In post-revolution Egypt the Ikhwan (Brothers) is no longer simply the Gamaa'a (Organisation). It faces no existential threat from a dictatorial regime or police state and now has a political party, Freedom and Justice. Officially approved on 6 June, it is led by three ex-members of the Brotherhood's Guidance Council. Soon it could be joined by four other parties spawned by members of the group: El-Nahda (Renaissance); El-Riyada (Pioneer); Haraket El-Salam Wa Al Tanmiya (Movement for Peace and Development) and the youth-led El-Tayar El-Masri (Egyptian Current).
None of the four have been licensed yet. First they will have to meet the requirements of the Political Parties Law, issued in March by the Military Council, Egypt's de facto rulers since Hosni Mubarak's ouster on 11 February. The new law stipulates that any political party seeking a license must first garner 5000 supporters from ten or more governorates.
El-Nahda expects to apply for a license within ten days, according to its founder Ibrahim El-Zaafarany, a senior member of the Brotherhood who resigned from the organisation two months ago. El-Zaafarny, who is also secretary general of the Doctor's Syndicate in Alexandria, was a leading member of the MB's reformist wing. Many reformers are now working outside the organization, having left it to form their own parties.
Khaled Dawoud, also from Alexandria, describes the dissidents as the generation that gave the Muslim Brotherhood “the kiss of life in the 1970's”. After 35 years in the organisation Dawoud is now busy trying to set up El-Riyada, which he describes as a “centre left” party. His co-founders include several reformist members of the Brotherhood though Dawoud insists the would-be party's membership will be drawn from across the political spectrum.
Unlike El-Zaafarany Dawoud didn't resign from the MB. But, he says, all too well aware that the MB's reigning mindset was opposed to the “proposals for reform and calls for revising thoughts and ideas” he and others have submitted to the leadership over the years, he realised he would have to work outside the group's official framework.
A number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been quoted as saying that any member who joins a party other than the group's Freedom and Justice will be expelled. The statements were reiterated on 24 June in response to consecutive announcements of new would-be parties created by MB members.
Whether the organisation, facing the biggest internal rift in its history, will act on its threats is unclear. It would mean losing members and damaging its reputation as a united front. It has already expelled Abdel-Meneim Aboul-Fotouh, 60, a popular figure in the Brotherhood who decided to field himself as a presidential candidate against the group's policy.
But insiders say the real reason Aboul-Fotouh was thrown out of the organization is because his ideas clash with those of MB strongman and second in command, Khairat El-Shater. The group may well not have the stomach for mass expulsions.
Aboul-Fotouh and El-Shater epitomise the decades old conflict between reformists and hardliners in the group. It is a battle that has surfaced repeatedly in the past - in the MB's December 2009 internal elections reformists, including Aboul-Fotouh, were purged from the Brotherhood's Guidance Council - but which was never allowed to spiral out of control in the face of the Brotherhood's prioritizing of unity when threatened by security clampdowns.
No longer threatened by a police state differences within the group are now emerging from the shadow. In the words of Hossam Tamam, a Brotherhood expert: “The revolution has shown that the exceptional solid unity of the MB can't be sustained forever.”
The MB might not be disintegrating, he told Al-Ahram Weekly, but departures from the group should not be underestimated.
Speaking to the Weekly on Tuesday, MB leader Essam El-Erian denied that large numbers are leaving the organization. “They're only five or six,” he claimed. But that seems a serious underestimate. The dissidents may well number hundreds.
Hamed El-Dafrawi, founder of the would-be party the Movement for Peace and Development, described the Brotherhood as being in thrall to “a 'secret organisation' mentality”.
“They haven't been able to transcend this mindset, hence the departure of frustrated members.”
But how different are the platforms of the splinter groups emerging from the MB? Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, a researcher into Islamic movements, says some of the would-be parties reflect disagreements within the organisation “over administrative matters” rather than ideology. Part of the conflict is a reflection of the struggle “between three different generations in the Brotherhood: the leadership, mid-management and the young people who were part of the revolution and gained media exposure”.
The MB's young cadres, often hailed as co-heroes of the revolution for remaining in Tahrir Square until Mubarak's ouster, were until recently invisible to the public and the media. They ignored their leadership's orders during the revolution to withdraw from Tahrir Square and later joined the 25 January Youth Coalition alongside leftists, secularists, liberals and independent groups.
Emboldened by this experience and the media attention they gained, the Brotherhood's youth wing held its first public conference in March despite the leadership's opposition, sharing with the public their views on the organisation's policies.
The conference demanded that if the MB did form a party it should be allowed to operate independently from the parent group's hierarchy. Their demands were ignored and the Freedom and Justice party was duly formed, led by three unelected senior Brothers.
“The MB's youth groups have every right to believe the leadership owes them a lot for improving the MB's image during the revolution,” says Tammam. “They should have been absorbed and given space to work on a more influential level in the organisation, even as consultants, but they were snubbed.”
