The Future of Islamism in Egypt
November 2, 2016
About the speaker
Samuel Tadros is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, where he researches the rise of Islamist movements in the Middle East and its implications for religious freedom and regional politics.
Prior to joining Hudson in 2011, Tadros was a Senior Partner at the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth, an organization that aims to spread the ideas of classical liberalism in Egypt. He has received his MA in Democracy and Governance from Georgetown University and his BA in Political Science from the American University in Cairo. Tadros previously interned at the American Enterprise Institute, where he worked on the Muslim Brotherhood and worked as a consultant for the Hudson Institute on Moderate Islamic Thinkers, and most recently the Heritage Foundation on Religious Freedom in Egypt. In 2007, he was chosen by the State Department in its first Leaders for Democracy Fellowship Program in collaboration with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.
His articles have previously been published by the Wall Street Journal, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, National Review, World Affairs, and the Weekly Standard. Tadros is a Professorial Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
In 2013, Tadros published Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity (Hoover), a book on the Copts and the modern politics of Egypt, and in 2014, he published Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt.
He also spoke at Westminster on the subject of: The Sorrows of Egypt, Revisited.
Robert R. Reilly:
We’re here to learn tonight about the development of Islamism in Egypt by someone from Egypt who is a scholar in this field. And that is Samuel Tadros, who’s a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom where he concentrates on the rise of Islamist movements in the Middle East and its implications for religious freedom and regional politics.
Prior to joining Hudson in 2011, Samuel Tadros was a senior partner at the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth, an organization that aims to spread the ideas of classical liberalism in Egypt.
He received his MA in democracy and governance from Georgetown University and his BA in political science from American University in Cairo.
He’s previously interned at the American Enterprise Institute where he worked on the Muslim Brotherhood and worked as a consultant for the Hudson Institute on moderate Islamic thinkers and also at the Heritage Foundation on religious freedom in Egypt.
His articles have been published by most of the major newspapers and other journals. He’s a professor reelection Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies.
In 2013, Mr. Tadros published Motherland Lost the Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity, published by the Hoover Institution, a book on the Copts and the modern politics of Egypt. Please join me in welcoming Samuel Tadros.
Well, thank you for the introduction and for inviting me to come to speak here today. The past six years have seen a tremendous upheaval in Egypt to say the least.
The Islamists long suppressed under the regime of Hosni Mubarak suddenly rose to control the streets and then reach power itself.
Every elections 2011, 2012 the Islamists were winning in the country parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood was winning 45% and the second party in power was even the more extreme Salafis in Egypt, willing to winning 27% of the vote the Shura elections.
Afterwards, the result was 83% for the Islamist presidential elections. Afterwards, Mohammed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency of Egypt and even the constitution was passed by them in December of 2012, an Islamist Constitution that increased the role of religion, their interpretation of Sharia, and other such clauses and the story was not just the story of Egypt.
Across the region the Islamists seemed to be dominating everything. In Libya, true, they didn’t win a majority at the beginning but they did manage to control the legislative- the Parliament there.
In Tunisia, the Ennahda party, which had emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, won the elections there and form the government.
In Morocco, a country that the Arab Spring had not touched but where the King realizing the winds of change had allowed the Islamist party also there to win the elections and to form the government.
In Syria, where the Muslim Brotherhood positioned itself as the alternative to the rule of Bashar Assad. It seemed everywhere across the Arabic-speaking world the Islamists were on the rise.
No surprise there that someone like Turkey’s president at the time, Prime Minister Reggie up playa God, thought of himself as the new Sultan of the region. Parties that he had supported, friends of his, were winning across the region. Something was changing.
Instead of this Arab Spring that people had talked about, it seemed that it was in reality an Islamist Spring, but a couple of years after that it didn’t quite take long for the Islamist wave to seem to crumble.
The first story began in Egypt where after one year in power, President Morsi faced enormous demonstrations in the street and then a military coup that removed him from power.
In Tunisia, where the Islamist Ennahda party was forced to give up power, facing criticism by Tunisians and facing the prospect of a similar event to what was happening in Egypt.
