Islamic Resergunce in Egypt: Charismatic Leaders by gmoumdjian

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I. Introduction For the past two decades, the terms Islamic Resurgence and Muslim Fundamentalism have become a permanent feature of American and more generally Western lexicon. So much so, that they are frequently used in the mass media and television broadcasts. The terms are presented within news items, but never as concepts that need deep analysis. In a sense they are constantly chewed but never digested. Even academic ventures in this regard – whatever caliber of honesty and objectivity they may possess – have yet been unable to bring forth an acceptable level of understanding and insight toward an issue, which has induced radical change within the Islamic and international political spheres. Stereotyping Muslim fundamentalists as vengeful enemies of the West continues to be the prevailing policy of consecutive American administrations. No real effort was, is, or will be made, it seems, to acquire a thorough understanding of what Muslim Fundamentalism is about. Generally speaking, Westerners, and Americans in particular, have been in one way or another familiarized with the terms Muslim Fundamentalism or Extremism, and they had acquired a marginal knowledge about what it entails. Nevertheless, the totality of this fundamentalist ideology and the leaders who had shaped and propagated it throughout the decades remain almost alien to western culture and politics. It is with the intention of shedding some light on this subject that writing this essay is undertaken. It tries to find some basic facts about Muslim Fundamentalist leaders. Who are those people? From what background did they emerge and evolve? What ideological factors and popular underpinnings influenced them? These are only few of the questions that impose themselves upon us, especially if we believe that such

movements possess direct correlation with the very leaders and intellectuals who shaped them. The narrative, however, never assumes to be a complete analysis of the broader subject of Muslim Fundamentalism. Nor is it an attempt of semantic rationalization of the subject under discussion. What it really intends to be is no more than a compilation of biographical data and a preliminary analysis of the ideologies of the Islamicist leaders in Egypt from the formation of the Society of Muslim Brothers (Jam’iyat al Ikhwan al Muslimin). The approach and the methodology used in researching the essay are a blend of the historical and the psychoanalytical domains. The chronological approach in sequencing the leaders and their respective social, political, and ideological frameworks is intentional. It is geared toward enhancing the periodic development of these elements. Finally, one must admit that the greatest difficulty of the research is that the subject is not an historical one. It does not yet belong to the realm of the past. It is still lived and discussed. Therefore, no final evaluations of it can yet be possibly derived. What can be expected, however, from this retrograde probe is a raw appraisal of Islamic charismatic leadership and its importance in the path that Muslim Fundamentalism has traversed. A lot can be learned from this. If we subscribe to the universal notion that history moves forward in an upward mobile, cyclical, pattern while regenerating and recreating the elements of the past, it follows, then, that by unfolding and dissecting the patterns of Muslim Fundamentalism, we can find remedies for present and future dangers emanating from it.

II. Islamic Resurgence: A Centuries-Old “Tradition” In his book titled “Islam in Revolution” H.R. Dekmejian stresses that “…an outstanding character of Islamic Fundamentalism is its cyclic propensity and that “…Manifestations of religious resurgence correspond to periods of intense spiritual, social, and political crisis.” It must be stated that his “cyclic propensity” is not something peculiar only to Islam. . As a matter of fact, “…Manifestations of religious resurgence” can also be traced in almost all other religions. Otherwise, what other explanation can one give to reformist Christian movements that continue to emerge in different forms even today? However, what is interesting here is that each religion reacts in a certain way to social, political, and/or economic crisis that strikes its respective society. Dekmejian‟s theoretical interpretation is derived from a thorough examination and observation of fourteen centuries of Islamic history. As in the case of reformist styles in other religions, it seems that Islam too has devised a certain inner dynamics in response to “periods of crisis,” the first and oldest of which can be considered the “succession crisis,” following the death of the prophet Mohammed. The same “dynamic


