The life of a Muslim sister

The life of a Muslim sister

Nadia is a former Muslim Sister with a gummy smile. She has run out of reasons to show it after the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in, which took the lives of 63 of her friends and acquaintances and a part of her that she can only describe by grabbing the air, her head or her chest.

Although she often finds herself in a depressive trance – remembering the overly-friendly girl she befriended during the sit-in who gave her a necklace as she had requested a few days before the dispersal, and how Asmaa el-Beltagy had promised to tell her an exciting secret upon her return to Rabaa – Nadia tries and likes to think that she derives strength from the bloodshed. “The sound of gunshots doesn’t frighten me,” she said, more to herself. This enables her to join the regular student protesters clashes with security forces at Al Azhar University, something many of her friends and relatives can’t do. “They would freak out at the sound of fireworks or any loud noise... and drive around all of Nasr City just to avoid Rabaa,” she added, before admitting that she too has only been there twice since the dispersal and had failed not to sob in front of the Central Security Forces (CSF, the riot-control police) leaning against their black vans outside the mosque on both occasions. But, to be fair, one of the outbursts was aided by a CSF van that followed her home (which is right down the street), matching her pace and discussing her mother on the way, to the great amusement of onlookers.  

Although she frequently gets labelled a Muslim Sister (and suffers for it), Nadia was among those mostly young men and women who left/were kicked out of the Brotherhood shortly after the 2011 uprising for objecting to what they saw as the leadership's deafness to criticism, political opportunism and betrayal of revolutionary goals in alliance with the SCAF. 

That batch, she says, is now divided into two camps. The first camp, to which she belongs, that has seemingly and temporarily returned to the MB out of solidarity and sense of obligation. Others remain resolutely separate. Those who have returned are not always fully accepted and often face accusations of betrayal and abuse, especially if they voice any old or new criticism of the leadership’s actions and how they lead to the state the Brotherhood is currently in.

Read More

Virtual Brotherhood

The National's Matt Bradley has a story on the Muslim Brotherhood's Facebook clone:

IkhwanBook joins a veritable suite of Brotherhood-affiliated (“Ikhwan” is Arabic for “Brotherhood”) websites, such as IkhwanWiki, IkhwanWeb, IkhwanGoogle – a “Cusotmized [sic] search engine specialized in searching muslim botherhood’s [sic] websites” – and IkhwanTube. Many of the sites are published in English and each of their functions is tailored to Brotherhood-related content.

The article then wonders why the Ikhwan bothers: IkhwanBook is after all technologically extremely inferior to the real Facebook, and the other sites are not that sophisticated either. And there are plenty of young Brothers on Facebook — anyone who's ever met them can expect to be friended within 24 hours, after all.

Brian Whitaker, noting the story, writes:

The interesting and slightly puzzling question is what the Brotherhood hopes to achieve by this. It's hard to imagine the Ikhwan sites gaining anything like the popularity of those they replicate, and they look like a move towards exclusivity which is generally uncharacteristic of the Brotherhood.

I think both Matt and Brian miss the point slightly. The first reason for having all these sites — and believe me, there are a LOT of Ikhwan sites out there, practically one for every governorate of Egypt plus many more on specific issues before you reach the Facebook and Wikipedia clones — is that there simply is enthusiasm to build them. Beyond the apparent correlation one notices between tech-savvy and religious inclination (just visit any of the computer malls on Midan Sphinx in Cairo), there are a lot of young talented programmers in Egypt who would love to show their enthusiasm for the gamaa by building websites for it. And there are a lot of young people in the Brotherhood, no matter how elderly the leadership is, for whom these websites may be a way of expressing their views as well as gain practice in the art of political and religious rhetoric.

The second reason is that this resonates with the groupthink and in-group mentality that the Muslim Brotherhood cultivates. These sites won't replace Facebook or Wikipedia, they are a virtual gated community (gated, that is, by strong symbolic references and imagery that are likely to alienate those not already versed in the Ikhwan universe) for like-minded people, where they can create a more orderly version of the sites that they copy and where the membership is self-selecting. The Muslim Brothers tend to socialize together, marry within each others' families, work together (or for each other) and a whole lot more. It's a support group as much as a political organization. It makes sense that, online, they will tend towards a closed ecosystem — alongside the open internet, not instead of it.

It's just the way online forums thrive: through community-building. That's true for computer geeks and religious geeks.

Sponsored links:

Not only HP0-S26 practice test but also 1z0-851 exam guide, all testking 6002-1 study material is available at affordable prices. You can also download testking 642-832 dumps and testking 70-648 audio exam very easily.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Egypt's Shura Council elections, and its future

No one really cared about them in the middle of the worldwide hubbub over the flotilla murders, but I feel one should note that Egypt just held one of its very flawed elections. I wrote an article about them for Middle East International last week, which I am fully reproducing below.