For them to face everywhere it seemed that this wave was finally being broken and even before the wave, we had seen the extent of it. People were happy to talk about the end of Islamism, an ideology, a phenomena that the Arabic-speaking world had suffered from for generations, was finally finished.
In reality it had even begun before this so-called Arab Spring. Even before that, scholars had pointed out and said Islamism is done is finished. French scholar or avira wrote about it as if by out talked about the post-Islamist politics in the region.
These ideas had always been there, so are we witnessing today an end of Islamism or what future does Islamism have in the country like Egypt, a country that gave birth to that ideology, that played an instrumental role in the various forms of Islamism that have risen across the region?
I mean, that is a country after all where Hassan al-Banna formed his Muslim Brotherhood, where Ayman al-Zawahiri grew before becoming the second man, currently the first man, in Al-Qaeda, where all of these characters and leaders of various systems, stripes originated. The ideas of the Egyptians, I thought all of that came from this country so are we to see today an end to Islamism in Egypt?
Let me say three comments about the future of Islamism in Egypt. The first of them is that the Muslim Brotherhood is done after 80 what 86 – 1928 till today – 88 years.
The organization that Hassan al-Banna has formed is pretty much finished in the country. By this I do not mean the ideology. What I mean here, what I am suggesting is that the Muslim Brother is first and foremost an organization or as it’s currently jailed deputy supreme leader right at the shelter would call it a jamiah, a group, the jamiah was not like joining any political party or belonging, sharing a couple of ideas.
In fact, becoming a member of the Muslim Brotherhood was a process that took from five to eight years. You were examined and examined again. You were actually four, five times being examined until you jump in ranks, until you reach the rank of a handle, an active Muslim Brotherhood a fully member of the organization.
Throughout this period of five to eight years you are expected to attend weekly meetings with your aastra, your family, five to six members. They truly become your family. The name Brotherhood in Muslim Brotherhood is a real bond of brotherhood being created.
You pretty much probably end up marrying a sister of one of your brothers. In this mall austra, you probably go to work for another Muslim Brotherhood or he works for you. It’s a bond. It’s an organization. It’s an organizational structure that is extremely powerful and effective but that organization is no more.
First, let us begin with the the coup itself. The Muslim Brotherhood did not expect to be removed from power. It had finally reached power after years of drought, after years of dreaming of that, and this generation of Muslim brothers, the Hydra to shatters, Mohamed Morsis of the world, were the ones that were finally achieving the dream of Hassan al-Banna.
They were the ones that will create a state that will connect heaven and earth, so when they began to see that there were calls for demonstrations against them, they didn’t take them seriously.
After all, they had won every elections. Why should they be worried the street was thurs those protesting against them were really just the Christian minority and these Western nights.
At least once the the day passes, nothing will happen. On that day, the 30th of July, and they will remain in power, so the military’s decision and of course, before that, the size of the demonstrations against them, came to them as a complete surprise, caught completely off guard with Mohamed Morsi arrested and jailed by the military.
The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in a square in Cairo called Raba’a Square where they try to come up with a strategy to face the reality that they are dealing with and they miserably failed for month and a half. They were there in the Raba’a Square and couldn’t do anything.
Eventually the military came and massacred them in the square, about a thousand of the Muslim Brotherhood that their supporters were massacred that day in Egypt after Raba’a are failed to be the the point for them to rally their supporters.
They thought they can spread the protest against the regime across the country so they started a wave of protests across Egypt that failed to gather any perseus support month after month the number of protesters decreased when the university started in October, they thought okay, the universities can become a center of how we would challenge the regime.
The students after more after all were more radicalized, more willing to challenge the regime. It took a month or two for student demonstrations and that that also ended.
I can go on month after month with what the Muslim Brotherhood tried to do in order to confront this new reality, in order to challenge the new regime that replace them, but the story is repeated one time after the next.
The Muslim Brotherhood has simply failed completely to develop a serious strategy in order to bring down President Sisi and those that had removed them from power.
But it’s not just the story of a group that was caught by surprise and had no effective strategy. We also face the reality of the wave of repression that they have faced.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt in the 50s and 60s, had targeted the Brotherhood before. That is the great age of repression of the Brotherhood in 1954.