response” is also apparent in the decline of the Ummayad dynasty, propagated by the teachings of the Imams Abu Hanifa and Malik; the Abbasid degeneration and subsequent demise through the writings of Ibn Taamiya, Ibn al Qayyim, and Ibn Khatir; and finally, the Ottoman decline that gave rise to militant fundamentalist Islamic movements such as the Wahabiya (in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula), and the Mahdiya (In the Sudan), both on the peripheries of the Ottoman Empire. 2 The inability of the Ottomans in facing western colonial penetration and the economic instability of their empire gave rise on the one hand to the secularist “Young Ottomans” and “Young Turks” movements (operating according to a Turkish nationalist agenda formulated by some émigré reformists such as Midhat Pasha in the 1850‟s and Ahmed Riza in the 890‟s), and, on the other hand to a new wave of Islamic reformist movements. The most important catalyst for the latter was the Muslim mujtahid (intellectual, researcher) Jamal ul Din al Afghani (1838-1897). Through his writings, al Afghani advocated a new Pan-Islamic ideology. The Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II adopted al Afghani‟s ideas. The sultan even welcomed him into his palace as a consultant. Abdul Hamid tried to rescue the empire by uniting and strengthening the sultanate as was predicted by al Afghani. His attempts, however, were too little too late. Meanwhile, al Afghani‟s teachings had their profound effect on his Egyptian disciple Muhammad „Abdo, who constructed the Salafiya (from the Arabic Salaf, forefather) Movement on the premise of reestablishing the Islamic „Umma (nation, Society) as constituted by the prophet. However, what Abdo was trying to accomplish was to invigorate his Salafiya Movement in a modernized setting, which was ready to absorb technological advances and developments from the West, yet was also capable of implementing them in a reformulated form for the benefit of his envisioned Umma. The teachings of Abdo and his Syrian disciple Rashid Rida paved the way for the formation of the Society of Muslim Brothers in Egypt. Abdo‟s Salafiya Movement gained many adherents in al Azhar, Egypt‟s unique institution for the study of Islamic theology and law. These reformists, however, were criticized and opposed by the more conservative, traditionalist „ulemas (learned persons) who condemned Abdo‟s theories of modernization. On the other hand, the Salafists were also chastised by western educated, modernized intellectuals who were striving to forge a secular society and eventually a state, based on the western notions of democracy and nationalism. This “dual front” fighting obliged Abdu, Rida, and their followers to take a stance that was closer to the conservative, traditionalist „ulemas whom they despised. However, Rida was not to give in so easily. By retaining most of the qualities and fervor of a Muslim modernist and revivalist, he even went as far as to formulate a new philosophy, the “Defensive Jihad,” which stipulated that, if and when persecuted, modernist Muslims had the right to defend themselves against conservatives.3
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The sociopolitical atmosphere in Egypt at the turn of the century was a complex one. Society in general was bombarded with ideas of nationalism, egalitarianism, democracy and secularism. The writings of westernized “enlightened” intellectuals such as Taha Husain, Salama Musa, Nkula Haddad, Farah Antun, Shibli Shamil, Kasim Amin, Walieddin Yakun, and others perpetuated these notions. There was a fledgling literary movement, and many newspapers offered their readers article written by the above mentioned intellectuals. This almost dominant nationalistic tone culminated in the Arabi Revolution of 1919, where massive demonstrations and several attacks against British colonialists were recorded. Urabi‟s revolution was eventually overwhelmed by superior British military power. Yet, the effect it had on the masses was profound. The people abandoned the loyalty to the puppet king Fu‟ad and his administration, which were under direct British control. Legally, Egypt was still a part of the decaying Ottoman Empire, whose new leaders, the Young Turks, hastened the destruction of the Empire by joining World War One on the side of Germany and its allies. They embarked on a Pan-Turanic (PanTurkic) venture, which led to the genocide of Armenians in the Empire. For millions of Muslim Arabs, the Ottoman sultan had for centuries been accepted as the highest religious and secular authority that amalgamated the Muslims of the empire under the banner of Islam. The disintegration of the Ottoman State and the rise of Turkish nationalism under Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) created a severe identity crisis for Arabs. Kemal soon abolished the Caliphate and founded a secular state constructed along milli (national) lines. Kemal‟s work alienated devoted Muslims. Religious reformists considered his actions deviations from the true Islamic path and an obvious return to jahiliyya (pre-Islamic paganism).4 Kemal has been regarded ever since as an enemy of Islam. In Egypt, which was dominated by Britain since 1881, colonialists had already expanded their sphere of activity into the Sudan. The British pressured the palace. They practically had the king under their control. While Islamicist and nationalist ideas were then spreading within the populace, Britain was implementing a policy of divide and rule to further strengthen its control. Moreover, Egypt was flooded with thousands of Englishmen who held preponderance on the country‟s economy. As is the case in every classic colonial rule, England had dominated almost every aspect of Egyptian life. Its missionary movements had opened schools. A generation already was being educated in those institutions. Their presence and support of Christian Egyptians complicated the situation even further. “The Anglican hierarchy in particular annoyed the British residency by demanding that the latter impose certain changes in Egyptian law or policy on behalf of all Egyptian Christians.” The activities of the missionaries sparked an anti-missionary sentiment within the predominantly Muslim society, and especially within the circles of nationalist intellectuals. Soon, political parties such as Hisb al Islah „ala al Mabadi al Wataniya all Dasturiyya (Party of Reform along National Constitutional Principles), al Hisb al


Watani (Nationalist Party) al Hisb al Watani al Hurr (Free National Party), Hisb al Makasid al Mushtaraka (Party of Common Aims), and others emerged. It was in this saturated atmosphere of colonial oppression, nationalistic drive, and Islamicist fervor that Hasan al Banna, the founder of the Society of Muslim Brothers was born and raised. Al Banna founded the Society in 1928 at a time when anti-British sentiment had reached its zenith and an intellectual ferment about the future of Islamic society and its role had almost saturated.

