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THE FOUNDATION OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD

During this period the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, with the goal of reclaiming Islam's manifest destiny, an empire, stretching from Spain to Indonesia. As its influence grew, it began to oppose British rule in Egypt.

In the 1930s the dictatorship of Sedki Pasha abolished the democratic 1923 constitution. After the second world war, the formation of a worker-student bloc gave rise to a rising tide of struggles. Once again the Egyptian reactionaries, according to Amin supported by London, and on this occasion the Muslim Brotherhood, backed a second Sedki Pasha dictatorship. However, without being able to silence the protest movements, elections had to be held in 1950 and the Wafd returned to power. In 1952, the revolution of the "Free Officers Movement" passed the rule of Egypt into military hands. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the real architect of the 1952 movements, took control as President of the Republic in 1956 and managed to nationalize the Suez Canal that was until then under British control. The whole thing was done from above, not only without democracy (the popular masses being denied any right to organize by and for themselves) but even by abolishing any form of political life. The Muslim Brotherhood was made illegal for the duration of Nasser's reign, and key members were imprisoned or went underground.

ATTEMPTED MODERNIZATION UNDER NASSER AND SADAT

Under Nasser, Egypt had set up an economic and social system that, though subject to criticism, was at least, for Amin, coherent. Nasser wagered on industrialization as the way out of the colonial international specialization, which was confining the country to the role of cotton exporter. His system, following the model of socialism, maintained a division of incomes that favoured the expanding middle classes without impoverishing the masses.

Furthermore, under Nasser, in the 1960s Egypt became involved in the Yemen Civil War, where it unsuccessfully supported the republicans. This involvement ended suddenly with the Six Day War in 1967, in which Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. As a result, Emergency Law was introduced, suspending the constitutional rights of citizens, allowing imprisonment without judgment, and legalizing censorship. Nasser moreover, like his successors Sadat and Mubarak, never succeeded in fundamentally addressing the issue of poverty in Egypt, nor the issue that only a mere 5 per cent of the land is being cultivated.

After Nasser's death in 1970, power was handed to Anwar al-Sadat, yet another military official. Sadat completely overthrew the economic and social system introduced by Nasser, and adopted the "Infitah" economic reform strategy (infitah meaning opening). He also dismissed the Cold War alliance with the Soviet Union and bonded with the United States. Although Sadat released many of its members in the first years of his reign, the Muslim Brotherhood remained illegal.

WAR AND PEACE WITH ISRAEL

In the last years of his reign, when Sadat realized the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood, he started violently attacking them once more. Three years after taking power, Sadat engaged in a successful secret attack together with Syria against Israel to regain power over Sinai, which later came to be known as the October War. Consequently, in 1977 Sadat made a historic visit to Israel, in order to pursue a peace treaty and Israel's withdrawal from Sinai. The visit led to huge debates within the Arab world and resulted in his expulsion from the Arab League (until 1989), and later, to his assassination in 1981. His Vice President, Hosni Mubarak, also a high military official, followed Sadat.

However, whereas such efforts might have achieved piece between Egypt and Israel, no such peace between Israel and the Arab world, which is desperately needed for the health of the region, has been secured. This, for Ibrahim Abouleish, is massive unfinished business, which needs to be addressed through authentic dialogue at all levels of society. Indeed, and to the extent that new sources of livelihood are co-created in the Egyptian desert, even in 1 or 2 per cent of such cases, Egyptians and Israelis could advance, together, not only peace but also economic and environmental wellbeing. Indeed, Ibrahim Abouleish himself made many an attempt to influence Sadat, before he was assassinated, to pursue such genuine peace.

MODERNIZATION FOUNDERS UNDER MUBARAK

Sadat and Mubarak, in Amin's view, dismantled the Egyptian productive system, putting in its place a completely incoherent one, based on the profitability of firms most of which were subcontractors for multinationals. Supposed high rates of growth, much praised for 30 years by the World Bank, were, for Amin, completely meaningless. Egyptian growth was extremely vulnerable, and was accompanied by an incredible rise of inequality and unemployment among the majority of the country's youth. The seeming stability of the regime, was based on a police apparatus of some 600,000 men (an army numbering merely 500,000) free to carry out acts of criminal abuse.

Moreover, Mubarak started opening up the country to the free market, which gave economic opportunists the chance to make their millions, if not billions, at the expense of the poor, who kept getting poorer. That, in turn, produced fertile ground for the further emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, supposed saviours of the poor. Yet the Brotherhood, like Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, in turn, had no vision to offer as to how real sources of livelihood could be promoted over the long term.

In reality, Amin goes on to say, the regime had perfectly integrated reactionary political Islam (on the Wahhabite model of the Saudis) into its power structure by giving it control of education, the courts and the major media (especially television). The sole permitted "free" speech was that of the Salafist mosques, allowing the Islamists to pretend to make up the opposition. De facto support for political Islam destroyed the capacity of Egyptian society to confront the challenges of the modern world, bringing about a catastrophic decline in education and research that had already begun in the 1950s when the military rulers put all its resources into war and the oppression of civil uprisings. During the 30 years of Mubarak's reign, some radical forces mobilized below the surface that led to some terrorist attacks on Egyptian Copts, government officials and also tourists.

The only active political player under Mubarak was the 1978 established National Democratic Party, of whom he was a member, and which Sadat had created. The passing of different laws, such as the 1995 Press Law, completely inhibited citizens' freedom of expression and association. The Muslim Brotherhood remained mainly illegal throughout Mubarak's reign, and the situation stayed similar to that under Sadat: they were tolerated to a certain extent, but whenever the Brotherhood became too strong, key members would be arrested and the rest would go underground.

THE REBIRTH OF OPPOSITION MOVEMENTS

The regime could still appear "tolerable" so long as it had the safety valve provided by mass emigration of poor and middle-class workers to the oil-producing countries. The exhaustion of that system (Asian immigrants replacing Arabs) brought with it the rebirth of opposition movements. The workers' strikes in 2007 (the strongest strikes on the African continent for 50 years), the stubborn resistance of small farmers threatened with expropriation by agrarian capital, and the formation of democratic protest groups among the middle classes foretold the inevitable explosion – expected by Egyptians but startling foreign observers. What came next?

 
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