcel of the power system, depending on what, what other concessions they are, they are willing to make. And all this is going to depend also on the social forces that they can mobilise and, you know, there are a number of parameters and variables that get in the way.

Marwan Bishara

Katerina, do you think they are going to go the Turkish way, will go the Iranian way or will there be a third way, an Arab way, an Egyptian way, a Tunisian way, of how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab world in general will, will behave politically in the future?

Dr Katerina Dalacoura

One question is whether Islamism and the Brotherhood is compatible with democracy. Another question, which is a separate one, is the degree to which the Brotherhood and other Islamist parties are able to offer a true political alternative to the ideologies that exist in the Middle East at the moment. And in my judgement, what we have seen for the most part is a proposal for moral and religious overseeing of the political process.

The idea is that when you have people who are good Muslims then they will be able to ensure that the political processes run well, that there's no corruption and that the society collectively moves forward adequately. Now, we have seen that this model has failed dismally in the only case where it's been implemented, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran, where in fact I, I think there's no better proof that unless you have the institutional structures to guard against corruption and lack of accountability, being a good Muslim is not enough.

Marwan Bishara

Gilles, is there something to be worried about? Should so-called west worry about all this fear mongering from Muslim Brotherhood and, and other aspect of Islamism being part and parcel of a democratic process in the Arab world?

Professor Gilles Kepel

The Islamist movement was fractured from the last 1990s onwards onto two main tendencies: the one that was radical and violent, and that was epitomised, to some extent, by 9/11 and by Osama bin Laden. And the other one, which was first and foremost impersonated by, the Turks, the Turk Islamists, who decided that they would go into democracy.

Now, I believe that ten years after 9/11 we have seen that the radical model has become totally exhausted politically; they were unable to mobilise the masses. On the contrary, the Turks have become not only quite successful politically, but quite prosperous economically. This is the big issue for them - for the Egyptians also. To what extent are they going to be able to deliver politically, economically and socially, you know?

I mean, it's not only about ideology, it's also about the hard facts of society, and this is where they are going to be put to test also. For the time being they just said, "Islam huwa al-hal", Islam is the solution. It may be the solution in their eyes, but, you know, this has to be defined in concrete terms and this is what I believe the Egyptian electorate and the constituents and the citizens of the Arab world are eagerly waiting for.

Marwan Bishara

Well, Gilles, gentlemen, [and] Katerina, on this sobering note we're gonna have to end and I'll be back with a final note.

Marwan Bishara

Islam is not the answer if your question is [about] what went wrong in the Arab world. But three months of revolution and two regime changes later, the one pertinent question worth asking today is: what has gone right?

The answer lies with a new generation of young Arab nationalists, Islamists as well as liberals and leftists who joined hands against ruling dictatorships and embraced plurality, democracy and freedom as a rallying cause for the people. It is not certain how the young Arab Revolution will address decades of grievances, but what is certain is that the trinity of pan-Arabism, Islam and democracy is indispensible for future stability and prosperity in the region.

That's why the 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood will do well to listen to their younger generation of Brothers and Sisters, who prove not only politically and technologically savvy, but that they have a better insight into the contemporary world. And that's the way it goes. Write to me with your observations and go to our website at the addresses below. Until next time.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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