Reading about the Ikhwan

Here are a few reading notes on some recent articles on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB):

What Islamists Need to Be Clear About: The Case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood - high-caliber work by the Carnegie Endowment's excellent Amr Hamzawy and Marina Ottaway, essentially giving recommendations to Islamists on what they need to to convince the rest of the world that they are not a Trojan Horse. Many will have problems with this paper, but it clearly lists the issues that Western policymakers have problems with. The MB or other groups don't have to agree with, most notably the provisions on international agreements. I also wonder what foreign policymakers would make of the fact that the most thorough intellectual work by Islamists on social justice is probably Sayyid Qutb's "Social Justice in Islam." Let's hope they continue with other examples from other countries.

The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood - like most Foreign Affairs articles, pretty bland aside from making the suggestion to the wonk crowd that "a conversation with the Muslim Brotherhood makes strong strategic sense." The article should have been less broad in scope, better sourced and referenced, though, and does not come up with any serious analysis of MB discourse and practice. It also, in my opinion, exaggerates the links between the Egyptian MB and various affiliates in Europe that are dealing with entirely different circumstances. It is however a refreshing change from the Daniel Pipes line that there are no differences between moderate and extremist Islamism.

Parties of God - Ken Silverstein's Harpers piece covers a lot of ground, from the Egyptian MB to Hizbullah to the resistance to discussing Islamism with an open-mind in the US. Because of this it's hard to see his point, even if, for its audience, much of the material will be new and interesting. He devotes some space to his own experience dealing with pro-Israel bias with his former editors at the LA Times when reporting on Hizbullah, something that would make a great article on its own (looking at pro-Israel bias and fear of retribution in American newsrooms) but has ultimately little to do with Islamist parties.

- at-tarikh as-siri li-jamaa al-ikhwan al-muslimin (The Secret History of the Association of the Muslim Brothers) is a re-edition of a controversial book by Alaa Ashmawy, who claims to be a former member of the tanzim al khass, the MB's paramilitary wing that operated mostly in the 1940s and 1950s. The book has been reissued by Saad Eddin Ibrahim's Ibn Khaldoun Center and makes the argument that the MB retains some kind of paramilitary wing, which is not accepted by many Egyptian and other scholars. I mention it because I was recently given a copy, but I have not had time to read it seriously nor can I comment on its usefulness. The issue is very topical though, particularly after the (inflated) concerns about the al-Azhar martial arts demo and last summer's claim that the MB was willing to send 10,000 fighters to Lebanon.

- I'd like to also mention an undergraduate essay a reader sent me about the MB along with a message about the "On Freeloaders" post from a few days ago. The essay was written by an Australian student who has never been to the Arab world, does not speak Arabic and relied only on previously published English-language material. While obviously it isn't ground-breaking, it provides a nice introductory summary and more importantly a decent bibliography of recent academic, policy and journalistic work on the MB. You can read the essay here, and it author has a blog called Jovial Fellow. If someone who had done that much reading contacted me for help on further research, I would have no problems helping them.
6 Comments

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.