He had seven people in 1965 when they discovered the site open plot within the Brotherhood Nasser Hank Tobin to others true. The brothers were jailed, their property was confiscated, thousands of them were forced outside of the country and many people died from torture inside prison, but that’s the extent of the regime’s oppression.
What the Brotherhood has faced today is much larger than anything they have faced in the past. Complete layers of this of the leadership. And we’re talking here about an organization that reason will be has a structure of a pyramid where if you remove the top layers of that leadership, the organization cannot take any action.
We’ve had complete layers of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood targeted by the regime many of them are spending time today in jail and will continue to spend time there.
Even the ones that were not arrested have found it very hard to operate within the country. Escaped from Egypt became the option not just for leaders but even for rank-and-file Muslim Brotherhood’s.
I was in Istanbul in Turkey a couple of months ago and you would be surprised by the number of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood operatives who are today in Istanbul: about 10,000 of them. That’s a serious number.
Less numbers but also significant reside in Qatar, reside in Malaysia, reside in Sudan, and many other countries, so you’ve had a wave of not just leaders but even rank and file of various layers of the Muslim Brotherhood members, escaping outside of the country and that obviously has impacted the ability of the organization to operate.
We’ve also had a serious division emerging within the Muslim Brotherhood. No longer the one united group, Muslim brothers, facing their reality, that their strategies have failed to bring down Sisi, have obviously began to develop alternative ideas. Disagreements have emerged within the Brotherhood. The supreme guide is in prison. 80-90% of the members of the Guidance Council are all in jail, so it’s no surprise that new guys would emerge with various ideas, competing not just on the organizational control, on the control of the finances of the organization and leadership, but also about what should be done in order to deal with the Sisi regime.
What level of violence are we to take? Our methodology of change had depended on penetrating society, Islamizing society as Shotter called it, and then winning the elections. Hassan al-Banna had told us that to come to power there were six stages. We needed first to create the Muslim individual, the Muslim family, the Muslim society, the Muslim government, the Islamic state in the world, and then, the last stage, supremacy among the world nations.
But that methodology is no longer working. We can no longer hold the family meetings to ‘Usra meetings that we discussed because it will be dangerous. We can no longer continue recruiting as we did in the past. That’s not possible today. And to what end? We’re going to recruit people and do what with them? Send them to jail as well? It is to no surprise that some people will say, ‘No, if we’re being hit, we need to hit back. This idea that it is only through the elections at the ballot box that we can come to power has proven to be a mistake.’
And of course, the Muslim Brotherhood is not operating in a vacuum. Other Islamists are pointing out that the methodology of the Brotherhood is a complete failure, that the Brotherhood’s way has not worked. Look at them. Where is Morsi and his supporters today? Look at us in the Islamic state. We’ve declared the caliphate. We are actually the ones that achieved the dream and not them. It is our way and not theirs that has a chance of succeeding. And many brothers are listening to that.
But beyond these divisions and beyond the crisis within the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood also faces a crisis in the outside. Their year in power have greatly diminished the level of support that they have in the country. First, it has proven that they are not competent. For 80-plus years these people have said the problem of Egypt is that it is being ruled by these non religious people, by these people who are against God whether it’s Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak or whomever, and once we come to power, things will be fine.
Well, they came to power and things weren’t really fine. The economy: they didn’t manage to deal with the economic problems. They failed miserably in managing every aspect of life in the country. It turned out that they were as incompetent if not worse than the ones that they had always rallied against, that they didn’t know how a state operated in the first place, that they couldn’t manage the bureaucracy, that they couldn’t manage any aspect of governance in the country.
But it’s not just their failure in, or lack of competency, it’s also the level of alienation that they have created in society, coming to power on at the time of the revolution. Before coming to power, they had promised that they would only run for thirty percent of the seats in parliament and they wouldn’t offer a presidential candidate.
Their idea was reasonable. We need to make sure that other people in society are not frightened by us. We don’t need to win the absolute majority, we can take our own chair and control things and step-by-step control power and take power completely. But once they saw power, that consciousness, that pragmatism was completely abandoned not only did they take Parliament or the presidency but in the way they governed the country they had no partners.
