The growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt presents a strategic threat to the United States interests in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is an insurgency that has been in existence since 1929. The stated goal of the Brotherhood is to replace the current secular Egyptian government with an Islamic Theocracy based on Shari’ a law. Despite multiple attempts by three different Egyptian President’s to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood as a factor in Egyptian society, the Muslim Brotherhood has continued to grow in influence both socially and politically. In 2005, the Brotherhood won 88 seats in the People’s Assembly due mostly to superior organizational ability. The results of this election confirmed the Brotherhood’s strength and ability.
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It is the Muslim Brotherhoods past association with radical Islamic groups and a stated method of patience to achieve an Islamic theocracy that presents a threat to both the Egyptian and U.S. government’s interests. Since the Egyptian governments of both President’s Sadat and Mubarak have played a major role in stabilizing the region since 1979, to lose that force would be a major blow to the United States Middle East Policy. “The U.S. policy toward Egypt is aimed at maintaining regional stability, improving bilateral relations, continuing military cooperation, and sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Successive Administrations have long viewed Egypt as a moderating influence in the Middle East”.
A destabilized Egyptian government, much less an Islamic theocracy, is of great concern to the United States. The United States has facilitated much of its Middle East foreign policy initiatives through the Egyptian government (i.e. Camp David Accords). If the government of Egypt were to become a Sunni-based Islamic theocracy, this avenue of diplomacy would likely be closed. Additionally, the government of Israel would find itself between a Shiite-based theocracy in Iran and a Sunni-based theocracy in Egypt. Israel would be placed between a rock and a hard place. As a long time ally of the United States and a pivotal piece in the stability of the Middle East, the security of Israel is of vital interest to the United States. The moderate government in Jordan and the struggling democracy in Lebanon would also be threatened by an Islamic theocracy in Egypt.
The role of Egypt in containing Iran is another vital interest to U.S. in the region. “Throughout history, Egypt and Iran have, at times, been fierce rivals, a natural outgrowth of the region’s balance of power. Egypt envisions itself as the standard bearer of Arab nationalism, and Persian Iran serves as a foil”. Iran and Egypt severed diplomatic ties in 1980. “Iran not only objected to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, but also to its hosting of the deposed Shah and its support for Iraq during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war”.
“Continuing tensions with Iran and Hamas have bolstered Egypt’s position as a moderating force in the region and demonstrated the country’s diplomatic utility to U.S. foreign policy. Based on its own interest, Egypt has opposed Iranian meddling in the Levant and in Gaza and has recently expanded military cooperation with Israel in order to demonstrate resolve against further Iranian provocation, such as arming Hamas or allowing Hezbollah to operate on Egyptian soil”.
Additionally, “Egypt is concerned about Iran’s support for Palestinian militants, particularly Hamas, Iran’s influence in Iraq, and Iran’s nuclear program. Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip poses a challenge for neighboring Egypt. Hamas’s call for armed resistance against Israel and its alleged Iranian financial and military support runs counter to Egypt’s foreign policy, which is largely based on its peace treaty with Israel and friendly relations with the United States”
“At the same time, as the Israeli- Palestinian situation has further deteriorated, Egypt’s role as a mediator has proved invaluable to U.S. foreign policy in the region. Egypt has secured cease-fire agreements and mediated negotiations with Hamas over prisoner releases, and other issues. Since Hamas is a U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and calls for Israel’s destruction, neither Israel nor the United States government directly negotiates with its officials, using Egypt instead as a go-between”.
The above examples show that Egypt is a cornerstone for U.S. Middle East policy. With hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and civilians currently deployed to the Middle East, the U.S. interests in Egypt are a vital part of that policy.
With Egypt’s importance to the United States demonstrated, it is the possible changing of the current chief executive that is the primary catalyst for concern. The Muslim Brotherhood will have an opportunity when President Hosni Mubarak steps down to renew its’ challenge to the Egyptian government against either most likely an inexperienced president or a military dictatorship.