With reformists and younger cadres walking out of the organisation it's unclear how this will affect the Brotherhood's popularity, an urgent consideration if legislative elections are held in September.
In the 2005 parliamentary poll the Brotherhood won 88 seats, becoming the biggest opposition bloc. The vast majority of these ex-MPs haven't left the organisation and are now part of the Freedom and Justice party, subscribing to a manifesto which Tamam describes as “obsessed with Islamic sharia and the issue of identity and Islam”.
Their popularity might be put to test now that Egyptians are more willing to engage in politics. In last March's referendum on constitutional amendments 41 per cent of registered voters went to the polls. This contrasts sharply with a voter turn out of less than 10 per cent in the 2010 elections.“I'm afraid for the Brotherhood,” says Dawoud. “If they don't do damage control and introduce reform they're at risk of disintegrating. There's a revolution in Egypt but it hasn't reached the MB yet
Predicting history is always a tough, if not risky, business. Hence to a big question such as “How do you think the Middle East will be a decade from now?” which I recently addressed in a panel discussion, my answer would normally be, “Well, we will see.” However, I am tempted these days to predict that we will see a much freer and more democratic Muslim Middle East by the year 2021.
To explain why, I should first acknowledge the problem: the Muslim Middle East, broadly speaking, is quite an illiberal part of the world, in which political, religious, cultural, and even economic freedoms are either limited or, in some cases, non-existent. (In the world freedom map of Freedom House, only a few Muslim-majority countries rank as “partly free,” while most of them are simply “not free.”)
Recently, this problem has become a major concern to those in the West, partly due to their appreciation of liberty in principle, but also due to some of the disturbing byproducts of the lack of liberty in Islamdom, such as terrorism and other forms of seemingly religious violence. But the same Western concern, in my view, has led to some misconceptions, the most common being the argument that the root of the problem is nothing other than Islam itself.
This argument, knowingly or unknowingly, ignores two crucial facts:
First, the scarcity of liberty in the Muslim world is not always connected with Islamic theology. There are many other factors, such as nationalism, political conflicts, secular tyrannies, and the deep-seated “oriental despotism” in this part of the world. Graham Fuller, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, maps out some of these problems in his recent book, “A World Without Islam,” in which he persuasively argues that the political problems of the Middle East would probably be very similar if the region were dominated by some other religion. These problems, Fuller notes, stem from “nonreligious sources – not Islamic theology.”
Second, while there are surely problems with regard to Islamic doctrine, such as misogyny, imposition of piety, or the ban on apostasy in classical Islam, this same classical Islam also has the interpretive tools to reform these illiberal aspects, as I have shown in my just-released book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” (W.W. Norton, 2011).
Another fact we should keep in my mind is the similar pattern that a sister faith has gone through. Christianity, and especially its Catholic form, had quite illiberal views until quite recently. In the mid-19th century, popes condemned religious freedom as “a heresy that no Catholic can accept,” and they were excluded all other faiths until Vatican II of the early 1960s. So if Catholicism has changed its attitude about freedom, why can’t Muslims do the same?
Reasons for hope
Of course, there is an important difference between the two traditions in question, for Islam, unlike Catholicism, lacks a religious hierarchy that can issue binding doctrinal statements. There is no central authority in Islam, in other words; there are just learned men (imams) whose views become popular by persuasion. In that sense, Islam is more “Protestant” than “Catholic.” So, a development of a more liberal attitude within Islam would be a much more decentralized and ad hoc job than the steps taken by the Catholic Church.
That’s why the context of Islam is as crucial as its texts: Since there are no central Muslim authorities, change will come not via all-binding fatwas, but changes in the political, social and cultural context, which will influence all Muslim groups and individuals.
And that’s where the root of my optimism is: With the Arab Spring, the secular dictatorships of the Muslim world, which created their Islamist mirror images, are falling. Examples such as Turkey are showing that Muslim democracies are possible. And a slowly emerging middle class is looking at religious texts with a more rational and individualistic mind. Liberty is the destination to which these dynamics will ultimately lead us.
Apalah sangat kita boleh ramalkan tentang hal ummah ini di masa depan.. Ikhwan al-Muslimin mampu menahan tekanan bahkan termasuk hukuman bunuh dan penjara serta kerja berat. Memang benar ianya pernah berpecah berikutan Imam Hasan al-Banna mati dibunuh, memang benar ada anggotanya termasuk ulama yang meninggalkan Ikhwan. Tetapi semua perpecahan dan keguguran itu adalah cerita sampingan, seumpama gugurnya ranting dan serpihnya dahan pada pokok yang sentiasa subur.
