The Ghetto that is the Muslim Brothers

The Muslim Brotherhood has a smart media machine. It tailors its messages to the receiver. To Western audience it tries to present the MB as a modern, inclusive democratic movement fighting for freedom, justice and for the poor. What it says to its supporters on the ground is an entirely different matter.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s logo

Once global media began focusing its cameras on the sites of the protests in Rabaa (east of Cairo)  and Nahda (south of the capital) the MB’s media gurus sought to present the crowds as some kind of a popular uprising similar to the one in Tahrir Square that overthrew Mubarak in 2011.

Down went the black Al-Qaeda flags,  up went the Egyptian tricolour. The strident Islamist rhetoric was toned down, and up were the puppet shows for children. Mixing of the sexes was also tolerated. Unveiled women speakers took to the stage to addressed foreign media in English and German. A  New York Times correspondent in Cairo  said he felt it was some kind of “Islamic Woodstock”. The media spin has worked.

An Egyptian journalist who visited Rabaa and spoke to the people there painted a different picture.

Haytham Al Tabei describes Rabaa as a “Muslim Brotherhood Ghetto”, a Ghetto of choice as he put it.  He saw children dressed in “death shrouds” in anticipation of martyrdom,  and spoke to people  there who were fully convinced that this was a war between Islam and the enemies of the faith. Some were convinced that the state would prevent them from going to the mosque to pray if they were to end their sit-in and go home.

Such is the extent of the siege mentality and the collective paranoia whipped up by the MB leaders holed up in Rabaa.  Instead of admitting to their disastrous political failure to gain the trust of the wider population, they prefer to rally their power base against the “ungodly state” and the rest of society, thus  risk plunging Egypt deeper into unprecedented civil strife.

But that mindset is neither new nor born out of the current crisis. It is in fact germane to Muslim Brotherhood ideology and outlook.  The chief proponent of this doctrine ( and arguably the MB’s most important ideologue ) is Sayyed Qutb, the author of “Signposts” , a small tract known also as the manifesto of global jihad.

For Qutb the world is divided between Islam and the enemies of Islam. “Islam recognises only two types of societies”, he writes, “an Islamic society, and a Jahiliya {idolatrous/pagan/infidel} society. An Islamic society is the one that applies Islam, in terms of its  doctrine and worship, its sharia, its regime, its morality and its behaviour. A jahiliya society is one that does not apply Islam, and not ruled by its doctrine or its concepts, its values and criteria, its regime and its legal code, its morals and conduct.”

Thus were sown the seeds of putting Islam on a collision course not only with the rest of society in Muslim-majority countries, but with the rest of the whole world. It has since then continued to flourish on the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood’s global network and the most dangerous offshoot of political Islam, Al-Qaeda.

Although the MB has over the years sought to distance itself publicly from some of Qutb’s  radical views, privately it has continued to believe in his ideas and use them to indoctrinate the new recruits.

Recent interviews and publications by former members of the group has shown that the MB at heart remains committed to the Qutb doctrine that divides the world into two irreconcilable opposites : that of Islam (where the MB lives) and the enemies of Islam where everyone else does.

Former members like Yasser Eid and Sameh Fayez paint a picture of the MB living in a parallel universe, almost a cult, preparing itself for the day it will conquer the evil world of jahiliya in Egypt and beyond.  Total obedience to the leaders in every aspect of social and practical life is a religious duty :  choice of wife must be from within the ranks,  opening a business requires a prior consent, commercial or financial disputes between members have to be settled by internal arbitration and not by regular law courts, what books to read and not to read, all have to be cleared with the leaders, who also wield a veto right over what friends   members are allowed to go out with.

This has created a form of psychological and emotional seperatedness from the rest of their social context that has been on ample display in the Rabaa and Nahda camps. One Egyptian writer said the crowds there appear to live “outside time and geography”.

Sameh Fayez who jointed the MB at the tender age of 8  and spent twenty years rising through the ranks says he’s now regarded as an apostate  because he left the Muslim Brotherhood.  Such is the extent of the equation between Islam and the MB, that those outside are regarded as inferior Muslims at best, or renegades at worst : they have returned to the state of Jahiliya, to use Qutb’s terminology.

With the Egyptian revolution more people like Sameh have come out, spoken up and sounded the alarm bells. The MB is a society cut off from the rest, and a state within the state with its own regimes, laws and finances : secretive, conspiratorial, hierarchical and demands absolute loyalty and obedience to the leaders – in short anything but democratic.   That is the frightening picture that emerges from the stories told recently by ex members

In the past the MB had to battle the police and the intelligence services to survive.  After such revelations and a disastrous year in the presidential palace,  the MB has now to  face a much more formidable enemy. For the first time in its history,  It is up against the public who has seen through its sanctimonious rhetoric and drew their own conclusions  : the MB are a bunch of politicians who want power to shape society according to an anachronistic ideology.  In a democracy they should be allowed to do so, but they should also be denied the possibility to use and abuse the faith of the majority of Egyptians to seize power. If they want to run for office, that is their right, but it is neither democratic, nor is it their right, to manipulate the religious sentiments of the electorate to demonise their political rivals – that is in part how they brainwash the poor and the young and and win elections. Established democracies can deal with religious parties, but in a country like Egypt,  they would inevitably lead to religious despotism, if not outright theocracy : one vote, one man, one time.

Egypt’s most important battle is not to disperse the Muslim Brothers camps in Rabaa and Nahda, but to redefine the relationship between religion and the state.

The constitution drafted by the Muslim Brothers and their Salafi allies had removed the ban on religious parties that existed in the old constitution. That has to be changed, and the ban has to be vigorously enforced. It’s not going to be easy.  But it is a fundamental prerequisite if Egypt is to free itself from the clutches of political Islam. Religion has a role to play in Egypt as it does in most societies, but the Muslim Brotherhood should not be allowed to use and abuse religion to seize power.

(This piece was written for the Islamist Gate (a new website currently under construction) before the violent break up of the Muslim Brothers’ sit-ins in Cairo and the subsequent bloody events.


Magdi Abdelhadi

Writer, broadcaster, moderator, media consultant. I commute between London and Cairo. I am a former BBC journalist. All views here are only mine.

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