America and Political Islam
(Trans. Clive Bream)
At the end of the Nineteenth and with the dawn of the Twentieth Century the political Islamic movement was an integral part of the general political discourse. In the context of the Arab and Islamic worlds going in the direction and seizing the collar of the European Renaissance which the East had come into contact with from its weak retreating position. At that time the Islamic intellectuals adopted one of two opinions: they considered that Muslims lagged behind resulting from their abandonment of the 'straight path' and their adoption of European atheistic, materialist, and secular values, and then the call to completely refuse the western model in exchange for a return to the model of the ‘Venerable Forefathers’ of the first Islamic periods...or the acceptance of the western scientific achievements whilst keeping the historical cultural identity of the Islamic societies.
We are able to see these two positions in the writings of the Intellectuals of that phase including Rifa'a al-Tahtawi, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad 'Abduh, Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, Muhammad Rashid Rida, Ali Abdel Raziq and others. Of course we must not forget there were other similar voices in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. Taking into account the deep distinctions in all of these regions and in view of the changing political, sociological and economic circumstances between them, and despite the differences of those Intellectuals in analysing the causes and factors of the decline of the Muslims and likewise in describing the best ways to realise the 'Islamic renaissance' they agreed Islam contains elements capable of transforming the Islamic world to an era of development and advancement on all levels.
Some researchers believe that the greatest shock of the Islamic intellectuals came after the First World War when the European states inflicted a devastating defeat on the ruler ship of the Ottoman Caliphate and the Muslim regions were brought down under direct foreign occupation for the first time since the end of the crusader wars. Yet this belief bares only a part of the truth, as previously a number of the Arab and Islamic regions were placed under foreign dominance since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. Indeed the Sultanate itself experienced humiliating foreign interference from the beginning of that century, represented in the grabbing of assets of ‘The sick man’ the mandate imposed on it while establishing protection to the non Muslim minorities resident across the Sultanate.
The majority of the Muslim Intellectuals faced this reality of a set of new changing schemes the central pivot of which was the protection of the caliphate state. As far as they were concerned the greatest and gravest catastrophe was the collapse of this state in the year 1924, not by the hands of ‘The European Colonisers’ but by the decision of the Turkish President ‘The Muslim’ Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who pursued harsh secular policies in Turkey that was left exhausted by the Great War. And reinforced the doubts of those Intellectuals with the plans of the West, All of which were promoting western democratic and secular concepts in both the Arab and Islamic worlds.
As a consequence of the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate System in Istanbul, Arab competition grew to revitalise the Caliphate in both Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, even if in a symbolic manner and for political regional considerations unrelated to religious matters. At that time, in the first phase Britain was the hegemonic colonial power in the region supporting the two parties using the method of divide and rule which it was excellent at employing in the conflict between Abdul Aziz house of Saoud on one hand and Al Asraaf Al Hashmeen ruling in Hejaz on the other hand. The void which occurred at the Islamic political level due to the abolition of the Caliphate encouraged the establishment of the group ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ in Egypt in the year 1928. Where at that time the rising Saudi state was a natural product of tribal allegiance leadership (or of traditional tribal alliance) represented by the House of Saoud and the Wahhabi religious leadership headed by the family of Sheikh. And thus there are ‘two Islamic groups’ standing behind two governments each of which was striving to expropriate the leadership of the Caliphate which Atatürk had abandoned.
We will not enter into the background circumstances of the formation of ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ in Egypt, however we need to indicate that since its establishment political Islam adopted multiple organised and ideological forms, and had various influences depending on the countries and each of their positions. Remarkably the political Islamic groups were active, meaning that they developed modes of activity according to the challenges which they faced. And a careful look at the history of the ‘Brotherhood Movement’ in Egypt confirms to us this trend. After the foundational phase of missionary work, propagation and social movement was permeated by limited acts of violence. The views of Sayyid Qutb came to strengthen the direction of Jihad, setting off from the prophetic saying “If people see an evil doer and do not take him by the hand [to put a stop to his evil], soon God will punish them” and likewise, which is narrated from the second rightly guided Caliphate Umar ibn Khattab when he said “Whoever sees in me crookedness, let him straighten it by the blade of a sword”. Of course we must not forget the works of the Pakistani Intellectual Abu Ala Mawdudi which is considered a guidebook of Islamic movements especially among them the Jihadist.