III. Hasan al Banna: Organizer, Politician, and Charismatic Leader. The organization which al Banna founded, Jam‟iyyat al Ikhwan al Muslimin (The Society of Muslim Brothers), “more than any other organization, has been the ideological epicenter of fundamentalism in the Arab sphere and Islamic world.” 5 Hasan Ahmad Abd al Rahman al Banna was born in October 1906, in the town of Tir‟at al Ahmadiyya, in the Buheyra province of Egypt, to a religious family of the traditional Hanbali line.6 His father, Ahmad all Banna was a graduate of al Azhar, where he had studied under the guidance of the Islamic activist Muhammad „Abdu. The father was the local M‟azun (marriage judge), Imam (Muslim clergy) and teacher. Al Banna was thus raised in a strictly religious environment.7 Having been exposed to this Islamic, religious milieu, al Banna developed an attitude that was diametrically opposed to those who advocated the formation of a secularized, modernized state in Egypt. In his memoirs (that were later printed under the title Muzakkarat al Da‟wa wa al Da‟iya ( Memoirs of the Mission and the Missionary, al Banna writes about the frustration which he felt during his youth because of the secularization drive that engulfed Egyptian society: “I think that my people have diverted from the aims of their faith as a result of the political periods through which it passed, and the new social themes to which it was exposed under the spell of European civilization, materialistic philosophy and western traditions.”8 A huge biographic literature exists about al Banna‟s life and work. What is more interesting and deserves to be noted, however, is that most of his biographers are either ardent followers or bitter enemies. The former tend to create an aura of mysticism around his character, like the story of the snake who was unable to bite the infant al Banna which


was witnessed by the father or that of the 12-year-old al Banna destroying the statue of a half naked woman situated in the Ter'aa (waterway) of his hometown, while the latter, mostly Nassirists attack him and his ideology, but are unable to objectively deconstruct his mystic aura.9 Al Banna‟s early studies were conducted at the Kuttab (Qur‟anic) school of his birthplace. As a twelve year old, he participated in the Jama‟at al Suluk al Ijtimiyya (Society of Social Behavior) which directed its members, and through them, the society, to behave piously in accordance with the Qur‟an and the teachings of the prophet. Three years later, al Banna was elected president of the society. Despite his very young age, he proved to be a brilliant leader and manager. He continued his studies at the Kuttab School, where he became competent in reciting Qur‟anic verses and conducting interesting and intelligent arguments about the holy writings with the mature and educated people of his town.11 Before relocating to Damanhour to continue his education, al Banna became a member of the Jama‟at al Nahi „an „al Munkar (Society of Diversion from the Forbidden, i.e. alcohol). He also inspired the creation of the Hasafiya Benevolent Organization, which was primarily oriented toward charity. This organization was formed “with a two-fold aim: to fight for the preservation of Islamic morality, and to resist the work of the Christian missionaries in town.”12 As an active religious teenager, al Banna lived through and even participated in the massive demonstrations of the Urabi Revolution, a spontaneous reaction to British colonial occupation. The nationalist mood of the Revolution engulfed Egyptian youth. Al Banna was not an exception. The young Islamicist occupied himself with the study of medieval Islamic Sufism. He became a true believer in the teachings of the contemporary Hamid al Ghazali. He was especially fond of al Ghazali‟s book Ihya‟ „Ulum al Din (Regenerating the Religious Sciences). Al Ghazali advocated and stressed the importance of religious higher education instead of a secular one. Even though he truly adhered to the idea of propagating higher education, al Banna transferred to Cairo and entered the Teachers Preparatory School. Upon graduation, he registered at the Dar al „Ulum (Faculty of Sciences), the highest institution of secular education, established in 1873.13 As a student in his institution, al Banna was in the center of the social and political transformations that were developing in the Egyptian capital. Soon he himself became a participant. It was While he was in Cairo that al Banna frequented the Salafiyya library (al Maktaba al Salafiyya) where he established a close friendship with the librarian, Muhib El Din al Khatib. Under the latter‟s guidance and tutelage, al Banna read extensively. He literally delved into the old and new Islamicist literature. It was Al Khatib who introduced al Banna to the reformist Rashid Rida.14 Al Banna was also active in the religious societies operating in Cairo such as Jamiyyat al Shubban al Muslimin (Society of Muslim Youth), However, he was disappointed by the elitist attitude of its leadership, He exposed his dissatisfaction with a series of articles in


