The Muslim Brotherhood Wins…And So Do Their Opponents

27 Jan 2012

By Hamad Al-Majid

The statement issued last Thursday by a spokesperson for the US State Department, to the effect that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had provided the US with assurances that it will respect the peace treaty with Israel, did not surprise us. Rather, we would have been surprised if the Muslim Brotherhood had not provided such guarantees. Even the Brotherhood denial, issued by Essam el-Erian, one of the group's leading figures can only be taken within the context of political pragmatism to counteract the public response to the US statement, which might harm the Muslim Brotherhood's popularity.
In Gaza, there is a similar scene with the impact of the US statement, specifically amongst the Hamas leaders who are reviewing their resistance strategy. The British "Independent" newspaper reported that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had secretly asked Hamas to completely halt its military activities, and only carry out political activity, in the wake of the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions which were characterized by an overwhelmingly peaceful nature, and the victory of Islamic parties in the recent elections. This was confirmed by the US State Department spokesperson, although Essam el-Erian later denied this. Furthermore, Western sources have reported that [Hamas chief] Khaled Mishal has hinted, over the past few weeks, that his movement will undertake a strategic shift from armed struggle to popular, non-violent resistance. However [senior Hamas figure] Mahmoud al-Zahar later denied that there has been any change in relation to "our approach and way of thinking about the conflict".

This marathon of statements and denials is reminiscent of the 1980s, when Fatah transformed its focus from armed struggle to diplomatic struggle. At the time, Yasser Arafat, may God rest his soul, had to take into consideration his people's reaction to such a shift, whilst simultaneously seeking to move towards reconciliation with Israel. In this endeavour, he sometimes used the statements issued by the rear guard of the Fatah movement, such as Yasser Abed Rabbo, to gauge public reaction. If the reaction was strong, Arafat would then retract the statement and claim that it did not reflect the views of the PLO.

In any case, our purpose here is not to investigate the veracity of the statements, or the credibility of the denials. Rather, the important thing here is to demonstrate that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions with political expertise modify their strategies and plans as soon as they come to power. This is what we saw extensively in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the Islamists' victories in the Algerian and Palestinian elections were aborted. At the time, we said that giving the Islamists the opportunity to hold power - through the victories they achieved in the elections – would result in one of the following results: either the Islamists would fail in governance, or their wings would be clipped and their radical discourse would become more moderate in an attempt to be pragmatic amidst the complicated state of affairs, both domestically and internationally.

This is exactly what we can detect in the "realistic" statements being issued by the Muslim Brotherhood's victorious leadership today, regarding a number of political issues including the nature of relations with Israel, an issue that is extremely sensitive and complex. Even the Egyptian Salafists, a more conservative and hardline Islamist group who long accused the Muslim Brotherhood of "indecisiveness" in their policies regarding a number of religious, social and political issues, have now been infected by such political pragmatism. Hence we have begun to hear a different Salafist rhetoric regarding the nature of relations with Israel, as well as social issues and tourism.

To prove the validity of this theory, let us suppose that the Palestinian Authority sportingly accepted Hamas' overwhelming victory in the elections, and that a Hamas Prime Minister was appointed and subsequently given a free rein – rather than being a mere figurehead. Would Hams then have rushed into a completely one-sided conflict with Israel, like that which it waged in the past, causing suffering and horror in the Gaza Strip? I do not think so. Indeed after Hamas assumed control of the Gaza Strip and got a taste of power, it refrained from engaging in any direct military conflict with Israel, and is even pressuring other factions not to aggravate the situation with Israel.

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid is a journalist and former member of the official Saudi National Organization for Human Rights. Al-Majid is a graduate of Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and holds an M.A. from California and a Doctorate from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom.


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