If the new Egyptian President does not walk the tightrope over a growing list of concerns, the Muslim Brotherhood will enjoy greater and greater influence as an insurgency, until it will be able to challenge the secular government in political, economic and possibly military areas. Here United States actions will be critical, ” if the United States and Europe press too aggressively for change, there is a real possibility of alienating the Egyptian government or even of forcing Egypt into a chaotic political opening in which illiberal or undemocratic forces, whether Islamists or perhaps the military, might emerge triumphant”.
Due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s organizational structure and ability to provide basic services typically provided by national government, the Brotherhood has been able to sustain its insurgency. It has only been thought the use of Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic countermeasures that the Egyptian government has been able to prevent the Brotherhood from replacing the secular government. The current use of the D.I.M.E. tactics will become increasingly more complicated as the underlying grievances are exacerbated by continued population growth, changing of the current chief executive, governmental restriction on political opposition groups, continued high unemployment and continued resentment of U.S. military operations in the Middle East.
Different tactics have been tried by President’s Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak from 1952 to the present. These tactics include passing laws to contain the Muslim Brotherhood’s political activities, arresting and imprisoning members, killing of the members by security forces, negotiations for limited involvement in the parliament and expansion of executive powers to name a few tactics. None of these measures have succeeded in eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood from Egyptian society. These tactics have at times been seen as heavy handed (assassinations of Brotherhood members) and have helped fuel the claim that the Egyptian government is illegitimate.
Background and Muslim Brotherhood Strategy
As stated above the Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1929 by Sheikh Hassan al- Banna. Sheikh Hassan al- Banna was successful in establishing the Brotherhood as a substitutive representative government for the Egyptian people due to the corruption of the government of King Farouk, high unemployment and growing Western influence being the major factors exploited by Hassan-Banna.
England viewed Egypt’s geographic position as critical to maintaining control over her interests and influence in the Far East, this colonial view provided the Muslim Brotherhood with the opportunity to grow as a social movement. Britain had established colonial control over most of the Nile Delta. This control allowed the British to continue to control and construct the Suez Canal zone. In establishing this control the British had ignored most of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. By establishing control over the major urban areas in the Nile Delta, the British were viewed as occupiers in cities such as Cairo and Alexandria.
Seeing British domination of key area’s as foreign occupation, the Muslim Brotherhood began to develop its leaders in the cities, specifically Cairo. Sheikh Hassan al-Banna spent a large portion of his time preaching in Cairo, the large urban center provided large masses of Egyptians with unaddressed grievances, high unemployment, political marginalization and the decline in Islamic cultural influence in internal issues, provided fertile grounds to develop Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Additionally, “the Upper Nile River valley from Cairo south to the Aswan High Dam was the country’s most volatile area having been ignored by both the government of King Farouk and the British. This region was home to 30 percent of the population, Upper Egypt differed culturally, socially, historically, economically and politically from Cairo and the Delta, and overall the south (Lower Egypt) was poverty stricken and backwards compared to the north. It lacked basic infrastructure: agriculture was underdeveloped, equipment was antiquated, and the water was still drawn from primitive devices. The level of unemployment was twice as high (30 percent) as the national level, and reached 45 percent among the region’s young people. The inhabitants of the south, known as sa’aid, were cut off from the Egyptian-Arab society of Cairo and the north. Their social structure was tribal; a closed society still bound to traditions of blood revenge between families or tribes, or hostility toward the state’s security forces.”These factors provided ample opportunity to recruit Brotherhood members.
The failures of the Egyptian government to provide jobs for people in the Delta region, Upper or Lower Egypt despite having had the political system change from colonialism through nationalism and capitalism have provided the opportunity for the Brotherhood to continued to grow on a national level. The failure to provide basic government services advanced the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood to return to a caliph when society was based on the Quran.
