DOHA: The ongoing and unprecedented crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by the military-led government may give rise to a new form of Islamism in the country that will be inclusive of all Egyptians, says a Middle East expert at the Georgetown University Qatar (GU-Q).
Dr Al Arian (pictured), assistant professor of history at GU-Q, was delivering a lecture ‘From Revolution to Coup: Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood’, hosted by the Center for International and Regional Studies recently at GU-Q at its Education City campus.
The current crackdown has driven the Brotherhood back underground, which many say will only serve to empower the group. But Al Arian suggested that a now publically-functioning and engaged the Brotherhood may not be able to flourish in the shadows in the way it survived before.
“The repression we see now is unprecedented. The military sees a popular mandate to extinguish the Brotherhood based on the discourse of the ‘war on terror’. Unlike in the past, where the state ‘turned a blind eye’, the regime is now dead-set on crushing the resistance,” said Al Arian.
He argued that the repression may produce the unintended consequence of enabling the development of opposition alternatives. “Maybe, this will give rise to a ‘cosmopolitan Islamism’, a civic Islamic identity, not one caught between embittered Islamists versus the secular state, but one that includes all Egyptians working against the entrenched and repressive regime in a fight that is finally, a real revolution.”
Professor Al Arian teaches introductory courses on the history of the Middle East, and advanced topics courses covering the history of modern Egypt, Islamic social movements, and Islamic law and society. His forthcoming publications include Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Egypt (1968-1981), and Islam and Politics in North America.
He traced the trajectory of the Brotherhood over the past three decades leading up to the removal of president Hosni Mubarak from power. He evaluated how that history, which followed the path of a reformist movement, rather than a revolutionary one, shaped their political performance over the last three years, and ended in a reversal of political fortune.
Despite the Brotherhood’s 85-year history, Al Arian focused on the context of the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Sadat Egypt, where economic liberalisation had given rise to an urbanised, professional, increasingly religiously devout middle class, that added to the ranks of the Brotherhood, in addition to the traditional rural base that constituted the bulk of its numbers prior to this period.
“This new support base still deferred the ideology of the Brotherhood to its foundational predecessors, but streamlined the modes of delivery of the Brotherhood to appeal to Egyptians in a time where we see a fragmented Islamic identity, and when there are many more competitors in the arena of groups identifying as “Islamic”, including the state,” said Al Arian.
As a result of this shift towards increased social engagement, the Brotherhood sought ways to accommodate the state while espousing gradual change, versus revolting against it. “More recently, we see the leadership of the Brotherhood choosing not to align itself with other opposition groups, and instead focusing on a narrow opposition to Mubarak’s regime.”
Following the democratic elections that put Mohammed Mursi and the Brotherhood at the helm, the group continued to hedge their bets, avoiding all-out confrontation. But it became increasingly clear that despite the removal of Mubarak, the vast majority of the former regime’s political apparatus remained firmly entrenched.
As a result, argued Al Arian, the Brotherhood had no access to substantive ways to address the systems in place, and eventually were overturned.