Over its almost century-long history, the Muslim Brothers movement underwent little change. It is still a loose organization, half religious, half political, existing in semi-clandestinity and striving to unite all Sunni Muslims in a global battle for self-rule and global supremacy. The narrative of the Brothers can best be described by what it detests: all other religions, western lifestyle, modernity based on science and secular law, secular politics, monarchies as well as democracy.
Active in virtually all Muslim-populated countries, the Brotherhood can claim to be world's largest semi-clandestine movement. Yet, its political success has been limited. Currently it rules over very few countries: Turkey, Sudan, Gaza, perhaps The Gambia. However, it has spawned numerous radical movements: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Syria, Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Boko Haram in Nigeria and surroundings.
The Brotherhood is the oldest Muslim movement and the mother of all Sunni political movements except Wahhabism which predates the Brothers by 180 years. Daesh is a hybrid of both: it combines the Brothers' dislike of monarchies with the violence and jihadism of the Wahhabites.
In recent time, the Brothers have suffered three major setbacks: in Egypt they moved from power to persecution; in Tunisia they were successfully challenged by a united front of unions and democratic forces; in Libya they are gradually losing their Tripoli-based power to a new United Nations-imposed government.
Time to reflect what went wrong
Hard to believe but something seems indeed to be stirring in the frozen orthodoxy of the Brotherhood. After all, its founder Hassan el-Banna had said:
“It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”
Despite its eight decades of growth the Brotherhood has failed to achieve this lofty goal, yet no member was bold enough to challenge it. The praise for being the first Brother to rethink the organization's mission goes to Amr Darrag, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who currently is in charge of the Brotherhood’s political office abroad; he is the former minister of planning and international cooperation in Egypt and was a member of the Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party’s planning office.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Darrag recommends to separate the religious and social work from the political activities of the organization. He recommends a “comprehensive reassessment to avoid previous errors produced by the overlap of [religious] preaching with [political] partisanship.”
Among the worst errors, Darrag mentions its past strategy “to compete politically against a large segment of the population (in Egypt) but at the same time work alongside them socially. This is simply not achievable.” Hence, he recommends that the Brotherhood should renounce from political work, drop all political parties it maintains and leave it up to individual members which party they would join.
It is not clear to what extent Darrag's views reflect mainstream Brotherhood thinking. He does not seem to be on very good terms with Mahmoud Ezzat, the acting leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in exile. Also, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey, the international Brotherhood's most powerful tool worldwide, continues to be in the grip of the Brothers and is striving to become the country's single state party by marginalizing all opposition in the same way Mohamed Morsi acted in Egypt when he was president on behalf of the Brothers' Freedom and Justice Party.
More significant than Darrag's approaches to reform could be new developments taking place in Tunisia. The Islamist Ennahda party headed by Rashed Ghannouchi has officially announced its departure from political Islam. Instead, it wants to become a democratic Muslim party. On 22 May its party congress decided with overwhelming majority to separate religious and political work much in the way recommended by Amr Darrag.
The political Islam had lost its “justification” in Tunisia, said Sheikh Ghannouchi, and he wanted no imam to be a member of or heading a political party. Rafiq Abdessalem, Ghannouchi's brother in law, is quoted as saying: “We don't need a political Islam anymore which protests in a confrontation with the state. We are a national party with an Islamic background providing responses to the Tunisians' political, economic, social and development needs.”
The new Ennahda is seen as offering more space to the youth, to upgrade the role of women and to reestablish trust in its relations with business leaders. The reorientation of Ennahda is arousing much interest throughout the Muslim world.
Mustafa Akyol, a respected Turkish newspaper commentator, in his blog “Tunisia’s civility vs. Turkey’s crudeness” compares the Ennahda party with Turkey's AKP: “While the AKP is zealously confrontational and triumphalist, Ennahda is impressively reconciliatory.” He quotes Ghannouchi as saying: “We are for a comprehensive national reconciliation and for cooperation and consensus-building with all those who recognize the revolution and its martyrs and respect the Constitution – Islamists, Destourians, Leftists, and all intellectual and political trends, so we can all go forward steadily toward a future that is free of grudges and exclusion.”
Akyol's comment sounds rather bitter: “You never hear anything like this from the AKP folks. For them, history is nothing but a warzone between good and evil, the virtuous and the vicious. (And, of course, they themselves are, by definition, the good and virtuous ones.) Reconciliation with the evil enemy is neither possible nor desired. “
The old Muslim Brothers vs. the new ones? Genuine reform or window dressing?
The administrative team of Donald Trump is debating whether or not the United States should declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and thus subject it to US sanctions, Reuters reported.
According to US officials and people close to President Trump’s transition team, a faction in the Trump administration led by Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, wants to add the Brotherhood to the State Department and US Treasury lists of foreign terrorist organizations.
However, some members of the Trump administration also worry that a US move to designate the entire Brotherhood a terrorist group would complicate relations with Turkey, a key American ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group, and led by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Reuters said.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the country’s oldest Islamist movement, was designated as a terrorist organization in that country in 2013.