- Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics by Khalil al-Anani
When the Muslim Brotherhood was suppressed in 1948, it was described as “the most powerful mass organization” in Egypt, and almost 70 years later, it could still be called “the leading political movement in the wake of Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising.”1 It outlasted major politico-ideological rivals like Wafdist nationalism and Nasserism, and survived repressions by authoritarian military regimes. Khalil al-Anani affirms that the “extraordinary ability to endure and accommodate repression constitutes one of the Brotherhood’s most defining features” (p. 7), and he argues that the organization’s ability to create and maintain a strong collective identity is a major source of its enduring strength. The chief question he seeks to answer in this book is: “How does the Brotherhood create its identity in everyday life?” (p. 8).
In recent years many studies of the Brotherhood have been published. Al-Anani contends that while current scholarship generally transcends old-style essentialist and Orientalist views, most studies concentrate on the Brotherhood’s external behavior. They give insufficient attention to the internal processes of creating the collective identity that is the foundation for the Brotherhood’s durability. Al-Anani focuses his study on these processes. He develops this study within the framework of social movement theory, especially as articulated in Alberto Melucci’s studies of the creation and maintenance of collective identity in movements.
In the first chapter, al-Anani presents the basic themes of the book, defining the various components of the Brotherhood’s collective identity. This discussion is followed by a remarkably comprehensive presentation [End Page 315] of the spectrum of approaches to the study of Islamism in general and the Brotherhood in particular. In chapter 3, al-Anani describes his approach, using an analytical framework within which identity is seen as “a constructed concept,” not a given (p. 34). Within this framework, he argues that the “longevity of Islamist movements stems from their ability to grant their members a unique and distinctive identity” (p. 43).
The first dimension of this identity, as presented by al-Anani in chapter 4, is what he calls the jama‘a paradigm (“group,” referring to the Brotherhood’s original Arabic name: Jama‘at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, the Society of Muslim Brothers). This group identity — which was defined by Hasan al-Banna, who in al-Anani’s view, “remains the Brotherhood’s chief ideologue and most influential leader” (p. 50) — involves a sense of Islam as “a comprehensive way of life” (p. 56) and identification with a distinct community. Membership in this community involves participation in a series of intense social networks which create and then reinforce the sense of collective identity. This begins with the recruitment and training process examined in chapter 5 that al-Anani calls “chasing the prey” (p. 70) and is similar to what some Christian sectarian groups call “love bombing,” in which the recruit is drawn into an intense social network of friends from the group, involving the prospective member in movement activities. The continuing experience of socialization (tarbiyya) within the organization, examined in chapter 6, reshapes “an individual’s identity through practice” and “continues as long as members are affiliated with the Brotherhood” (pp. 84–85). This continuing process “consolidates its [the Brotherhood’s] identity through an internalization of its ideology, norms, and objectives” (p. 12).
The Brotherhood’s organizational structure provides the institutional framework for the development and maintenance of its distinctive collective identity. In chapter 7, al-Anani describes this structure, noting how it is shaped by, and shapes, the Brotherhood’s ideology. In al-Anani’s analysis in chapter 8, this organization provides the operational framework for the Brotherhood’s “unique code of identity that distinguishes it from other Islamist movements,” which he calls ikhwanism (p. 118, also from the group’s Arabic name). Within the framework of the Brotherhood’s collective identity, ikhwanism “is not a mere ideology or slogan but a way of life” (pp. 118–19). As an identity frame, it...