The regional aspirations of the Muslim brotherhood are stated in the Muslim brotherhood’s international agenda which clearly stated in their regulations that “there is a global Muslim Brotherhood; it directs and organizes all Muslim Brotherhood branches worldwide. Its headquarters are located in Cairo, unless it is forced to relocate. The general guide of the Egyptian branch, or his deputy, stands at the head of the world organizations”. With this regulation, there is little doubt of an international dimension to the Muslim Brotherhood. The linkages to Brotherhood movements outside of Egypt are seen in Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Sudan and Tunisia. The desire to establish governments based on the Quran and Shari’ a law are the binding elements in these movements.
The largest regional issue that has been at the four front of the Muslim Brotherhood is the Egyptian government’s relationship with the state of Israel. This ongoing debate has been the cause for three wars since 1948. The relationship with Israel had led to the Muslim Brotherhood’s growth after the 1967 Yom Kippur War, Israel’s defeat of the Egyptian Army led to the Egyptian population questioning the ability and legitimacy of the Nasser government. President’s Sadat’s signing of the Camp David Treaty led to Brotherhood splinter groups assassinating President Sadat in 1981. President Mubarak’s support of the Sadat policies toward Israel has allowed the Brotherhood to continue to question the Mubarak’s governments Islamic roots.
The growth of the Brotherhood in Algeria and Jordan has provided the Egyptian government with different perspectives on how to deal with the Brotherhood. All three states had received their independence from colonial powers (Britain and France), all three states have majority Muslim populations, but each state response to the Brotherhood was varied. In the case of Algeria, the governments failure to recognize the strength of the Brotherhood and international pressure to hold open elections led to the Brotherhood becoming the majority party in national elections. The Algerian military was forced to void the election and a civil war followed, in which over 100,000 Algerians were killed. In Jordan, the monarchy allowed the Brotherhood participation but limited it. King Hussein used a law enforcement approach of passing laws and arrests to control the Brotherhoods effectiveness. In a third state, Syria, the government crushed the Brotherhood at its beginning, killing or arresting members. In each case, the different forms of government reacted differently with varied degrees of success. None of these other states had the population or history of Egypt.
On a local level, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to establish itself due to high unemployment, the increased influence of Western economic practices, specifically high interest rates and over population all contributed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s growth.. “The high unemployment present in Egypt caused in part by the world wide depression of 1928-1929 and the sharp decline in the price of cotton, one of Egypt’s leading exports. The global crisis created a high level of urban unemployment and severe shortages in the villages, which also triggered the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The lack of farm land, only the land near the Nile River is productive farm land, contributed to the population migration to the urban areas. This in turn aggravated the high unemployment problems and continued to provide the Muslim Brotherhood with large numbers of people with unaddressed grievances. With only a small percentage of the total land of Egypt usable, over population in the cities continued to create economic and social unrest.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a highly structured organization with defined roles and multiple dimensions’ which address all of the economic, social and political gaps that are present in Egyptian society. “It is a highly centralized movement that instills in its followers obedience to their leaders”.
The Muslim Brotherhood strategy to return to an Islamic theocracy based on three principles. First “The Qur’an is the basic constitution. Second, the government operates through internal consultation and deliberation (the Shura Council), and finally the ruler of the state must be subordinate to the teachings of Islam and the will of the people. There is no special importance to the terms for the head of state mentioned in the Qur’an – caliph, imam, king, ruler, and other – all are acceptable. What is important is that rulers’ administers the state according to the commandments of Allah and Shari’ a principles. Sheikh Hassan al-Banna believed that this social movement would have to be built from the masses up through education, living a good Muslim life and patience.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s main institutions are the Office of General Guidance, and the Shura Council, headed by the General Guide. The general guide is the official head of the movement and its practicing leader, with all of the branches and sub-departments subordinate to his authority. He determines the movement’s general orientation and activity. The general guide is the movements’ representative to the government and public on all important manners. He must be an older man who has proven his ability and his loyalty to the movement, and he works with one or two deputies.
The Office of General Guidance is the Muslim Brotherhood’s executive authority in Egypt, comprising between twelve and sixteen members, most of whom have been from Cairo, with a few from Upper Egypt and others from the Egyptian Diaspora. Membership is for four years, while the general guide serves as the permanent chairman. The office designs and implements the general policy. It sets up and supervises the movement’s branches and committees, and overseas preaching and the Islamic educational system (da’wa). It outlines the movement’s operational agenda and submits it to the Shura Council for approval, and presents an annual report to the Council on the movement’s activity and progress in the branches.