It’s no surprise then, that we see that even the Salafis, the Salafi party, would join the military in announcing the coup against them. They had managed to alienate Al Azhar, the religious establishment of the country, the Copts, the minority, the Western-educated elite, but even the regular Egyptians. They had alienated the state institutions from the police force to the military to the judges that they wanted to target. Everyone in the country was alienated by their rule.
So they have lost a lot of their popular support in the street. The people were willing to give the Brotherhood a chance in the elections because they hadn’t been tried before. An Islamist slogan from the ’70s and ’80s was you’ve have tried the left and you’ve tried the right, referring to Nasser and Sadat – neither of them was exactly that – why don’t you try Islam? Why don’t you, for once, give God a chance?
Well, people had and it didn’t work out perfectly. Today, they don’t have partners. There are no people from amongst the non-Islamist opposition who are completely against the regime who are willing to work with them. So that’s the Muslim Brotherhood, which brings me to my second point.
Islamism is not the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamism is a much wider phenomena than the simple organization that is the Muslim Brotherhood. Neither is the Muslim Brotherhood even a majority of Islamists in Egypt. In 2011, as people who were surprised to see these Salafis, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Amin Amobila Fatuah, commented that for every Brotherhood member in the country, there were 20 Salafis. Just to give you an idea, there are 500,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood pre the coup, so in his estimate there were 10 million Salafis in Egypt, and I don’t think he was wrong.
Salafism is a much wider phenomena in the country than the simple organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. There are many reasons for that. A, to become a Salafi, well, you wear a jalabiya, you grow your beard a bit, and you’re a Salafi. No one tells you. No one examines you. There’s no process. There’s no meetings. It’s a self-declared profession. You’re born again. In that sense, it’s a much easier way, it has a lot of appeal to join such a thing that doesn’t have these structures. Not only that, it doesn’t also have structures of leadership. You’re a Salafi, I’m a Salafi, you interpret, I interpret, well, there’s an openness there. There’s opportunity there.
And of course, the Muslim Brotherhood despite those eight years, had become completely void of actual content. True, Hassan al-Banna had had ideas but the movement has completely failed to produce any one of that value. Since the death of Sayyid Qutb in ’66, none of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt has written a single book. None of them has produced a single theological argument of value.
Compare that to the thousands of Salafi sheikhs that you can go on YouTube and you can look for an answer to any question that you have. Should I watch a soccer game or not? Should I work in the tourism industry or not? How should I…? Any question that you have [about] any aspect of life, the Salafis have an answer. They have actual content that they offer for you, so the world of Islamism is much wider than the Muslim Brotherhood.
And it’s of course, also older than the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamism in Egypt, the Salafi organizations, were even established pre the Muslim Brotherhood. The Gamay Asharaye in 1913, the Ansar Sunnah Mohammadiyah in 1926, so there’s a deep structure there.
Now, how have these other Islamists fared in the country since the military coup? It’s been a mixed bag. The Noor Party, the Salafis who had won second place in the parliamentary elections, agreed to support General Sisi and the military in their coup against the Brotherhood. In return, they are tolerated in the country, they still maintain a political party, and have participated in the parliamentary elections, although they have lost a huge part of their support, only winning about 2% of the seats in parliament. Now, that doesn’t mean completely that they have lost everything. It has to do with the way the electoral system was designed, the size of the districts, and other other factors, but it cannot be denied that the Noor Party’s betrayal of the Brotherhood alienated a lot of their Islamist base against them.
Other Salafis have found it’s better for them to be quiet, they can’t stand against the wave, so they would return to their private sermons, the word private, of course, being relative. They still comment on aspects of life, although they don’t comment directly on political affairs any longer, fearing that they would get arrested. Other Salafis have been arrested or have fled with the Muslim Brotherhood outside of the country while others have moved in a more violent direction.
There’s a lot of appeal today for those ideas, again, the Islamic state, and other forms that are saying well, those things are not working. We’re the only ones that have a way forward.