In view of the fact that ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ pursed to a large extent political means and were not content with only missionary work, it had been in later times a breeding ground producing the majority of the Islamic Jihadist Movements. And perhaps it is for some of those reasons that the group experienced oppression and violent pressures in many of the Islamic and Arab states which made some of its members and leaders resort to pursuing violent actions in confronting the ruling authorities.
And here we see the importance of mentioning something about the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria who in the nineteen eighties pursued armed action. The beginning of this ‘group’ goes back to the nineteen thirties in the Syrian arena when a number of Syrian students returned who had studied Islamic law in Cairo, influenced by the thoughts of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ there. In Damascus they established an organisation known by the name of ‘Shabab Mohammad’ (The Youths of Muhammad) and although the ‘Syrian Brotherhood’ were not fortunate in having a large popular circulation, nevertheless the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser forbade them from working at the time of Egyptian and Syrian unity. And in the year 1973 the Syrian leadership was compelled to insert an amendment to the proposed constitution, which had been inclined to secularism, due to pressure from Muslim Clergyman (and some of them were from the Muslim Brotherhood). The leadership inserted a clause stipulating that Islam is the official religion of the Syrian state. Then came Syrian intervention in Lebanon which gave ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ a pretext to move against the regime, and it’s move reached it’s peak between 1980 and 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood used armed violence as a method to confront the regime of the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
Now we return to the Arabian Peninsula where decisive changes were happening. After the defeat of the Al-Hashemites and their expulsion from Hejaz, Ibn Saud relied on his new religious base in order to strengthen his political authority on the whole of the Arab World, while the Islamic element was a fundamental mover in the confrontation, especially in relation to Egypt which believed in its legal right to the ‘Caliphate’ which Ataturk’s Turkey had abandoned. And in this period, complex relations emerged between political Islam 'The Muslim Brotherhood' to be exact and various political regimes striving to bestow a kind of theological legality on its temporal authority which is allied with the Western countries as the mandated/colonial power in both the Arab and Islamic worlds.
And precisely at that time it may have been the reason for the transformation of some of the political Islamic movements into tools at the disposal of local, regional and global powers who had no real interest or concern with the establishment of an Islamic system. And the importance of these movements with regards to external parties that have control over the masses and inciting them to rely on religious sentiment which was still the most effective factors among the people.
As for the United States of America, after the end of the First World War it concentrated on two matters in the Middle East; securing sources of oil with the protection of its supply routes and the obtainment of open consumer markets regardless of mandatory or colonial power. And after that, Washington abandoned Wilson’s principles establishing the right of the people in deciding their fate and revealed its true colours which did not greatly differ from the standpoint of the European Colonial Countries. And in the year 1933 the first agreement between the American Oil Company (later becoming Aramco) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was signed. At that time Washington directed its interest to the economic benefit in both the Middle and Near East without entering into direct political competition with the British and French. However, the oil agreement was in reality opening a special strategic relationship with the Saudis that has not changed even now.
During the nineteen thirties and forties the general characteristic of political movements at that time was the struggle for national independence. And although both colonial France and Britain used all ways to drive a wedge between the different nationalistic forces, however the contradictions between political Islamic movements and the parties and forces of the nationalists and leftists did not reach the point of direct and comprehensive breakdown. The relations continued between them were governed by striving towards liberation and national independence.
And the United States of America maintained a kind of neutrality in its pursuit of regional matters far from the plots of old colonialism. However, a landmark event culminating on the date of 22nd January 1945 on board one of the American warships in the region of Bitter Lakes located between Port Said and The Suez was the famous meeting between King Abdul Aziz house of Saoud and the American President Theodore Roosevelt. At that time the Second World War was about to end, Roosevelt was just returning from the Yalta conference which gathered the Prime Minister of Britain Winston Churchill and the Soviet President Joseph Stalin. These great powers coming out triumphant from the war were concerned with the drawing up of a new global strategy in order to divide up the areas of influence and interest.
What concerns us from the meeting of Roosevelt and Abdul Aziz is that it announced the United States was an essential player in the region replacing the part of ‘old Europe’ and at the same time founded that special relationship between Washington and Riyadh based on securing protection for the Saudi state in exchange for oil, the proceeds of oil and American strategic influence. This agreement comprises in an indirect but very clear manner the acceptance of Wahhabi political Islam as an integral part of internal and external Saudi policy. This came to be realised in following decades when Salafi Wahhabi thought became an important ideological tool in a number of Islamic states and non-Islamic states where established Muslim communities were large in number.
