Arab Islamists and the Shock of June 30th

Published: October 01, 2013

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The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt has been a seismic shock for Islamist political movements across the Arab world. It had not been expected that within such a short time, the unprecedented authority of the Brotherhood’s “Supreme Guide” would be undermined. The movement fell, perhaps, due to its lack of experience in managing the affairs of state, after having moved so quickly from the mosques to the halls of power — and perhaps as well, due to its thirst to achieve immediate control over all state institutions. Arab Islamists, broadly speaking, had not anticipated that they would be handed the reins of power so suddenly. They may have been as surprised as anyone else when the ballot boxes yielded a victory for their movement, as opposed to the young civic activists who had called for ideas of social justice which were anathema to Islamist ideology.

The failure of the Egyptian Brotherhood — the mother ship, after all, of the larger movement — has compelled its offshoots across the region to rethink their strategies in an effort to avoid a similar fate. In Tunisia, the Ennahda movement has run into conflict with liberals and leftists who fear a regression from the social and political achievements of the late secularist president Habib Bourguiba; how should the movement manage this conflict? In Morocco, the governing Islamist Party of Justice and Development faces challenges of its own. The Brotherhood in Jordan, the largest opposition movement in the country, now faces a high degree of internecine strife, with challenges to the hardline leadership from a new reformist initiative called “Zamzam,” led by Brotherhood figures who have been described as “doves.”

In an effort to shed light on these dramatic shifts, Al-Mesbar Center’s 82nd monthly book, from October 2013, examines possible scenarios for the evolution of the Brotherhood movements following the dramatic events in Egypt last summer.

The first study, by Tunisian scholar A’liya Alani, pinpoints the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategic mistakes: In his view, they stem largely from its decision to remold the political conflict — from one between the ruling authority and its opposition over the society’s economic woes to a conflict over “identity.” The writer focuses on the Ennahda movement in particular, assessing its present dilemmas — specifically, to what degree it should risk a clash with the population over the fundamental nature of Tunisian society. He finds that the movement’s weakness lies in its zeal, whether in relations with the opposition, or with Salafis, who have assassinated several Tunisian opposition politicians in recent months. Will the Ennahda movement manage to avert a security crackdown targeting its own leadership, the likes of which happened in Egypt? In the latter country, Alani does not see a capacity for flexibility among the movement’s senior leadership. He suggests that the younger generation of Brotherhood activists would be considerably more constructive and pragmatic in entering into a dialogue with Egyptian authorities today. The Egyptian Brotherhood’s predicament bears some similarities, in turn, with Ennahda’s situation in Tunis. The Ennahda leadership must decide on the extent to which it will make serious concessions to its opponents in acquiescing to their agenda vis a vis the new constitution and choice of a date for elections. He predicts that political Islam will lose control over the government, but live on as an important ideological stream in Tunisian society. He also opines that the Egyptian Brotherhood lacks the agility — and capacity for reorganization of its ranks — that would be necessary to absorb the shock of the dramatic turn of events in Egypt.

Next, in a paper titled, “Islamist Political Violence at a Time of Transition: the Tunisian Model,” Tunisian researcher Mundhir Diyafi examines the degree and nature of the responsibility Ennahda may bear for the wave of assassinations and escalation of political violence during the period of its rule. To what extent has Ennahda been a facilitator for the Salafi groups which have primarily taken credit for the attacks? Diyafi explains the reigning state of confusion about these questions. He airs what evidence is available about the evolution of political violence since the revolution, and relationships, both public and private, between Salafis and Ennahda. He summarizes available information on the Ennahda security apparatus, its activities from the 1990s to the present, and its links with Salafi groups. He finds that there is in practice little daylight between the two groups, and that Ennahda, like the Egyptian Brotherhood, does not wish to put the public interest ahead of its parochial goals. This leads Diyafi to expect an eventual fate for Ennahda with many parallels to the routing of the Brotherhood last summer.

Moroccan researcher Idrees Lekraini, in his contribution to this volume, looks to the future of the Moroccan Islamist Party of Justice and development, now the governing party. Lekraini, who heads Morocco’s Organization for Research and International Studies for Conflict Management, expects that the PJD will seek a course correction, taking into account the lessons of Egypt. It will adopt a more realistic set of ambitions and work to engage its political rivals in a strategy based on compromise.

