Book review: The trials of the 'reformist current' in the Muslim Brotherhood

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Thursday 20 Jun 2013

Haitham Abu Khalil sets out a struggle that spanned a quarter century within the Muslim Brotherhood, one that the reformist current lost, giving a view on the character of Egypt's current Islamist rulers

Reformist Brothers

Ikhwan Islaheyun (Reformist Brothers) by Haitham Abu Khalil, Cairo: Dar Dawwin, 2013, 265pp.

Despite that most of the papers included in this volume deal with developments that took place before the January 25 Revolution, and have already been published in three editions between September 2012 and January 2013, its contents sings out from the crowd, revealing many secrets about the Muslim Brotherhood that currently rules Egypt.

The author reveals from the first lines that he belongs to the "main current" within the Muslim Brotherhood — that is the reformist current the author claims has been under prolonged and severe attack from the traditionalist Qotbi current (followers of Sayed Qotb) who claim that the whole of society has gone astray, their solution to deconstruct society and build it anew, like in the time of jahilyya (the period before Islam).

This war between the reformists and Qotbis represents the main theme of the book's stories that run all the way to the time when the Muslim Brotherhood's representative, Mohamed Morsi, won the 2012 presidential elections. Till then, the reformists had expressed their concerns and objections to the Muslim Brotherhood's party platform regarding the stance on women and Copts. Yet the most obvious signs of this ongoing battle came upon introducing Essam El-Erian to the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, and upon the retirement of Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef.

As much as Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh had appeared to be the iconic figure of the reformists, as the author describes, the true figures behind the movement were Ibrahim El-Zaafarany, Kamal El-Helbawy, Mokhtar Nouh and others. This group held various meetings before the revolution, throughout Cairo, Alexandria and Beheira, to establish plans for movement within and outside of the Muslim Brotherhood to spread the reformist current and push for change along various lines, one of which was changing the Brotherhood's internal regulations.

The first step along this direction was starting the website of the reformist Brotherhood. The old guard tried hard to stifle it. The revolution eventually stopped the website and also the seventh conference of the reformists where they had planned to announce their entire project.

The most important meeting of this new wing happened weeks following the revolution, when Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh announced his candidacy for the presidency. The idea of establishing a party for reformists was completely abandoned following Abul-Fotouh's failure in the elections, and resulted in the reformists spreading across some five other political parties. This failure in elections was also the failure of "moderate reconciliatory Islam," as the author terms it.

Most revealing in these papers is that the efforts of the reformist current extended some quarter of a century. Since 1986, they presented a number of papers under the title, "The Brotherhood Educational and Administrative Crisis." The papers tackle the challenge of the "secrecy" of the Brotherhood that led to justifying dictatorship and tyranny, as well as the importance of internal criticism to enable correction of the path, instead of the mixing of religion and organisation to the extent they can no longer be distinguished.

The educational challenge, the authors of these papers describe, is about the curricula taught and required within the Muslim Brotherhood, and that is basically dependent on emotional and psychological mobilisation, in addition to Quranic and Hadith studies. What's missing, from their point of view, is what is needed to raise a balanced Muslim personality, for this education doesn't tackle real life challenges, such as women, Copts, social inequality, as well as ongoing change. These papers presented within the Muslim Brotherhood for long years went unheeded by the Qotbi leadership, which led the reformist group to leave the Muslim Brotherhood.

The volume also reveals the extent to which the privileged leadership of the Brotherhood rejected any voice of opposition, refusing to acknowledge any alternate schools of thought within the Brotherhood. The organisation performs a fusing process that doesn't allow for anyone to break the mould, dampening any creativity within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was clearly reflected in promotions, mainly using measures of trust not measures of competence.

The author doesn’t stop at presenting the battles that took place until the election of Morsi to the presidency, but extends further to reveal the diseases of the Muslim Brotherhood, attempting to face such problems as the "priestly outlook" on problems and solutions. "We have to resolve our scientific versus occult handling of crisis, in favour of understanding the causes of the problems and their solutions, coming from a scientific perspective and not the unseen," the book concludes.

Members of the reformist current were all Muslim Brothers who were interrogated within or dismissed from the Muslim Brotherhood. As such, the volume gives clues as to how the Muslim Brotherhood deals with its own members who disobey the rules. It's little wonder their way of dealing with those of differing opinions from external political forces is as it is — through monopolising power and repressing opposition.

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