Directly after the end of the Second World War a new issue occurred to American strategic thinking which was concerning the Middle East following the rise of the Soviet Union and the spreading of the Communist Socialist system in eastern Europe. So it was necessary under this circumstance that the United States strived to find the best way to prevent Soviet influence from expanding southwards heading to (the warm waters) of the Arabian Gulf. So the focus was on both Turkey and Iran as a buffer zone standing in the way of socialist military states in Europe on one hand and hindering the rise of any regime resistant to the west in the Middle or Near East on the other hand.
Then the rise of the Zionist state in Palestine at the end of the nineteen forties immediately became the fourth issue in American strategic thinking: Oil, the open markets, The Soviet Danger and Israel…… Even though these priorities changed later and put the Zionist state as its first strategic concern and predominant for every consecutive American administration since 1949 and up to today. And therefore the rapid American urge to support close co-operation was not surprising but a strategic alliance at every level between Ataturk’s Turkey, The Shah’s Iran and Israel.
During the forties and the fifties, American dealing with the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ strengthened as the most important political Islamic movement at that time. (And it is possible to separate these dealings into three main phases: The begining phase in the administration of Dwight Eisenhower and it’s heading of ‘struggle of the polarised Islamists’. And the second phase in the second term of George W Bush Jnr under the heading of ‘Moderate Islamists in the confrontation of extremist Islamists’. And the current phase in the administration of President Barack Obama under the heading of ‘filling the vacuum and the administration of democratic transition’…..In the fifties the administration of Eisenhower saw the importance of religion as a weapon in the confrontation with communism as an atheist state. And from this starting point the choice was placed on the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ for leading this approach. And on this basis an invitation was sent to the famous Muslim Brotherhood leader Said Ramadan to Washington under an academic guise. Remarkably, in regards to the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) were against this approach which the White House was supporting at that time. It described Said Ramadan in one of Its reports once as a 'Phalangist' and once as a 'fascist' he assembled the Muslim youth in order to gain power. But after Ramadan’s arrival in Washington the Central Intelligence Agency changed their opinion and established working relations with him for a number of years. And what appeared beneficial to the Central Intelligence Agency from that relationship was the aim of controlling the Munich Mosque in Western Germany with his help. Because since that time Germany had become a haven for 'The Muslim Brotherhood' active outside of their own countries (4).
The importance of this understanding became clear and likewise the importance of the political Islamic movements of the nineteen fifties when the national and regional tide spread throughout most of the Arab world who were benefiting from the triumph of the Egyptian revolution in the year 1952 and the increase of movements of national liberation in Asia and Africa. The alliances which Washington strove to establish in the region focused on the factor of religion as the counter weight against nationalist, leftist and secular ideologies. In a similar vein, in Turkey, despite claims the Army forbade the clergy from interfering in matters of the state, successive Turkish leaders encouraged, sponsored and supported religious schools (Imam - Kahtib) as a cornerstone in the battle against leftist movements in Turkey and its neighbours (we will add to this soon). And the same thing is applicable in Indonesia and Pakistan, especially the latter, where Salafist tendencies penetrated to a wide extent supported by funding from the Gulf and American and European protection.
In regards to the Arab World, especially after the toppling of the Hashemite regime in Iraq, The Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser's change to socialist policies, the beginning of the decline of French colonialism in North Africa, the British in the Arab Peninsula and South Yemen, Washington and the great western capitals realised that the politicised Islamic card is the only and most useful method for halting the current of overwhelming Nasarism.
Considering the problematic relationship between Abdel Nasser and the 'Muslim Brotherhood' indicates the nature and the aims of the role of Islamist movements at that time. Sayyid Qutb, one of the main leaders and a great theorist of the movement, was arrested in the year 1954 and remained in Prison until the year 1964. But he did not enjoy a life of freedom and it was no longer than eight months until he was rearrested, brought to trial and executed on the 29th of August in the year 1966, thus another page was turned in the bloody struggle between Nasarism and the 'Brotherhood'. (5)
And here we are able to add a last factor typified by the undertaking of the ‘Baghdad Pact’ in February 1955 between Turkey and Iraq (later joined by Britain). At that time the Hashemite regime in Jordan was fluctuating between the camp of supporters and opponents. Whereas Lebanon took a neutral standpoint closer to support….The United States was not an official member but it took part in all of the meetings. Nasser's Egypt rejected in principle the logic of alliances in the region that was the first instance of the political clash which in April in the year 1955 culminated in the first signing of an arms deal between Egypt and Czechoslovakia. Thus the Arab world entered a phase of fierce polarisation, and the political Islamic groups stood on the side of the Western camp against the 'Apostate' Socialist camp.
