The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Hassan al-Banna: the movie

A few days ago, Muslim Brothers celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hassan al-Banna, their movement's founder. Among the things planned to mark this event is a new film biopic of al-Banna's life:

Muhsin Radi says too little is known about Hasan Al-Banna, the founder of a movement which would become Egypt's strongest opposition group and inspire Islamists across the Arab world.
"I hope that there will not be fears about this production. We do not want, as some people think, to spread the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood," Radi said. "Rather, we want people to be acquainted with the character of Hasan Al-Banna."    
I wonder if it will be banned in the current environment... It will definitely be seen as MB propaganda, especially with all the nationalist overtones of al-Banna's leadership in the fight against the British.

On a related note: Last night I found out that NYU was hosting a talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, featuring prominent middle-generation Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as well as Western "experts." I rushed to get there on time only to find out that Aboul Fotouh and a Jordanian Islamist who was also due to speak were prevented from entering the United States. No reasons were officially given for this, although the NYU people said they were looking into it.

Making this stupidity worse, we were left with a panel on the Muslim Brotherhood manned entirely by Western terrorism experts -- the chair was Peter Bergen -- and people who seem to have a rather sophomoric understanding of the MB. I don't claim expertise myself, but former Sunday Times journalist Nick Fielding talked about the Muslim Brothers in the vaguest possible terms and mentioned it existing across the region, including in Morocco and Algeria (where he said it was similar to the FIS). The other panelist, a researcher called Alexis Debat, was a bit better but started talking about the MB's economic policy based on its writings in the 1940s and 1950s (or more accurately, Sayyid Qutb's Social Justice in Islam). It's an interesting topic, but since then the global economic system has changed two or three times, so it all seemed rather beside the point. None of the panelists mentioned, except in passing, the MB's parliamentary performance, the ongoing crackdown against it (biggest since the 1960s, remember), or more specific internal issues of governance and changes in the way it operates. And since Peter Bergen is an al-Qaeda expert, much of the discussion (at least until the point I walked out in disgust) revolved around whether the MB is a violent group, or whether it will get violent, and how Osama Bin Laden joined the MB in Jeddah when he was 17. I'm not saying that's not interesting, but surely a little academic precision would be in order and focusing on the MB's role in Egyptian politics would be more useful, especially as it's highly dubious that a world Muslim Brotherhood really exists as an organized institution -- a country-by-country approach seems much more fruitful.

In any case, NYU students and staff could have had information about the MB from the horse's mouth, and in Aboul Fotouh they would have had one of its most articulate spokesmen. I would have loved to grill him on a number of issues, but instead I got Whitey and Whitey. A waste of time.