But Islamism as a whole has survived the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. The reasons for that should not be surprising. First, unlike the Brotherhood, which is an organization, Islamism is an idea. It’s much harder to completely eradicate an idea than in eradicating an actual physical organization with leaders and offices and websites and so on.
Secondly, while there were significant demonstrations asking for Morsi to step down and calling for his ouster, there’s also a fact that Islamism or the Brotherhood was removed from power via the military. At the end of the day, it was the tank that managed to remove the president and not the number of people in the street. The fact that the Islamists were not defeated in Parliament means that there is still significant support for them.
Thirdly, while the Egyptian regime has succeeded in destroying the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization, it’s record on other aspects of the life of Egyptians has not been as successful. The economy is in a complete mess. The Egyptian pound officially in the bank stands at 8.88 pounds for the dollar. In the black market it’s at 18, more than double its price.
The economic situation is miserable, high inflation in the country, historic, that we had not seen before. We’re seeing shortages of commodities, currently, it’s sugar. People can no longer find it, so there’s been a record of the regime [that] has proven that well, the Muslim Brotherhood was incompetent and Islamists didn’t turn out to be the best guys to run the country, but neither are the current guys who are ruling us, so when once the hatred, once the memories of what the Muslim Brotherhood has done and their failures are no longer the first thing you remember, and instead, you see around you this failure in management, then that makes you think again.
But also, Islamism remains dominant because it has not been replaced by anything. It has been replaced by another guy and another set of ministers but there has been no ideology that filled the vacuum. Remember, when Nasser crushed the Muslim Brotherhood, these were the high days of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Nasser was the hero of the Arab masses across the region. When Syria gave up its its country, when the Syrians gave up on their country and gave it to Nasser and it joined Egypt and he visited the country, his car was carried by the Syrians. There was a competing ideology. One that ended in complete failure in misery 1967, but it was an ideology.
Man after all doesn’t live by bread alone, so once there is no competing ideology, there’s nothing but Islamism being offered, then it’s no surprise that it still dominates the intellectual world there. And, of course, Islamism is not some alien implant into a country. It is not a Communist ideology, people are suddenly told you belong to the working class and thus you need to believe in that ideology. It is deeply rooted in the culture of the region, in the culture of Egypt itself.
Islamism, the very word of course, is derived from Islam. Now, of course, the Islamist claim that they are not just one, but the political manifestation of Islam should not be accepted. Their growth being a result of more historical factors that we have seen related to the crisis of modernity, the impact of European ideologies. But there is also no denial that Islamism operates within a cultural framework that makes its ideas familiar and appealing to people. The very basic and simple Islamist ideas that we were great before, that we had a great civilization in the past where the caliphs ruled the world not just militarily from Andalusia from Spain until China, but also culturally and scientifically, that we had all those great scientists, and that to return to being great again, all we need to do is to go back to Islam. That simple idea that there is an answer in Islam, that the problem is not Islam as various European intellectuals have suggested, but instead that the solution is actually in Islam.
That idea still makes sense, the idea that we are Muslims, that this is our identity, still makes sense to people, which brings me to the third comment I’d make today. If the main organization that we had known of Islamism, the Muslim Brotherhood, is no longer there as I am suggesting, while the ideology itself is still appealing, where does this leave us? Well, in a sense this has been the story of Islamism throughout its history.
Islamism, an ideology that claims that it has the answer to people, to their misery, to the backwardness of the Muslim world, has not succeeded, yet it is still appealing. Naturally, this means that it’s an ideology that has been always in complete flux, that people emerge every number of years and say well, the problem is never in the ideology. The problem has been in the implementation. It’s the x group’s methodology that has failed and not Islamism itself, so it’s no surprise that the failures of the Muslim Brotherhood would allow in the seventies the growth of activist Salafism across the region, the Arabic-speaking world, or that the failures, again, of the Brotherhood would allow the emergence of Salafi jihadis from the ideas of Sayyid Qutb to their manifestations in local terrorist organizations al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya, Islamic Jihad, the FIS in Algeria, to becoming an international, transnational organization in the form of Al-Qaeda, to their final formation that we deal with today that is the Islamic state.
