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Book review: Memoire of an Ex-Sister

A once highly active female member of the Muslim Brotherhood gives an insightful account of her lengthy experience with the Islamist group that now dominates Egypt's parliament

Mahloud Al-Wardani, Monday 27 Feb 2012
Book Cover

Hekayty ma’ al ikhwan (My Story with the Brotherhood) by Intisar Abdel-Monem, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 2011. 213pp.

The memoires of the ex-Muslim Brotherhood member and the short stories writer, Intisar Abdel-Monem, aren’t just diaries as much as a rational retelling of her experience during her years with the Brotherhood, arguably the largest and most influential Islamist movement in the Arab world.

Important to note that the memoires were completed before 2010, long before the revolution began, rendering their value even more important in today’s context, where the Brotherhood have overtaken popularity in Egyptian parliament elections.

Abdel-Monem doesn’t use the book as a platform to defame the Brotherhood, but rather as an opportunity for disclosure and confrontation.

Her situation is unique as she is probably one of the first "Sisters" (female members of the Brotherhood) to split from the Islamic group. As she herself testifies, the Brotherhood women were "tamed" so long ago that they see forming an opinion on or discussing plans put forward by men as a sin.

After many years of continuous work, Abdel-Monem discovered that in the Brotherhood "everything is about positions and status controlled by a few and not open for anyone else, which causes tensions within the Brotherhood that are finally starting to show." She adds that the voices of the youth are starting to be heard, especially against the older and more senior members of the Brotherhood, who traditionally control the movement.

A long pause comes in the book around the 2005 parliamentary elections, to which Abdel-Monem contributed heavily, when 88 Brotherhood members were elected.

During the huge celebrations in Alexandria (Egypt's second largest city and a MB stronghold) she felt that it was the beginning of the end for the Brotherhood because it was so out of touch.

Administrative and executive leadership excluded many un-and-coming from access to their "one-eyed promotional system that looks only at the elders, who inherited the old glory.”

The rigidity in thought and values, according to Abdel-Monem, is another major factor that could put them at risk. Anyone who dares stand up against them is ejected from the Brotherhood.

Some startling examples that could be taken as either the Muslim Brotherhood's social organisation and militant arms don't support each other and are in discord; or that the Muslim Brotherhood betrays those they hire to do their dirty work.

Abdel-Monem talks of what happened to Brotherhood student, Adel-Meguid Hassan, who assassinated former prime minister of Egypt, Mahmoud Fahmi El-Noqrashi, in 1948.

The Brotherhood condemned the assassination, although a militant arm of the organisation had allegedly authorised it. They denounced those who were responsible as "not Brothers and not Muslims."

In the same year, the Brotherhood's militant "special outfit" reportedly executed Ahmed El-Khazendar, a prominent judge who had sent a Muslim Brotherhood member to prison for attacking British soldiers at a nightclub.

Abdel-Monem identifies that the Brotherhood's perception of women – which has seen little change since the movement began in 1928 – also put the Brotherhood at risk. For example, no woman has made it to the supreme council office.

Hassan El-Banna, who created the movement in 1928, relates his opinion on women only to Islam, not to one person in particular, which, in Abdel-Monem’s opinion, is incorrect.

Within the Brotherhood, she distinguishes two warring attitudes to women: the first understands the key role of women in politics and preaching. The other sees the woman's natural and only place as in the home, refusing to even let women pray in mosques.

Abdel-Monem also uncovers the role played by Saudi Arabia, which she gathered from her own experience working in a public school in Riyadh from 1993-2002.

Family relations with one of the most significant sheikhs and her close relationship with the other Egyptian Sisters also gave her unique insight. Her main conclusion over these years was that religious rituals in these two communities, both Saudi and the Brotherhood in Saudi, was nothing but a cover.

“I felt the duality. This wasn’t how I wanted to live; it wasn’t the utopian society I imagined and was attracted to through the Brotherhood thinkers' books...What they say is one thing, and what they do is another, very different thing.”

Upon her return to Egypt, after nearly 10 years in Saudi Arabia among the Sisters, she continued working with the Brotherhood and campaigned in the elections. Abdel-Monem confirms that the hierarchy and male domination was stressed within the ranks of the MB.

“And so, every second, I was aware of the luxury that the Muslim Brotherhood lives today in Egypt. They’re just a bunch of mercenaries without a cause, usurping others' cause to achieve one narrow, personal agenda, while taking speedy steps towards rule and political control...” Abdel-Monem concludes.

Abdel-Monem’s last words are that she wishes to live in peace; likely referring to the fact that now she knows police stations better than the mosques from her attempts to protect herself getting a licensed weapon for self-defence.

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