Tetapi apakah Ikhwan bersedia untuk menghadapi zaman tanpa tekanan, zaman anggotanya bukan takutkan hukuman tetapi terpesona dengan peluang dan keuntungan. Mungkin sahaja godaan dapat mematah apa yang tekanan tidak mampu.
Saya terkenang wajah-wajah pakcik Ikhwan yang sempat saya gauli, wajah-wajah ceria yang menyaluti peristiwa lara lama; wajah Pak Cik Abbas Asisi di Iskandariyyah, Pakcik Fahmi Abdul Aty di Roxy, Pakcik Makmum Hudaibi, Pakcik Hassan Doah di Hotel Aman Dokki, ayahanda Dr. Zaghloul el-Naggar, Pakcik Muhammad Mehdi Akef beserta lain-lain. terima kasih atas layanan baik mereka, terima kasih atas segala sumbangan masa, kewangan, idea, kefahaman yang mereka kongsi.
Mereka adalah generasi yang sempat survive segala tekanan yang mendatangi mereka, Pakcik Muhammed Mehdi Akef terutamanya dipenjara selama 20 tahun kurang seminggu, tetapi peluang yang terbuka di atas nama kebebasan yang selama ini hanya menjadi idaman kepada pakcik-pakcik pada suatu masa dahulu belum tentu dapat disaring dengan baik oleh penerus-penerus mereka. Berapa ramai yang akan gugur dijaringan kebebasan?
Bagaimana relevannya kehidupan bermunajat sebagaimana yang dilakarkan oleh Imam Hasan al-Banna, Ustaz Omar al-Telmasani dan Ustaz Mustafa Masyhour kepada aktivis-aktivis parti-parti Islam? Bagaimana matlamat kemenangan di dalam pilihanraya akan melentur beberapa prinsip yang selama ini tegak? Bagaimana tarbiyah mungkin terpinggir apabila program politik terlalu padat? Bagaimana ukhwah yang terbina akan terungkai apabila kepentingan politik begitu menggoda?. Bagaimana struktur yang dapat mengimbangi tekanan dalaman kerana terdapatnya tekanan luaran terpaksa menyesuai bentuk kandungan apabila tekanan luar semakin berkurangan?
Apakah ummah ini akan semakin 'dewasa' dengan dapat menyesuaikan kehadiran mereka dalam persekitaran demokrasi lagi liberal? Ada pula sekelompok aktivis parti yang mahu mengagamakan segala tindakan politik yang diambil parti mereka. Contohnya selepas demonstrasi BERSIH baru-baru ini ada aktivis PAS yang memberi kuliah tafsir di masjid yang mengatakan demonstrasi itu adalah sama dengan perjuangan Nabi Musa, tidak banyak beza firaun dalam al-Quran dengan firaun yang ada sekarang, tukang-tukang sihir yang berpaling tadah dari firaun dan memeluk Islam itu adalah umpama sasterawan negara dan ahli akedemik yang selama ini membisu yang ini bersuara menyokong BERSIH. Sebelum beliau berlepas dengan keretanya, saya menyatakan kepadanya yang saya agak terkilan tentang persamaan yang dilakukannya itu, kerana penganjur BERSIH adalah Ambiga (seorang Hindu), sedangkan pengajur ummah ketika itu ialah Saiyyidina Musa (seorang Rasul), yang dimatlamatkan Ambiga ialah pemurniaan demokrasi sementara yang dimatlamatkan oleh dakwah Sayyidina Musa ialah Tauhid. Beliau dengann tegas mengatakan dia boleh radd (mematahkan) apa yang saya katakan itu, hanya beliau kesuntukan masa.
Pada saya kefahaman sebenar kita tentang peranan penglibatan kita dalam politik serta keterbatasan politik kepartian jarang kita fikirkan dengan masaknya, mungkin kerana kita hanya sibuk memikirkan strategi gerak-kerja politik itu sendiri. Kita memerlukan siri perbincangan yang telus dan serious tentang sejauh mana ummah perlu terlibat dalam kancah politik kepartian ini?
Hal ini semakin mendesak kerana ummah di negara kita semakin retak kerana hal-hal sebegini. Retak di antara pengikut parti-parti yang berbeza, retak kerana suatu hambatan yang mengancam 'kemurnian Islam dan kedaulatan Melayu', retak kerana menganggap politik hari ini adalah politik Islam, maka hukum-hukum agama konvensional dikeluarkan bagi suatu keadaan yang sebenarnya tidak konvensional.
Kini aktivis politik bercakap tentang Negara Berkebajikan yang kadang-kadang aktivis itu sendiri tidak mampu membezakannya daripada konsep welfare state di barat. Agaknya kita perlu kembali memahami turath kita, seumpama kitab Hisbah oleh Imam al-Mawardi, Nasihatu al-Mulk oleh Imam al-Ghazali atau lain-lain kitab, semoga kita tidak selama-lamanya terhanyut oleh tekanan arus luar yang semakin terik.