We are all agreed that the Muslim Brothers are a potential threat to the working class, the left, and democracy in general. We are all agreed that we — the left and the labour movement in Britain and internationally — have an urgent duty to build solidarity with the new workers’ movement in Egypt and whatever left develops.
There is a difference of emphasis in how to pose this. I think we need to avoid appearing to say that because the Brotherhood is the strongest force, all prospects are bad; or to say that the only thing which stands in the way of the Brotherhood destroying all democracy is us, the socialists.
There are real forces, principally but not only the Egyptian workers’ movement, which are an alternative to the Brotherhood.
There is a real social force emerging in Egypt. What happens in the next weeks, months and years depends on that social force; it does not literally depend on just us.
There is the real possibility of something good coming out of this. We should argue that we need to build solidarity to make sure other forces triumph over the Brotherhood and other reactionary forces, rather than making our keynote, in effect: “Things could easily go horribly wrong”.
Concern about the threat from Islamism should not prevent us from trying to be concrete. And as far as I can judge, concretely, there is no imminent danger of a Brotherhood take-over.
We should not imply the Brotherhood is no threat at all, or deny that it could quite soon become a serious one. But we shouldn’t be alarmist, either.
In shaping what we say, we must be mindful of our role as a voice of Marxist sanity in a sea of pro-Islamist stupidity on the British left.
If the points Clive considers that “we are all agreed on” were taken as read by the self-defined socialists in Britain and beyond, then we could be much less strident about warning, polemicising, emphasising the dangers posed by the Brothers.
There may also be a difference of assessment about how big a problem the MB might be. The new gains in Egypt are wonderful. But the new movement has only just been born and so is fragile. The MB have a cadre, cash, resources, many tens of thousands of members, resilience...
It is inevitable that amidst general jubilation, many will focus on what’s positive and blank out the nasty possibilities. We need to state what is. Obviously this can be done in a way that gets in the the way of a positive message, but we need to consider the possible worst cases, not just the better ones.
Social and political
I don’t think a Brotherhood takeover is imminent. The Brotherhood consider it rash to go for power straight away.
But a workers’ government, or a revolutionary-democratic government, are also un-imminent. The only “imminent” governmental possibilities are some variant of “technocratic” army-based regime — with more or less army control, granting more or less democratic space in a more or less durable way, granting more or less social reforms, more or less pushed by Brotherhood pressure to introduce piecemeal “Islamisation” of daily life as in Pakistan and Iraq, etc.
Maybe things will just stop there. But we also, and maybe most of all, discuss the possibilities if the mass movement continues, if the army and the state bureaucracy prove fragile and discredited.
In that case it is not enough that a new social force should exist to counter the Brotherhood.
It also requires a new political force. Unless a strong secular middle-class-based movement emerges, it requires that a political force (not necessarily a clearly socialist one, but a political force) emerges from the new workers’ movement.
The possibilities for that are very exciting. But it is not automatic. The experience with the South African unions in the 80s and 90s should warn us against any illusion that it will happen automatically.
Of course we should avoid any appearance of aligning with the manic US hawks who think that an overthrow of Mubarak means Taliban-style rule tomorrow. I’m sure we have thoroughly avoided that.
The Muslim Brotherhood, on its website, constantly stresses how moderate it is.
“The MB confirms that it and the people respect and trust the army which throughout the revolution continued to demonstrate poise, caring for the good of one and all” (MB statement, 14 February).
“The Muslim Brotherhood [has] reiterated that it does not seek power” (MB website, 13 February). “We do not intend to take a dominant role in the forthcoming political transition. We are not putting forward a candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for September”.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website editor-in-chief Khaled Hamza declares: “the current uprising in Egypt is a revolution of the Egyptian people and is by no means linked to any Islamic tendencies, despite allegations nor can it be described as Islamic...” Hamza “criticised allegations and reiterations by some countries that the uprising was Islamic and denounced claims by the Iranian Supreme Leader... that the protests are a sign of an Islamic awakening inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran” (MB website, 5 February).
“It is our position that any future government we may be a part of will respect all treaty obligations made in accordance with the interests of the Egyptian people” (including Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, or is that an obligation not “in accordance with the interests”? Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, MB website, 2 February).
It is widely said that there are serious differences within the Brotherhood. However, in its statements the Brotherhood holds by all the fundamentals of its traditional Islamist programme.
The Brotherhood dissociates itself from the more secularised politics of the AKP party in Turkey.
“The Muslim Brotherhood group hasn’t changed and won’t change its principles: The full Islamic method is the end of our work, and the success we seek is when when it is applied and carried out in all aspects of life among all individuals, groups, societies, institutions and the regime.
“The Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) declares its approval and satisfaction with secularism of the country according to the well known Western concept. This differs from our great main target of founding an Islamic state for Muslims, not a theocratic state...” (Mohamed Morsi, MB website, August 2007).
Because Sunni Islam (a bit like Protestant Christianity, and in contrast to Shia Islam) has no structured religious hierarchy, and most Sunni Islamist activists are not clerics, the Brotherhood argues that its version of an Islamic state is different from Shia Iran’s, which it calls “theocracy”. “The concept of governance based on sharia is not a theocracy for Sunnis since we have no centralised clergy in Islam. For us... sharia is a means whereby justice is implemented, life is nurtured, the common welfare is provided for, and liberty and property are safeguarded. In any event, any transition to a sharia-based system will have to garner a consensus in Egyptian society.” (Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, 10 Feb).
The Brotherhood also maintains such tenets as: “Religious texts ordained that the woman’s body, except for the face and the hands, should be covered in front of all except those who are [close relatives]. And that a woman should not sit in private with a man who is not [a close relative]” (The Role of Muslim Women in an Islamic Society, 2006: MB website).
It commits itself to the destruction of Israel. “Arab nations must sever all ties and declare a state of non-normalization with the Israeli Zionists” (MB statement, 31 May 2010). “The Palestinian cause can never be isolated from other issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Egypt, because all these issues are actually stemming from one issue caused by the US backed Zionist entity, said MB chairman Mohamed Mahdi Akef...
“Akef said, directing his speech to the Zionists: Regardless of the bloodletting our nation is facing, it will live and you will perish...” (March 2008).