Jordanian researcher Muhammad Al-Awawdeh presents a study of the situation vis a vis Islamists in his country. He believes that the ouster of Muhammad Morsi in Egypt has caused the Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood to redraw its political plans. Prior to the ouster, the Jordanian Brotherhood had raised its political demands — and the rhetoric of its leadership had become increasingly brazen, hostile to the monarchy, and borderline-seditious by Jordanian standards. The Brotherhood effectively rejected the opportunities presented by the “National Dialogue,” which had been initiated by the monarchy as part of an effort to contain the impact of the Arab spring. But since June 30th, political differences internal to the movement have become more prominent. The writer’s findings support the view advanced by Jordanian writer Ibrahim Gharaibeh that the overall inclination of the Jordanian Brotherhood is to follow the model of political participation adopted by the Moroccan PJD, rather than the Egyptian Brotherhood’s failed approach.

In the fifth study, Dr. Nadia Saad al-Din considers the new, reformist approach adopted by a faction of the Jordanian Brotherhood named the “Zamzam Initiative.” The initiative is widely viewed as indicative of a split within the movement, initiated by its more dovish stream. She enumerates the points of agreement as well as the political differences between the new group and its parent organization — and the extent to which it is truly a “split” as opposed to an internal reformist trend. She explains the circumstances in which “Zamzam” was born, its political platform in terms of domestic as well as foreign policies, its relationship with the state and other political parties, and how it has been affected by new political developments in the broader region. Saad al-Din concludes that the initiative, to the extent it manages to dominate the Jordanian Brotherhood, represents a fundamental structural transformation of the movement and its role in the broader national political arena. In essence, it represents an unambiguous commitment to peaceful change, incremental reform, and consensus building.

Next, Moroccan scholar Muntasir Hammada turns his attention to the potential involvement of jihadists with the Brotherhood, and the possibility of a decision by the latter movement to return to violent activism following Morsi’s ouster. Jihadists have joined the public discussion and urged the Brotherhood to adopt their approach. Some Brotherhood leaders have responded with statements suggesting that they agree. The study’s findings are supportive of the ideas presented by Asif Bayyat in his new book on “Post-Islamism.”

Dr. Nabil Al-Atum, professor at Al-Balqa University in Jordan, examines the evolving relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s government of clerics since the dramatic events of June 30. He finds a pattern of inconsistency and waffling in Iran’s official discourse. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameinei, who had referred to the election of Morsi as indicative of the an “Islamic awakening” in Egypt, appears now to be confused as to how to approach the new realities in the country. Meanwhile, the Iranian media displays the positions of political conservatives and reformists among the political class. Conservatives say the removal of an elected president is unacceptable, and have compared the regime’s ouster by the Egyptian army with the CIA-backed 1953 military coup in Iran that toppled the government of Muhammad Mosaddegh. Meanwhile, among Iranian reformists, the author finds two views regarding events in Egypt: Some believe that the ouster of Morsi was not a coup but rather a response to the will of the Egyptian people, who had come to fear for the security and stability of the Egyptian state due to the behavior of the Islamists in power. Other Iranian reformists focus in their statements on Muhammad Morsi in particular, faulting him for failing to serve as president to all Egyptians and placing the Brotherhood’s narrow interests first.

Okasha Mustafa, a Moroccan researcher specializing in the sociological dimension of religion and politics, trains the lens on the relationship between Sufism and the governing Islamist party in his country. There is a widespread concern that Islamists manipulate religious sentiments as a means of legitimizing a campaign to monopolize the institutions of state. Political elites who share this concern have made strenuous efforts to counter the trend. Among others, they have encouraged of Sufis to raise their profile in the public discussion, advocating for their moderate views on Islam.

Egyptian professor Tariq Abd al-Jalil, a specialist in Turkish affairs, contributes a study of the “Erbakanist movement” in Turkey. He presents a history of the movement, its intellectual development, and its present role in Turkish politics and society.

Ibrahim Nimer, a member of Al-Mesbar’s editorial board, contributes a review of a new book, “The Suicide of the Brotherhood,” by Ammar Ali Hasan. The book enumerates the factors which have negatively affected the popularity of the Brotherhood, detailing the reasons why the movement has failed in managing affairs of state. The book is divided into three sections: “Self-Defects,” “Problems with Others,” and “Intellectual and Political Alternatives.”

Al-Mesbar Center would like to thank all the researchers who contributed to this volume — as well as Omar Bashir al-Turabi, who coordinated and supervised its production.