Think you know the Muslim Brotherhood?
Egypt’s rising political force has two faces — one young, the other old
The 2011 Egyptian revolution was staged by two parts of the Muslim Brotherhood. One old. One young.
Meet Mohammad Badi, 66 years old. He is your supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s what you would expect of the older members: bearded, taciturn, and lip-pursed. He looks like a conservative because he is a conservative. Badi continues to raise the banner of jihad. He views Israeli Jews as his foremost enemies, Americans his seconds. Badi stands by the Arab and Muslim people in resisting “Zio-American imperialism.” In the past, the more politically radical extremists have published anti-Israeli writings, funded the militant Palestinian organization Hamas, and voiced support of attacks against U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the Muslim Brotherhood we dislike.
Meet Moaz Abdel Karim, 29 years old. He is your coordinator of the winter protests that ultimately led to Mubarak’s ouster. He is high-spirited and a breath of fresh air. His political views are more modern. He champions human rights such as women’s rights, religious freedom, and fair elections. His values are different than — if not contrary to — those of the older members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, it is young members like Moaz Karim that reenergized the Brotherhood and galvanized older members to act synchronously to guide the revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna. The organization’s mission statement was to instill Islam as a comprehensive way of life: “Islam is the solution.” The Muslim Brotherhood became an Islamist revivalist movement following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and a unifying force in fighting British occupation. In the following twenty years, the Party of the Muslim Brotherhood was formed and a Brother assassinated Egypt’s prime minister. Later, a Brotherhood member allegedly attempted to assassinate Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952. Nasser responded with severe persecution of the Brotherhood, making some factions of the Brotherhood even more bloodthirsty. When Nasser’s successor, Anwar al-Sadat, signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, four army officers assassinated Sadat, who had links to former Brotherhood members. Since then, divisions of the Brotherhood have tied themselves with extremist groups such as Al-Jihad and Jamaat al-Islamiyya in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, and the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
The Brotherhood has a long track record of violence, but the new youth may provide a glimmer of hope for change within group.
There are allegedly 600,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. But only a few dozen young leaders, including Karim, were key in planning the demonstrations in Egypt. They followed Tunisia’s example and met secretly to plot the protests. They used Twitter and other social media to stay in contact with each other. They did not wave banners or Korans. No, they actually acted like peaceful demonstrators, not jihadists. Their level-headedness and trust in each other were the keys to their success.
Although the younger and the older Brotherhood members have their differences in opinions, they both want democracy installed in Egypt. Beyond that, there is hope that the older generation will reconcile with moderates on more than just politics, and that the older members may adopt the Western values of their younger counterparts.
Currently, the Muslim Brotherhood is running for elections under the name of the Freedom and Justice Party. The party supports equal citizenship regardless of gender or religion. Badi has made a personal call to Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria addressing the fears Egyptian Christians (Copts) have of the Brotherhood’s role in the Egypt’s future. Indeed, much has changed.