al Manar, where he advocated the creation of a popular Islamic organization that would appeal to the masses and not only to a certain segment. Al Banna also wrote about reform within the society along Islamic traditions.15 In 1927, al Banna accepted a teaching position in al Isma‟iliyya. One year later, he initiated the society that he had envisioned. The creation of the Jam‟iyyat al Ikhwan al Muslimin (Society of Muslim Brothers or Muslim Brotherhood for short) was announced during a meeting that al Banna held with six workers from the Suez Canal Company operating in al Isma‟iliyya.16 Even though at the time of its formation the Society was based on workers based on the Canal and peasants in nearly towns, in the following years, many of the new cadres were recruited from amongst middle class professionals. There were even some members with very high social status. The bulk of the membership (the lower echelons) constituted of industrial workers (city branches) and peasants (rural branches).17 H.R. Dekmejian personifies al Banna as the avatar of 20th century Sunni revivalism. He was the unique embodiment of the Sufi spiritualist, Islamic scholar, and activist leader who possesses a rare ability to evoke mass support by translating doctrinal complexities into social action....It [al Banna‟s movement] succeeded in galvanizing and organizing a mass following as no other Islamic movement had done in recent centuries.... The Brotherhood constituted the organizational extension of al Banna‟s charismatic personality. Al Banna‟s emergence typifies Weber‟s charismatic leader who appears in times of crisis with a message of social, spiritual salvation.”18 From the day he initiated the Muslim Brotherhood until his assassination, and even afterwards, al Banna attained (and continues to attain) the image of an extremely charismatic leader and politician who is always able to mobilize huge numbers of people towards his cause. On one hand, he had to share political power with a king who held the Egyptian army under tight control, but was a mere puppet of the British and, on the other hand, with an opposition formulated along nationalist-secularist lines. Many blame al Banna as a traditional Islamicist who sided with the „Ameel (conspirator) king against the nationalist front. Some authors, (especially those whose works appeared during the Nassirist era when the Brotherhood was banned) go a far as labeling him an accomplice of the „Abidin Palace (the king‟s residence) and consequently of the British colonialists. Although there might be a kernel of truth in these accusations, it is certain they are simple exaggerations. Others try to be more objective by explaining that al Banna‟s cordial approach towards the king was not a sign of “treason” since it entertained two important objectives: 1) The new king, Farouk, enjoyed a good degree of popularity and he was regarded as a true Egyptian striving to free his country from foreign rule. Therefore, al Banna tried to approach him and to become an instrument for the implementation of Islamist reforms (by announcing the king as the Khalifa [Caliph] of all Muslims); 2) Al Banna approached the king and his prime minister through a series of letters underlining hi concern about the missionary movement and demanded from them “to seek reform in


the name, and within the spirit and letter of Islam,”19 to rid Islamic society from this malicious ailment. The main question that asserts is: What was the reason or what were the reasons behind al Banna‟s success? What tools, political, social or other, did he use to secure the fruition of his efforts? A quick look at al Banna‟s two-decades long political career reveals some very important, and at the same time interesting, characteristics that might at this point, be brought to focus. The first observation is that al Banna was a hard worker. This is especially true during the first years following the formation of the Society. He used to tour hundreds of villages where he preached about the true light and agitated the peasantry. Later, when the Society‟s headquarters relocated to Cairo, he was a permanent presence there leading prayers, illiteracy classes, and Qur‟anic interpretation sessions. Al Banna‟s extensive travels and at the same time his presence at the Cairo headquarters brought him in contact with thousands of members, who boasted that they personal acquaintances with the al Murshid al „Am (The Supreme Guide), a title that al Banna assumed for himself. Secondly, it follows that the numerous travels and the personal relations with the members of the lower echelons of the Society led to the establishment of a tight yet enormous network around the leader. This enhanced al Banna‟s charismatic appeal, especially when the Society expanded into some 1500 branches totaling some one million members.20 Thirdly, al Banna‟s charismatic character was his extensive usage of adjectives, which show grandeur. Aside from his new title of al Murshid al „Am, appellations such as Rajul ul sa‟a (the Man of the Hour), al Ka‟id al Islami (the Islamic Leader), al Akh al Ruhi (the Spiritual Brother), Mu‟min al Kawi (the Strong Believer), and others were frequently attached to his name in the media and at gatherings. Such rubrics must have had profound effects on the membership. Most probably, they were behind the creation of a mystical al Banna, since “the control al Banna had on his followers was extremely strong, almost absolute, almost magical.21 Fourthly, al Banna always spoke to “educate” his followers about leaders and leadership. He stressed that “A leader should be a person who is raised to be a leader and not someone who is created out of necessity, since the latter form of leadership is transitory and cannot endure.22 Two governing bodies operated at the highest levels of the Society of Muslim Brothers. The first was Majlis at Irshad (Guidance Council) and the second Majlis al Shura (Consultative Body). Theoretically, policies were formulated in Majlis al Irshad, which arrived at its decisions after considering the input of Majlis al Shura. Although both bodies were responsive to and reflecting the will of the membership, “however, as the description of the history and activities of the organization has shown, the leader (Supreme Guide), Hasan al Banna, was the center of power.”23 By centralizing all power in his hands and being extremely oppressive in some instances in the case of both internal