Basically things happened as expected:

  • There were multiple indications of fraud, including police preventing people from voting in certain areas, pre-filled ballots, faked voting cards and vote-buying.
  • There were violent clashes, a sign of the competition these elections engender.
  • The Muslim Brothers were not allowed to campaign freely.
  • NGOs and monitors have already compiled a long list of grievances.
  • The new Higher Electoral Commission appears to be, for now, completely ineffective (or perhaps that's its purpose.)
Read More

The Brothers' resourcefulness

I suppose I owe a serious blog post after the previous not so serious one. I intend to return to the succession issue in Egypt shortly, but before that wanted to note that the Muslim Brothers have recently announced they will participate in the upcoming Shura Council elections by fielding 15 candidates.

In the last Shura Council elections, none of their candidates were allowed to run, though many tried. Now, they intend to have current MPs try to run for the upper house, hoping that they will benefit from parliamentary immunity during their campaign. Of course that immunity won't be extended to their campaign staff, but they are used to that. It's interesting to see this sign, however minor, of a willingness to continue the project to broaden the Brothers' electoral participation launched in 2005/06 by the former guide, Mahdi Akef. They almost certainly won't get elected, but they are putting a marker out there saying "we are entitled to contest it, and won't stop trying."

In other words, this suggest that they consider the last few years of intense repression a temporary setback, and still have in mind the post-(Hosni) Mubarak endgame of either formalizing their political role or ensuring their growth on the political scene. Food for thought after months of Brotherhood-regime negotiations about succession and the elections: even if these rumors were true, it does not mean they'll stop hedging their bets. Today's demonstration in Midan Tahrir, which included Brotherhood MPs, also suggests that part of the Brotherhood is still making political calculations — i.e. ones based on continued political participation rather than a retreat for which, in counterpart, the regime would give greater it influence on social and religious affairs.

[For background.]

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Mubarak resurfaces, and more

I happened to be dropping by the Jazeera office in Cairo around lunchtime, and while I chatted with the English channel's correspondent Rawya Rageh, we waited for footage of Mubarak to come up on Nile News, the state-owned TV channel. The news agencies had gotten wind that Nile News would finally dispel the rumors of the last few days and feature real news about Mubarak (as opposed to second-hand assurances that he's fine.)

Finally, around 2pm, it came up with top billing: footage of Mubarak chatting with doctors, and excerpts from a press conference by hospital staff. Dressed in a striped black bathrobe, sitting in a modern hospital room, he chatted fairly jovially with the doctors. There was no sound. Cut to the press conference, where the doctors intimidated that the past week had seen some troubles, but that Mubarak was better now and that lab analyses would be discontinued (here I assume they mean monitoring of his blood or the tissue of the area that was operated). So much for all the speculation, although some internet sleuth is already analyzing the footage and suggesting it was somehow faked.

Read More

Hossam Tammam on the Brothers

hossamtammam.jpg Former Brother Hossam Tammam is one of my favorite analysts of the Muslim Brothers. I think he really captures the tensions in the group elegantly here, without resorting to the misleading moderate vs. conservative dichotomy. It's more about an inward-looking vs. outward looking group, he writes:
At the root of the MB's current crisis is its dwindling ability to maintain cohesion between its various sub-trends. An influential faction of its leadership is increasingly monopolising decisions on matters pertaining to the group's image, ideological orientation and future. The organisation of the MB is difficult to grasp for those unfamiliar with such totalitarian entities. Structurally it is bigger than a political party, but unlike a political party its membership and scope of operations transcend the state. Ideologically, it has more in common with a political front or organisational umbrella for different, in this case, Islamist trends, than it does with a party espousing a specific platform or programme. The umbrella embraces ultraconservative fundamentalists to religious liberals and everything between, all of whom have managed to coexist within a single organisational framework, generally subscribing to the principle of gradual peaceful change. Against such diversity we can nevertheless speak of two divergent trends. One favours open political involvement in student or syndicate circles and other areas of public life. Known as the reformist trend, it has drawn the contours of the MB's image in the sphere of public life. Abdel-Moneim Abul- Fotouh is the most prominent exponent of this trend among the group's senior leaders. The other trend runs the organisational operations of the group, in which capacity they oversee recruitment activities, hierarchical appointments and relations, and the design and implementation of material and programmes for indoctrination. The most important exponent of this conservative trend in the MB leadership is Mahmoud Ezzat. The MB leadership has always managed to keep these two trends together despite their mutual differences. This has been no small task, massaging the strains between people who prefer to work in the public domain and, hence, are naturally inclined towards constructive, open and continual engagement with society, and those whose focus is inward, whose energies are forever directed at building their own world and raising the "vanguard of the faithful" upon whom the hopes and duties of reshaping society and the nation are pinned. The expansion in the activities of the group, combining proselytising, charity and political activities, favoured coexistence to the extent that the public reformist and conservative organisational trends were regarded as complementary. Their combined efforts, it was believed, lent impetus to the group, expanded its grassroots base and improved its image among the government elite. The organisation also seemed pleased to be the Mecca for all, to those inclined towards political involvement, to those dedicated to proselytising, and to those keen on philanthropic and charity work. The leadership was not particularly concerned with unifying these diverse interests towards the pursuit of a single clearly defined vision; it was merely content that they should not clash.
Read it all. And for more MB fun, I just came across this Scribd user that has a collection of articles on the Brothers: ikhwanscope.
Read More