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The Sharia Council, convened by the general guide twice a year, functions as a legislative body. It is made up of seventy members who serve a four year term. Like the Office of General Guidance, most of the delegates have come from the Cairo area, with the rest from the other districts and Egyptian communities abroad. To be elected to the Shura Council, a candidate has to be at least thirty years old and a member in the movement for over five years. The council elects the general guide and the members of the Office of General Guidance.
The Muslim Brotherhood has three systemic branches that deal with all the areas of the movement’s activity. The first branch generally includes eleven sections, although the number is variable. The first and most important, the da’wa, disseminates Islamic religion; the other sections deal with farmers, students, trade unions, foreign liaisons, and so forth. This branch could be considered as the branch dealing with the social gaps, although it bleeds over into some economic areas. The second branch consists of the committees that deal with the daily management of the movement. The committees handle finances, planning, statistics, and services, and new committees are set up when necessary. This branch could be the Brotherhood’s economic gap branch although this too has bled over into the social gaps. The third branch directs and promotes Muslim Brotherhood activity throughout the country. The branch is headed by the Administrative Office that is responsible for activating local Shura councils, departments, and committees that deal with the same matters that the national leadership does. This third branch could be considered the Brotherhood’s political branch. (See attachment # 2).
The Brotherhood’s strategy to obtain its theocracy is based on five main measures to achieve the movement’s goals. First, Preaching carried out via radio, television, books, journals, and newspapers, and by instructions to Muslim Brotherhood delegations in Egypt and abroad. Second, Education with emphasis on Islamic education for the younger generations. Western education will cease. Third, Observance, an exemplary Islamic lifestyle will be observed in every social framework, including the economy, education, health, law, and army. It will be applied ubiquitously. Fourth, Implementation, by setting up educational, economic, and social institutions, mosques, schools, clubs, and charity organizations. Fifth and finally Preparation for jihad, the nation will prepare a united front against the invaders, the enemies of God, as part of the realization of the Islamic state.
The Brotherhood has used the full spectrum of weapons at its disposal; this includes in recent years political alliances. As with other social movements the more radical elements within the Brotherhood used political assassinations, bombing, suicide teams and threats until violence was renounced. The most recent successful weapon has been alliances with independent political parties (i.e. the Islamic Alliance 1987) to force the Egyptian government through legislative means to address the growing economic dependency on foreigners. “The electoral program of the Islamic Alliance called for restrictions on imports, protection of key industries, limits on debt, and carefully targeted foreign investment. By criticizing infitah, a hallmark of Egyptian economic policy, the Brotherhood and its political partners were suggesting that the military-political elite had compromised both the country’s wealth and its independence”.
The Brotherhood also used the mosques to advances their message of an Islamic state while recruiting at the same time. With Egypt as the most populous country in the Arab world and unemployment continuously high recruiting personnel was not difficult.
The Brotherhood obtained its funding through various charitable organizations which it set up in the cities in Egypt and overseas. Donations given to these charities and sales from newspapers and pamphlets provided money. “The Brotherhood was also able to collect from banks such as the Bank al-Taqwa, which was established in the Bahamas. Taqwa became the largest source of finance for the Muslim Brotherhood”.
Subsequent attempts to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood by the then government lead by President Nasser’s continued until December 1954 when the Muslim Brotherhood was declared an illegal organization. This declaration was a result of an attempted assination of President Nasser by the Muslim Brotherhood and is still in affect to this date.
As stated previously, the first and most influential leader was Hassan al-Banna, as the founder he established the organizational structure and wrote the regulations that still govern the movement. Banna served as the leader from inception in 1929 until his assignation in 1949. The general guides after al-Banna have been men who have been with the movement in some capacity for many years. Men such as Hamad Abu Nasser and Mustafa Mashour have served as the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasser served as the general guide until his death at age eighty-three. Mashour had been his deputy until being named as the general guide. Both of these men had been active in the Brotherhood since the Nasserite period when the Brotherhood was first outlawed.