and external opponents, as will be shown below, al Banna transformed the society into a one-man-show. He frequently bypassed and even disregarded the initiatives and policies set forth Maktab al Irshad, whose twelve-members had become his cronies. During the 1940‟s the Guidance Council had lost most of its influence. It was rendered incompetent due to the frequent replacement of its members. The nominal collective leadership gave way to a more rigid, and to some extent despotic, individual rule, adding the element of fear to al Banna‟s already developed charismatic attributes. Fifthly, this concentrated power gave al Banna a free hand in dealing with his ideological and political opponents both inside and outside the Society. Some of the leaders (who were members in the Guidance and Consultative bodies) became the victims of internal purge. The silencing of both internal and external rivals became more organized and systematic after the creation of the Secret Apparatus (al Jihaz al Sirri), the military arm of the Society, which was developed from the initial Firak al Rahalat (scouting groups.)24 Al Banna kept the existence of al Jihaz al Sirri a secret even from the closest of his associates. He devised a system by which all militia leaders reported directly to him. Recruiting the most devoted and militant of the Egyptian youth enriched the Secret Apparatus. Al Kumsan al Khadra‟, The Green Shirts (as the youth of the Secret Apparatus were called during the anti-palace demonstrations) took part in these spectacles as a pro-government force. As such they were in direct opposition to al Kumsan al Zirk, The Blue Shirts, the youth of the anti-government nationalist al Wafa Party. However efficient the Secret Apparatus was in the beginning, the very recruitment of thousands of energetic and devoted young militants into the Society eventually proved to be one of al Banna‟s fatal mistakes, since the government soon uncovered this clandestine outfit which, although for the moment on its side, could prove potential danger in the future. The leaders of Jihaz al Sirri were put under secret surveillance. It was the Hadisat al Jeep (The Jeep Incident) that created friction between the Apparatus and the government forces. Huge amounts of weapons and ammunition were confiscated and several members of the Secret Apparatus were arrested. This gave the government enough reason to oppress the Brotherhood.25 Sixthly, in Islam, using force against aggressive enemies of the faith is tolerated, even encouraged Defensive Jihad. However, on what grounds is force to be used against fellow Muslims? This needed novelty in thought. Al Banna created the explanation necessary for such a task. He denounced Muslim opponents as Khawarij (heretics), and Wasani (pagans who lived just like the days of Jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic pagan society.26 Since these Muslim opponents had deviated from the true path, then it was possible - not to say permissible - to use force against them, and, if necessary, annihilate them for the propagation of the true faith. This explanation was later formulated into an ideological framework and theorized by the ideology of the Society, Sayyid Qutb. The “Jahiliyya” theory later became the basis for the formation of several radical Islamist


groups who advocated al „uzla (exclusion) from the deviant Jahiliyya society, and in some instances to even physically attack it. Seventhly, mastering persuasive oratorical and rhetorical abilities was yet another component of al Banna‟s charismatic character. His deep knowledge of the Arabic language (designated as al Balagha in Arabic), his vast cognizance of the Qur‟an and other important Islamic texts and treatises had acknowledged him in the eyes of the rank and file as “The Unmistakable Leader” (al Kaid Allazi la Yukht‟i), 27 who expresses only rational ideas. It follows that if there was a mistake in the policies formulated it was surely the other, secondary leaders who were blamed. This demagogic characterization of al Banna was one of the most repeatedly used accusations by authors opposing al Banna. They attributed this blind belief of members of the Society as a result of ignorance, which, in turn, gave rise to “the Cult of al Banna.”28 Nevertheless, the fact remains that al Banna was truly a unique, convincing orator. This can be illustrated by the following passage from one of his numerous speeches to his members: My brothers, you are not a benevolent society, nor a political party, nor a local organization having limited purposes. Rather, you are a new soul in the heart of this nation to give it life by means of the Qur‟an; you are a new light which shines to destroy the darkness of materialism through knowing God; and you are the strange voice which rises to recall the message of the prophet.... You should feel yourself the bearer of the burden, which all others have refused. When asked what it is for which you call, reply that it is Islam, the message of Muhammad, the religion that contains within it government, and has [as] one of its obligations, freedom. If you are told that you are political, answer that Islam admits no such distinction. If you are accused of being revolutionaries, say “we are voices for right and for peace in which we dearly believe and of which we are proud. If you rise against us or stand in the path of our message, then we are permitted by God to defend ourselves against your injustice....”29 Eighthly, there remains the direct quotation from the medieval and contemporary Islamic mujtahids that al Banna incorporated within his written and impromptu speeches. His excessive readings in the Salafia Library must have been an important factor in this regard. Quoting the medieval masters granted him the security he needed in legitimizing his ideas. He frequently quoted the medieval Ibn Taimiyya and the contemporary Pakistani mujtahid al Maududi. This trend was emulated and further developed by almost all Islamicist leaders who followed al Banna.


