Tuesday 28 May 2013

Egypt's Brotherhood "Is Ruining It" For Other Arab Brotherhoods

During a recent conference I ran into an important figure within Tunisia's Ennahda, generally recognised as the Tunisian incarnation of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. That figure, who is considered from the more progressive branch of the movement (also, not a fan of Ghannoushi,) spent a great deal of a time lamenting to me what he saw as strong decline in the popularity of Ennahda as of late. Other than ascribing it partially to Ennahda's own domestic politics, he also threw substantial blame on the shoulders of Egypt's Brotherhood. For him, Egypt's Brotherhood was dominated by a "paranoid, secret-organisation and power-hungry mindset" whose results have "divided Egypt and caused significant damage to the country and its transition as a whole," while also damaging the MB's popularity locally. However, another side effect according to him: making Islamists in general and Ennahda in particular lose even more popularity in Tunisia. He also said that he visited Egypt's Brotherhood sometime recently, offered some counsel, but ended up leaving somewhat disheartened from what he heard and saw. His lamentations went on for quite a while.

I was reminded of this when I reread today Hassan I. Hassan's piece in The National in which he discussed the rising Saudi involvement with the rebels in Syria. Hassan writes, referring to Syria Brotherhood's deputy leader Mahmoud Tayfour and his meeting with the Saudis:
'Two separate sources close to the opposition say Mr Tayfour assured the Saudi minister that "Syria's Brotherhood will definitely not be like Egypt's Brotherhood."'
That in turn reminded me of recent this interview with Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkiran, in which he goes to great lengths to dissociate himself and his JDP, also seen as the Moroccan extension of the Brotherhood, from Egypt's Brotherhood. I remember reading around similar rhetoric coming out of Morocco. Then again, this also reminded me, for example, of rhetoric from Libya Brotherhood figures also trying to make it abundantly clear they nothing to do with Egypt's Brotherhood, including these comments by the leader of Libya's Brotherhood Bashir Al-Kabti in which he distances himself from Egypt Brotherhood, further distances himself from its strongman Khairat El-Shater, states that he didn't meet El-Shater during his visit to Libya and that "he only heard about his visit from the media." He then goes on to list a few ways in which the experience of Libya's Brotherhood is "different" [read: better] from that in Egypt, including arguing - for example - the JCP party is genuinely independent of the Brotherhood, and that it was more of a collaborative effort with other political entities in Libya compared to Egypt's FJP which was, his comments argue, more of a mirror reflection of the Brotherhood.

Yes, the statements are officially intended to convey that these other Brotherhood-origin organisations are independent and not satellites of Egypt's Brotherhood, to allay local fears. But I believe, especially in the Syria quotes, that they represent the degree to which the experience of the Brotherhood in Egypt has been disappointing and worrying, as well as the negative impact it appears to be having on the popularity of other Arab Islamist movements. Clearly, had the experience of Egypt's MB (and to a lesser extent Tunisia's Ennahda) been more attractive, Syria's Islamists (and others) wouldn't be the source of the same amount of trepidation they increasingly are for many.

Another attendee of the conference I mentioned in the beginning, who had overheard some of that side discussion, looked towards me after the Ennahda figure had left and spoke with a raised eyebrow as he sipped his fresh orange juice: "You know, the Ikhwan are really ruining it for the rest of them."

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