The Brotherhood members that had survived the direct confrontation policies of Nasser and Sadat (1950’s, 60’s and 70’s) tended to be older and more willing to work within the Egyptian system. They sought to follow al-Banna’s vision of reforming the society from the ground up. Through preaching and education, which by its nature will take decades, the momentum built up by the Brotherhood would eventually overwhelm the corrupt system with men who have been taught and live proper Muslim lives. These men would eventually rise to power and change the society by following the Quran.
Past Solutions and Future Recommendations
President’s Sadat and Mubarak has employed both law enforcement and military methods to confront the Brotherhood. “Two different approaches toward internal security policy were at work in the regime. The first drafted by the former minister of the interior Hassan Abu Basha, claimed that radical Islam should be countered not only by the state’s anti-terrorism unit but also through the integration of political measures and social-economic reforms”. The second school was “the concept of Fu’ad Allam, who served for over a decade as the head of the Directorate of State Security Investigations. Allam believed that all Islamic organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the terrorist groups, were of one ilk, so that even the most extensive economic, political, or social reforms would have no effect in dissuading the Islamic groups to abandon their dream of replacing the government”. I believe that the approach of Mubarak is the correct one, by combining both law enforcement and military means he has been able to obtain a certain balance that has lead to relative stability in the short run.
“Faced with growing criticism at home and abroad, President Mubarak and the National Democratic Party (NDP) have responded with a flurry of political reform measures in the last few years. They generally fall into three categories: amendments of constitutional articles or laws governing political activity; creation of new, semi-independent oversight bodies; and abrogation of laws or regulations impinging on civil liberties”.
The most significant pieces of legislation enacted include a constitutional amendment (Article 76 specifically) allowing for the direct popular election of the president. While subject to stiff parameters, this amendment is a significant change. The establishment of Electoral Commissions (Law 173/2005) to provide oversight to presidential and parliamentary elections and the Political Parties law (Law 177/2005) changing the procedure for forming political parties, specifically the process to form a new political party is sped up.
Civil and Human Rights
The creation of the National Council for Human Rights in 2003 has been the most significant government step regarding civil and human right in Egypt. The council has shown a willingness to make serious recommendations regarding civil rights violations to the government and importantly discuss them publically. ” The National Council on Human Rights played a key role in persuading the government, through the new electoral commissions, to sanction the presence of thousands of poll monitors trained and organized by nongovernmental organizations”.
Egypt must continue to confront the Muslim Brotherhood as a long term threat” that will use patience and endurance, which has proven itself effective in restoring its activity on two occasions’ in the past, after its near liquidation in the Nasserite period, and after its persecution under President Sadat”. Egypt must continue to erase “all signs of the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy and keep closed its main headquarters in Cairo. Strike at the key components of the Brotherhood’s strength: the trade unions, university students, and economic companies. Prevent the participation of the Brotherhood in the elections to the People’s Assembly, through either independent or associated means, disclose the international links to world organizations and branches, liquidation of the most radical sections, expose secret activities under the guise of the Brotherhood and arrest, investigate and bring before trial members in order to paralyze the Brotherhood”.
The use of economic measures should be the avenue pursued by the U.S. in order to assist Egypt’s transition period. Economic measures should be based on international aid; specifically Egypt must convince the future U.S. administrations can greatly assist the Egyptian government in addressing the economic gap that helps the Muslim Brotherhood survive. U.S. grants in conjunction with U.S. pressure on the IMF to provide grants instead of loans would allow Egypt to continue to address her debt and inflation. Additionally, Egypt must convince the U.S. that economic aid which has dropped from $815 million in FY1998 to $655 million in FY2002 should be increased to $1 billion. This would allow Egypt to address underlying economic issues that are one of the strengths of the Brotherhood.