Ninthly, some authors point out that in spite of his strict rule, al Banna always sought to legitimize his reign by what in the Khaldunian theory is coined as Mubaya‟a. The oath that each candidate took before being admitted to the Society (i.e., In the name of God Almighty, I promise to firmly advocate the mission of the Muslim Brethren, to fight [jihad] for its sake and have full confidence in its leadership, whose initiatives I will obey unquestionably.”30 By accepting the mission and having full confidence in the leadership, whose work he is not to question, the member was in reality unquestionably investing in the leadership of al Banna, whose name became a synonym to leadership, since he was the central figure in the Society and, as the annals of the several conferences that the Society held, show, it was to him that all policy-making and organizational tasks were entrusted.31 Al Banna‟s organizational genius needs to be meticulously researched and studied in detail. He not only created a tight, well-organized political organization, but also surpassed that goal and widened the scope of the Society by integrating benevolent, social welfare, educational, media, and fund-raising units into it. Fund-raising activities were later enhanced by a sound financial structure that consisted of factories, businesses, and shops in which thousands of brothers were employed. The finances of the Society grew enormously. By the time the government put its hands on them after persecuting the Society in the late 1940‟s, its assets were valued at several million Egyptian pounds. When al Banna was assassinated on February 12, 1949, he had built a mammoth organization with almost a million members in Egypt and with branches scattered in several Arab states.32 Al Banna developed the necessary political and ideological platforms on which future Islamicist leaders were to operate.

IV - Hasan al Hudaybi: The Institutional Man The repression to which the Brotherhood and its Secret Apparatus were exposed in between 1948 and 1952 - the same year during which the “free officers” ascended to power through a military coup - weakened the organization both politically and militarily. The assassination of al Banna in February 1949 complicated the situation even further. As a Supreme Guide, al Banna had centralized all power in his hands. His sudden absence created an atmosphere of confusion within the leadership as well as the rank and file of the Society. It was during the initial stages of this repression, and, in an attempt to remedy the situation, that some prominent members of the Society initiated a search for a new Supreme Guide. Several notable leaders were considered. However, none possessed al Banna‟s charismatic abilities and organizational qualifications. Leaders like Abdel Aziz Atiyyah, Mukhtar Abdel Alim, Abdel Kader Audah, Yusuf Tal‟at and Abdel Aziz Kamel frequently visited one Hasan al Hudaybi, an ex-judge of the Court of Denials and a man known for his traditionalist attitudes in defense of Islam and the application of


the Shari‟ a (the legal ethical code of Islam). After tedious negotiations, they finally convinced him of assuming the leadership of the organization.33 The reluctance that al Hudaybi showed in accepting the highest position in the Society had some legitimate reasons. First of all, he was not a member of the Society. Therefore, he knew but little about its mission and activities. It was through Yusuf Talaat‟s convincing words and urgent appeals that Hudaybi finally accepted the offer.34 As an old member of the judiciary system and a figure well trained within the bureaucracy of the constitutional monarchy, Hudaybi was in several ways diametrically different from al Banna. Until now, it is not clear why the elders of the Society chose him, a man of the institution, to lead an organization that had acquired a more or less revolutionary character. Some argue that the choice was made in order to bring about a rapprochement (compromise) even through highly priced with the Palace and the ruling colonial power. It might also have been that the shortcomings of al Banna‟s policies (which led to his arrest and temporary imprisonment sometime before his assassination) necessitated the appointment of a “moderate” figure. Nevertheless, as soon as Hudaybi acquired his new post, serious questions about his experience as a political and social leader, his previous participation in the Society and his adherence to its causes, and his ability to provide a sound and balanced leadership began to surface.35 Hudaybi‟s social and political character too, was also the product of the same intense nationalistic atmosphere in which al Banna was raised. However, Hudaybi differed in that his education was a strictly secular one. The only religious education he was exposed to was that of his family. The new Supreme Guide was a graduate of the secular educational system which was established by the Khedive Abbas Hilmi. The schools where he studied had in time transformed into centers of nationalistic agitation. Soon, the young Hudaybi was approached by some classmates and made a member of a secret organization which aimed at overthrowing the British colonialists.36 The assassination of then Prime Minister Boutros Ghali by one of Hudaybi‟s compatriots (most probably because o the minister‟s compliance with the British in the “dual governing” of the Sudan), was a turning point for the revolutionary Hudaybi, who continued to work for the secret organization under the disguise of being a simple law student who had no interest in politics whatsoever. During the Arabi Revolution of 1919, however, Hudaybi dropped his disguise and participated in the demonstration with his law school colleagues. Later, as a member of Jam‟iyyat al Shubban al Muslimin (Society of Muslim Youth) Hudaybi met al Banna who frequented the headquarters of the Jam‟iyya. Hudaybi, however, was not recruited by al Banna to become a member of the Society. The prominent members who brought Hudaybi in as the new Supreme Guide, tried to convince and persuade those who thought of Hudaybi as a non-member of the Society that every pious Muslim striving for the same goals as that of the Society is to be


