The Egyptian army wants to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood – but in many ways they are already history

Many see the Brotherhood’s defeat as the beginning of the end of the Islamist ideology

Share

When a general asks the people to go on the streets to show their support for the army in its battle against “violence”, it could be a very dodgy day. Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters remain camped across Cairo and other Egyptian cities – “terrorists” is the tired but dangerous code word that General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi used about them yesterday – and at first reading his appeal looked like a call to the Brotherhood’s opponents to destroy what have in effect become “no-go areas” in Nasr City and Giza. The Egyptian press, ever ready to echo the general’s words, now uses “terrorism” with ever increasing promiscuity and el-Sisi’s demand for mass demonstrations in Egypt tomorrow raises some very disturbing questions.

Having been fingered for the massacre of Brotherhood members earlier this month, the army are in no mood for a repeat performance. So does General el-Sissi, self-declared Deputy prime minister, Defence minister and leader of the coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup want “the people” to do the army’s dirty work and storm into the Brotherhood’s tent encampments tomorrow? Or does he feel that the United States and Europe – who were not terribly keen on the coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup – will acknowledge the popularity of the military if millions of Egyptians return to Tahrir Square to give a further imprimatur to the army’s takeover?

El-Sisi’s talk of “terrorism” was principally referring to the daily attacks on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai peninsula, which appear to be more the work of al-Qa’ida affiliates, smugglers and tribal leaders than any involvement by the Brotherhood. But for the moment, the existence of the Brotherhood’s camps – a ghostly mockery of the 2011 encampment that became the centre for the overthrow of Mubarak – are a constant reminder of the army’s failure to crush the movement and the Brotherhood’s continued demand to re-install Morsi. The army can bring out the people, to be sure, but what is the future of the Brotherhood itself?

Many are those who see its defeat as the beginning of the end of the Islamist “ideology”, the idea that Islam alone can right the wrongs of the world if only it was allied to political power. As Hussein Ibish, one of the most eloquent Arab columnists today, has said: “If the oldest Muslim Brotherhood party cannot maintain popular legitimacy in Egypt after only one year in office, then the ideology itself isn’t a practical model for governance anywhere.” Ibish’s line is simple: “Sunni Islamists will invariably fail in power because Islam is a religion and not a political ideology.”

It’s a bright idea, but even in the Islamic Republic of Iran – Shia, to be true – the opposition doesn’t want to destroy the Muslim foundations of their state. And the Saudi monarchy, constructed on the twin pillars of wahabism and the American dollar, is not going to deny its role as protector of the Two Holy Places. And after all, it’s not many centuries ago that the people of Europe regarded themselves as citizens of a place called “Christendom”. However politics develops, the church and the mosque and the synagogue have a habit of taking sides in national debates. The division of church and state – in France, for example – seems a very unnatural schism when you arrive in the Muslim world.

The reason is clear: Muslims – unlike the world of “Christendom” – have not lost their faith. This has in some way to be represented in the nations in which Muslims live. The challenge is whether slogans like that of the Brotherhood – “Islam has the answers” – really work. The “interim” Egyptian government, for example, has just discovered that Morsi’s administration underestimated the import of wheat necessary to sustain the population. The Koran cannot be eaten. Bread can.

These troubling equations are ever-present in the Muslim world. Many is the time I have woken in Cairo to read a diatribe in the Egyptian press about the sins of the US – often well-argued and absolutely true – but on travelling across the Nile, I have in the past found queues of Egyptians outside the US embassy, not protesting but waiting patiently in the oven-like heat. The message is obvious. The Koran is an important document. But so is a green card.

Religion is fine if we are talking about faith and values, but not so useful if we are discussing what Ibish calls “the detailed, technical problems of governance.” That, at least, is the story we are being fed by the Egyptian army and its supporters; that once Morsi picked up his 51 per cent of the presidential vote, he cared less about running Egypt than he did about empowering the Brotherhood itself. The Islamist “constitution” was to be proof of Muslim rule rather than Egyptian rule. And this led to further mistakes. Hence he could visit Muslims who had suffered from food poisoning, for example, but fail to visit the Coptic pope when Christians had been shot dead in the streets.

Ibish sniffs what he calls “a post-Islamist brand of politics in the Arab world”. I’m not so sure he’s right. When Mohamed Khatemi became president of Iran – a genuinely honourable man (one of the very few in the Middle East) – he talked of an Islam that would produce a “civil society”. Only America’s refusal to tolerate him brought us the dunderhead Ahmedinejad. The problem, I fear, is that the alternative to Islam as an ideology – which it is not – will turn out to be capitalism and superpower politics which will go on supporting corruption in Saudi Arabia and generals who call on people to demonstrate for armies which have staged coups that we cannot admit ever happened. And to encourage the use of that corrosive word – “terrorism”.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?