So an ideology that remains popular but all it’s it’s methods of implementation failing, means that we will always have this new current emerging within Islamism. The latest one, of course, that we are confronting is the Islamic state, the idea that Al-Qaeda’s methodology is not working and we need to actually establish the caliphate. That idea today has an extreme appeal because the caliphate, of course, had been claimed my many before. Mullah Omar in Afghanistan had fancied himself the commander of the faithful, Amir al-Mu’minin, but this is not Afghanistan, this is not some desert that no one cares about, this is not some country that people don’t even remember called Somalia. This is the heart of the Arabic and Muslim world. This is where the caliphs ruled in the past between Damascus and Baghdad. This is the center of the dream.
And with all these methodologies failing, with the Salafi emphasis on changing people’s minds through educational upbringing, with the Brotherhood’s failure through their political participation, with Al Qaeda’s failure – after all where is Ayman today? Hiding in a cave in Afghanistan or a villa in Pakistan, but the end result, hiding. But the Islamic state today offers itself as the one successful model, so naturally, we found in Egypt the birth of a branch of the Islamic State, ‘Wilayat Sinai’ as they call it, operating in Sinai, using the fact of the historical neglect of that region in the country and the deep divisions between it culturally, tribally, on all levels, and the mainland, the rest of the country, the Islamic state have managed to create a strong foothold there. Despite the military’s continued campaigns, despite deep cooperation and support from Israel for the Egyptian operations, the Islamic state still operates, maintains a presence, and is able to conduct daily attacks against the Egyptian forces.
Now, there are the big attacks, the 20-plus people died that get the headlines, but on a daily basis, at least one Egyptian officer or soldier dies in Sinai, so that’s a continuous presence, continuous threat to the country. But it’s not just the clear – and of course it’s one that has been able to operate not just in Sinai but even in mainland Egypt. We’ve had the failed attempt at the life of the Minister of Interior in September 2013. We’ve had the successful assassination of the country’s prosecutor general. We’ve had a number of significant high-level attacks conducted by these jihadis in the middle of Cairo in mainland Egypt.
But it’s not just the growth of the Islamic State or of the violent jihadis that is the only worrying thing for us or the only aspect of this future of Islamism. The collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood has meant that all these former members are open for recruitment. Partly, it’s the story of the mixing of the Islamists that happened in Raba’a Square and from that point onward. The Brotherhood, abandoned by everyone did not find any allies except other radical Islamists. The Noor Party supported the coup, but other Salafis were there with them and a mixing happened. Brotherhood members were sharing tents in Raba’a Square with revolutionary Salafis and they were exchanging ideas.
That mixing of ideas is not only a story of what happened with the Brotherhood, but even the regime helped that take place. You see, in the Egyptian prisons today are thousands and thousands of former members of the Muslim Brotherhood, members of the Brotherhood. These guys are not jailed separately from the jihadis. They often share the same cells. So you’re jailed there, you have a year to spend in jail, and your cellmate is a jihadi. Guess what you’ll be discussing? You’re frustrated, you’re angry, and this guy tells you I have a solution.
This, the Egyptian prisons becoming the laboratory for the emergence of more violent forms of Islamism is, of course, something that we had seen in the ’80s when the Egyptian regime arrested all these various Islamists after the assassination of Sadat, and again, made the mistake of putting them all together in the same cells. And as a result, we got, first, we had two organizations, Jama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad. Suddenly, you had new forms of of Islamism, of jihadi organization. We had the sharqin infayoom. We had the emergence of the Saved from Fire, the Al Najun Min Al Nar. We had the emergence of all these groups as a result of the amalgam of ideas that was taking place in these prisons.
But it’s also a result of the Brotherhood’s decision, what remained of its leadership, of resorting to violence. Now, the Brotherhood, officially, still maintains that it does not resort to violence. The reality has been a bit different. Early on, facing regime attacks on their demonstrators, they decided that they would create protest protection units, that these units will be responsible. When you see the regime punks or the policemen, coming to attack the protest, they’ll be the guys on the first lines of defense. Of course, if you’re willing to engage and beat a police officer in battle, the idea of throwing a Molotov cocktail on a police car doesn’t sound unreasonable.
