- The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement by Carrie Rosefsky Wickham
Egypt’s interim, military-installed regime declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization on December 25, 2013. Hundreds of Brotherhood members had already been arrested, while over one thousand nongovernmental organizations linked to the group have been closed. Participants in demonstrations can now be jailed for five years. Organizers can be sentenced to death. The predictable result has been ever greater levels of violence. Who are the Brotherhood and how has Egypt, the recent locus of so much hope, come to this deplorable state?
Carrie Rosefsky Wickham’s new book, The Muslim Brotherhood, is an excellent place to start the quest to understand the Brotherhood and their central role in recent events. Wickham’s finely tuned analysis takes us only to the election of Mohamed Morsi on June 30, 2012. Yet, rather than date her study, the cascade of events that followed have only served to heighten its value.
The unimaginable is now the order of the day in Egypt. The Tahrir Revolution of January 25, 2011, toppled authoritarian president Husni Mubarak. Democratic elections were held. Egyptians woke up on June 30, 2012, to a Muslim Brother president. Morsi’s presidency lasted only one year, undermined by mass dissatisfactions, serious mistakes by the inexperienced president, and quite real plots. On June 30, 2013, massive numbers took to the streets. Tamarod (Revolt), a movement of young activists, had organized a signature campaign for early elections to remove Morsi and reinvigorate the democratic spirit of January 25. Impressive numbers of Morsi supporters staged parallel demonstrations. While the nation and the world stood transfixed by the unparalleled numbers on the streets, other forces acted in the shadows. After only three days of demonstrations, the military seized power and arrested the president. Billionaire Naguib Sawiris, a symbol of the business community and the old regime, proudly describes his support for Tamarod behind the scenes.
The left and liberals fell over themselves in embracing Egypt’s new military rulers, an embrace that they will surely come to recognize as an historic mistake. The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters turned their demonstrations in public squares into occupations. A small number did have arms, and some violent abuses did occur. However, the vast majority created communities of non-violent resistance of men, women and children, displaying generosity and compassionate care for each other. Food was prepared for hundreds, a respectful security system created, crude sanitation facilities set up, and makeshift medical clinics established. The military responded on August 14, 2013, with utter brutality, slaughtering hundreds in Greater Cairo’s Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya and Nahda squares. Astonishingly, the Brotherhood and a growing number of diverse supporters have continued to demonstrate, demanding the end of military rule on the grounds of democracy and legitimacy.
At the heart of all these events stands the battered but resilient Muslim Brotherhood. Wickham’s major findings debunk the notion of the Brotherhood as a monolithic bloc with a fixed trajectory. She brings out the variety within the society, including an old guard, pragmatic conservatives, and reformers. Wickham does highlight the damaging unwillingness of the Brotherhood to work in a democratic spirit with other trends. However, she does not find the slightest justification in her careful study for the persecution of the Brotherhood as terrorists.
Inevitably, alongside these strengths of Wickham’s work there are limitations, including the blinders of an acknowledged liberal bias. Western values such as democracy and human rights are taken as a standard. The problem is not the explicitly noted values but rather that they are given an abstract and un-reflexive character. For decades, the US put stability above democracy, while ignoring the rights violations of allies such as the Egyptian regime. Egyptians did notice that the weapons used in the recent massacres were US-supplied. [End Page 323]
Wickham’s command of Arabic allows her to read the necessary documents and talk to the important players. One compelling portrait is that of Abu al-‘Ala...