considered a member.37 However, the fact remains, that at the time of his appointment, Hudaybi was considered an outsider to al Banna‟s organization. Many members in the lower echelons went as far as to consider him an intruder. The period during which Hudaybi governed the Society (1949 to almost the middle of 1953) is considered to be one of mediocrity, as opposed to the heyday during al Banna‟s time. Hudaybi drastically lacked the strength and fervor of the charismatic al Banna. He was not an eloquent orator and he never tried to be one even at the critical state when the Society was badly in need of one. He retained almost all the characteristics of what might be defined as “the Man of the Institution” (the product of working for decades within the established bureaucracy and favoring to work through accepted political channels, thus rendering the once energetic and popular Society into a static one). For example, Hudaybi was offended when he found out that the remnants of what was once the Secret Apparatus were still operating under his nose and without his knowledge. He tried hard to dismantle this military arm. He initiated an ill-fated campaign based on the notions of working as an established opposition party instead. Moreover, as one author puts it: The designation of Hudaybi as a Supreme Guide... created an ideological vacuum which in turn gave free reign to the expression of tendencies.... The new Supreme Guide, who lacked great intellectual authority, was unable to do more than bestow or withhold the organizational imprimatur. 38 If such was the situation on the political level, there was, however, a new boom of intellectual ferment which brought forth a proliferation of works by Muslim brethren and their fellow travelers. Abdel Kadir „Audah, Muhammad al Ghazali, Sayyid Qutb, al Bahi al Khuli and Muhammad Taha Badawi all sought to continue al Banna‟s tradition in their writings.39 It is important to note that the proliferation of works about the mission of the Society was a direct response to the political vacuum that prevailed because of Hudaybi‟s incompetence. A point in fact is that these new writings were, in turn, the direct reason behind the strengthening of new tendencies within the Society. It was the new tendencies that later nurtured the formation of the more radical offshoots which will be considered below. Moreover, these writings, and especially those of Sayyid Qutb, were to have a profound influence in shaping a new, more radical anti-government Islamist ideology after 1953, when the newly established government of the free officers banned all political parties and literally dumped thousands of their leaders and members into prison camps. The Society of Muslim Brothers was no exception. After a short honeymoon with the government, which lasted from 1952 to 1954, and during which Nasser and his comrades utilized the popularity of the Society when themselves came forth with Islamic slogans to consolidate their power, a wide scale persecution of the Brethren was initiated.