Beginning in late 2013, early 2014, we began to see those low-level violence; a Molotov cocktail on a police car, targeting the electricity grid to bring down the electricity in the country, and then came new ideas. By the end of 2014, beginning of 2015, we had the second wave of violence in this sense after the first one associated with Raba’a, where Brotherhood supporters burned churches in the country and destroyed them. We had the largest wave of attacks on the Egyptian churches in August of 2013, more than a hundred churches and church-affiliated buildings destroyed.
But the second wave by end of 2014, beginning of 2015, involved the emergence of new groups, one called the Popular Resistance, the other, Revolutionary Punishment. Their level of violence became a bit more than the Molotov cocktails. They began to target individuals. ‘I know that this police officer was in Raba’a and participated in the killing of my brothers. Let’s kill him.’ So we’ve had a number of assassinations of not top generals and famous people but lower ranking police officers, police informants, the ‘local policeman in a village that I know has tortured a relative of mine from the Brotherhood or friends of mine. Let’s target these.’
So we began to see an escalation of violence and, of course, we began to see the targeting of companies. You see something weird happened here. An American joined the Muslim Brotherhood. The story, of course, is that of a man from Colorado – seems Colorado always had to do something with the Brotherhood being the place that Sayyid Qutb visited and impacted his view of America – but an American from Colorado converts to Islam as a weird story in Abu Zab, but then moves to Turkey by 2013 and begins to spread his ideas. His ideas are fascinating. They are a mixture of Islamism with leftist anti-globalization, so his answer to the Brotherhood is very simple, Your main enemy is not Sisi. He’s just a puppet for the multinationals who control the world. If you target the multinationals, you’re going to bring down Sisi, so we began to see this wave of violence targeting Mobinil phone and Vodafone mobile operators in the country, KFC, they burned a couple of KFCs, of Mcdonald’s, of targeting these multinationals.
That was our second wave of violence but once that wave again failed to to succeed, failed to bring down the Sisi regime, we began to this month and the previous months, to see the new wave, the third wave of violence since the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood rule in the country. And that’s the emergence of clearly terrorist groups that employ violent assassinations of top targets with bombings, so it’s no longer just picking on a local police officer, shooting him in the dark. These are much more sophisticated operations with bombs that target regime officials. So we had the emergence of a group called Hazm that targeted the former Mufti of Egypt who legitimized the oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and then we had this month or last month, the emergence of a new group called the Banners of the Revolution that successfully managed to kill a brigadier general in the Egyptian military. That is the latest form of violence that we have seen from the Islamists in Egypt.
Now, where does this leave the future of Islamism in the country? The Brotherhood is is finished in my argument as an organization, again. The ideology is still appealing, and these organizations’ new currents emerging. Well, I think that’s the story that is going to continue with us. The emergence of these new currents within Islamism is, again, not historical anomaly.
If we go back to a story from Islam itself, from the emergence of the Mu’tazalite current within Islam, as the story goes, Hasan al Basri was sitting and the question came to him about what happens to the man who commits a grave sin? Does he go to heaven or hell? Is he a believer or a kafir, an unbeliever? Unsatisfied with the answer that al Basri offers, one of the students disagrees with him, Wasil ibn Ata, and as the story goes stands, moves through a corner of the mosque and sits on the side. “Atanazil Wasil,” Hasan says, Atanazil being he abandoned us, he sat on the side. The word then becomes mu’atazile.
That in a sense is also the story of Islamism as Islamism continues to fail to answer the basic crisis that gave birth to it, the crisis of modernity that the Arab and Muslim world has faced, the crisis of the realization of the Western technological and technical advancement and of the backwardness of the Arab Muslim world. And as long as there is no competing ideology capable of solving that crisis or offering an alternative answer to the problem, we are going to continue to see an ideology in flux that continues to give birth to new forms, that each plane that all the others have failed, but we are the ones that will finally achieve this dream and create the state that will connect heaven with earth. Thank you.