“As U.S. economic assistance to Egypt has dwindled from over $800 million in FY 1998 to $250 million in FY 2009, some observers have questioned whether or not U.S. economic assistance provides sufficient leverage to pursue U.S. national security interests in Egypt. The Egyptian government has grown dismissive of the U.S. economic assistance at its current level (around $250 million annually), arguing that based on the relative growth of the Egyptian economy over the past two decades and the decline in overall U.S. assistance, per capita is a mere fraction of what it used to be. The Egyptian government has argued that if both sides agree to continue the aid relationship, funds should be either increased or gradually phased out, but, most importantly from Egypt’s perspective, be directed toward economic development rather than toward democracy promotion and support for civil society”.
The economic influence that the U.S. has on Egypt is the healthiest tool to use for both governments. If a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) can be negotiated between the U.S. and Egypt both governments can be seen as winners in the deal. “The United States is Egypt’s largest bilateral partner, Egypt is one of the largest single markets worldwide for American wheat and is a significant importer of other agricultural commodities, machinery, and equipment”. An FTA would allow the Egyptians to confront their need to increase foreign investment and should increase the U.S. exports to Egypt. An increase in investment should lead to greater opportunities for the Egyptian population and a decrease in unemployment. An increase in employment should lead to greater exports for the United States as well as sales of wheat.
Additionally, if both governments are able to reach an FTA the cascading effects of lower unemployment, lower inflation and increased foreign investment would be helpful in debunking the Brotherhood claim that the current secular government is not able to provide for the populous. The Egyptian government would be able to claim the U.S. as more of a partner than as a colonial power trying to maintain overall influence.
Internally, through the use of the Judiciary, Egypt has attempted to control the MB by the passage of laws meant to contain the MB. The primary means to accomplish this should continue to be through the passage of laws. Law 100/1993, Protection of Democracy in the Syndicates (Trade Unions) should be strengthened to prevent the Brotherhood from expanding to other sections of professional occupations.
The critical law 26/1994 transferring local officials (Mayors, local council members) from elected officials to appointed officials should be repealed in areas of secular government strength and maintained in areas of government weakness. This would prevent the acquisitions of local government control by the Muslim Brotherhood, while advancing democratic policies. A repeal of the 1980 amendment to Article Two of the Egyptian Constitution, in which Shari’s law is the principle source of legislation to return to the 1971 Amendment that Shari’ a law is a principle source of legislation would allow the government to under mind the Brotherhood’s claim that the government is illegitimate and should be replaced. The use of law 4/1992, making it illegal to receive unauthorized funds from abroad should be continued. This allowed the government to disrupt funds from the worldwide Brotherhood being received. While a temporary continuance of the restrictive laws is necessary, there should be a timetable to repeal the laws. This buffer period would allow the new president to consolidate his government, then allow gradual reduction in governmental restrictions, giving the government greater legitimate standing.
An example of the Egyptian government need to undertake political reforms for greater responsibility are the mistakes of the 1992 Heliopolis earthquake. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Brotherhood doctors and engineers responded quickly to establish relief centers, while the government was slow to respond. The government was seen as ill prepared and weak. To avoid a repeat of this scenario, the government should funnel a portion of the military assistance it receives from the U.S., “currently an average of 1.1 billion USD over the past 15 years” to establish a quick reaction force for national disasters under Egyptian military control. This would work under mind the Brotherhood’s social programs and show greater responsibility on the government’s part, while maintaining control through the most functional department of government.
The time line to defeat the insurgency that is the Muslim Brotherhood will be decades. In order to counter the patience and endurance of the Brotherhood, the Egyptian government must show the same patience to eliminate the grievances supporting the Brotherhood. Political reforms must be taken in slow steps in order to prevent loopholes that could be exploited by the Brotherhood to question the legitimacy of the government. Economic reforms need to be conducted so as to avoid crushing deficits and Social reforms will take generations to accomplish through education. Egypt’s biggest outside challenge to the needed patience will be the United States. The political cycle of the U.S. will result in measurements that do not allow for a great deal of patience. Progress will be measure
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