On December 9, 1954, six prominent members of the Society mounted the gallows while the Supreme Guide, Hasan al Hudaybi, and thousands of brothers were arrested and thrown into the Tura and other prison camps. As one source writes, “...Never in the quarter century since the founding of the society by Hasan al Banna in 1928 had the Brethren suffered such a violent repression.40 It could be easily argued that the shortsightedness of Hudaybi and his ineffective political methods led to this tragedy. Although this argument contains some truth, it seems, however, that this could be considered a superficial, naive explanation, Some author argue cleverly that the new social and political situation on the Egyptian scene made the repression against the Brethren (and the other parties as well) inevitable. The Young Officers who had ascended to power needed no rivals. They were not ready at all to share the government with anybody else. Since the Brotherhood demanded the implementation of the Shari „a together with some ministerial posts to supervise the implementation of Islamic law, they posed a serious danger to the new government and especially to Nasser and his new ideas. Nasser first gave in because of his struggle with Nagib within the Free Officers Group (hence the short honeymoon period). However, as soon as he pushed Nagib aside, the repression of the Brotherhood and the other parties went ahead. Instead of adhering to his previous Islamist slogans, the charismatic Nasser rallied to consolidate his power and legitimacy by instigating class differences and by bringing the workers and the “poor” to his cause and shoving them into opposition to the previously popular Brotherhood.41 Hudaybi‟s mistakes and the subsequent disintegration of the Society‟s power, coupled with Nasserite repression, caused its alienation from the masses. As a result of Nasser‟s socio-nationalistic policies and his consolidation of power after signing the July 1954 treaty with Britain to end the fighting in the Suez Canal zone a “crisis period” started within the Society. An opposition to Nasser in the ranks of the more militant young leaders and members of the Society who were imprisoned in the tightly controlled camps gave way to the reawakening of such military ideas as al „Uzla (seclusion), Takfir (excommunication) and Hijra (emigration) from the Jahilliyya society by Nasser and his accomplices. This became the new basis of a new ideology within the Nasserite prison camp. The writings of another exponent of the Islamist mission, Sayyid Qutb were essential in the formulation of this new, militant and extremely radical ideology. It was in rebuttal to Qutb‟s views and to denounce this new wave of revivalist militancy, and also to justify his mild traditionalist ideas that in 1969 (while still in prison) Hudaybi composed his treatise Du‟at la Kudat and published it through the efforts of Zeynab al Ghazali, the passionaria of the Brotherhood. In his narrative: The Supreme Guide [Hudaybi] himself intended to correct the errors of “certain” brothers. Du‟at la Kudat was written in one of the concentration camps in which the Brethren were imprisoned.... The


tortures that they suffered here nurtured the idea of Takfir...among the youngest of the prisoners.... Hudaybi wrote his book in an effort to lead errant young Islam cists back to the straight and narrow. It contains explicit criticism of Mawdudi‟s “The Four Technical Terms of the Qur‟an,” but reading between the lines, it is not difficult to detect a refutation of certain passages of signposts [milestones, Qutb‟s radical treatise].42 Criticizing al Mawdudi was a direct deviation from al Banna, who had often quoted the contemporary Islamist mujtahid. By doing so, Hudaybi ascertained his traditionalist views and antagonized the imprisoned militants even further. While the imprisoned Brothers were being tortured, and at the same time were entering into intellectual polemics regarding their movement, the social and political atmosphere in Egypt was changing rapidly. After he consolidated his power by ridding himself from his opponents, Nasser inspired the masses with his unmatched charismatic appeal. By taking advantage of his new popularity, he tried to alter the social fabric of the country. While it was true that he came into power by equally basing his cause on the support of the rural and urban masses, he soon initiated “a policy of transforming the spirit of village Egypt to the seat of power in Cairo.43 In this regard, Wanburg argues that “while the interests of the peasants [who had been the real backbone of the Islamist movement] were continuously put forward as the regime‟s main concern, their predominantly Islamic roots were not seriously taken into account when Nasser formulated his Pan-Arab, socialistic policies.44 Nasser‟s Pan-Arab ideology was devised to counter and eventually to defeat new militant Islamist resurgence. The important element in this policy is that Nasser was able to acquire the cooperation of al Azhar, whose „ulemas published one Fatwa (position paper) after another denouncing the imprisoned yet militant Brethren as people who have sold their souls to the devil. The Nasser era witnessed the birth of a Pan-Arabic literature. Ardent Nasserites like Mahmud Shalabi and Mustafa al Siba‟i defended the new socialist regime with their writings. The campaign went as far as to compose some absurd narratives with even more absurd titles such as “The Socialism of Muhammad and “The Socialism of Uthman,” attempting to prove the legitimacy of Nasser by advocating that “he was in fact following in the footsteps of the prophet and his successors, the Rashidun (Elders) Caliphs. More importantly, however, is the fact that some Ash'arites became prominent figures in this new literary movement.45 The defeat of 1967, however, was a major blow to Nasser and his Pan-Arabic socialist policies. Nasser never recovered from the blow and died three years later, leaving behind him a vast ideological emptiness even within his ardent followers, who were shocked by the disastrous defeat in 1967 and the untimely death of their leader in 1970.


What was the effect of all these events on the Islamist movement in Egypt? With the ascendance of Anwar al Sadat to the presidency, a new era was ushered. Most of the leaders and the members were released from their prolonged incarceration. The old vanguard of the Society gathered around Umar al Talmasani with the objective of propagating the traditionalist ideas of Hudaybi as formulated in Du‟at La Kudat. Talmasani acquired the editorship of al Daawa, the central organ of the Society and published it in a new format which expressed and defended the views of the traditionalist Brothers to a more complex and polarized society, where many militant Islam cists formed their own offshoot groups based on the teachings of Sayyid Qutb. Hudaybi had retained a nominal leadership in prison, and upon his release in 1971, he did not assume th
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