And here it is important for us to see at that time, the bitter clash between the Nasser regime and the 'Muslim Brotherhood' in context of the Egyptian war in Yemen which lasted from the year 1962 to the year 1970, and was in reality a proxy war between Egypt which supported the Yemeni republicans and the Saudis who placed all of their might on the side of the Yemeni royalists (imamis)
But the serious change in the balance of power was achieved only after the defeat in June 1967 which deprived Nasarism of prestige and its credibility, and gave the advocates of politicised Islam wider scope to spread among the Arab people who were stunned by the unexpected defeat. That catastrophe was a key turning point. On one hand the progressive socialist regimes were assured failure, and on the other hand, it wasn't possible to rely on Arab states closely tied with the West... The call was for the return to Islam as the only way out of the crisis in the Arab and Islamic world under the wide banner of “Islam is the solution”. As much as Nasarism was retreating after this defeat facing new struggling actions typified by the launch of the Palestinian revolution in the occupied lands and refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, The Saudis were to the same extent striving to benefit from this historical opportunity to provide an alternative to Nasarism, leftist trends and rising nationalism in that phase.
The decisive moment came after the audacity of the Jews burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in August in the year 1969, which pushed Riyadh towards the formation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference which convened its first conference in Rabat in September in the year 1969. And since that time, it has transformed to a framework of organised action, it has a vital role in both global and regional levels.
And before the end of this condensed historical brief the 6th of October War in 1973 must be touched upon, when the Arab states set out to take Israel by surprise and defeat it in the first lightning strikes. Those were the last attempts of the official Arab regimes to achieve a military success compensating for the setbacks and disasters since the creation of the state of Israel. Far from pointing accusing fingers to this side or that side, the official Arab regime had ‘succeeded’ in transforming stunning early victories into degrading retreats, which paved the way for the United States of America to enter as the only player in the region relying on the ‘step by step’ policy which at that time was viewed and applied by the American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. That policy took the Arab world subsequently into agreements of ‘disengagement’ and then to the peace treaties with Israel.
The age of changes and confrontations
It is possible to monitor the change of the general Islamic temperament starting in the year 1991 when the United States of America, supported by a number of European and Arab states, launched a war against Iraq under the pretext of the liberation of Kuwait which had been occupied by Saddam Hussein a few weeks earlier. At that time the 'Muslim Brotherhood' issued a sharply worded communiqué calling to resist 'The Infidel Aggressors' and to support 'Our brothers in Iraq'. We can interpret this communiqué from the point of view that Iraq was a key protector of 'The Brothers' who were refugees from Syria. At that time, the Jordanian 'Muslim Brothers' found encouragement from the Jordanian monarch King Hussein who was allied with Saddam Hussein.
Without entering into the background and details of what happened after the end of the Iranian - Iraqi war, and turning away from accusations which Baghdad had directed at the Kuwaiti leadership, Saddam Hussein had been audacious with the occupation of Kuwait in a matter of hours on the date of the 2nd of August 1990, thereupon opening a new phase of international conflict in the Arabian Gulf but this time with the United States and its NATO allies. America was sitting unequalled at that time at the top of the global hierarchy after the Soviet Union disappeared from the scene. At that time N.A.T.O was searching for a new role to compensate the loss of its nemesis represented by the Warsaw Pact which died with the fragmentation of the Socialist allied states in Eastern Europe, who rushed into joining the club of the powerful, N.A.T.O and the European Union.
Many interpretations have been given around the meeting which was convened on the date of 25th of July 1990 by the American Ambassador to Baghdad April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein at the height of the verbal escalation between Iraq and Kuwait. Whatever the case, and regardless of what the Iraqi President had understood from Glaspie i.e. that the United States was unwilling to interfere in Arab on Arab disputes. The operation of the invasion of Kuwait gave Washington and N.A.T.O. the legal and international pretext for direct military intervention with the aim of 'The Liberation of Kuwait' on one hand and maintaining a permanent military presence stretching from Shatt al-Arab in Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz off the shore of the Sultanate of Oman on the other hand.
Hundreds of thousands of American, European, Islamic and Arab forces gushed into the Gulf. To be specific, to the various military bases of Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar and the Emirates, and likewise to N.A.T.O bases in Turkey. In addition to this, foreign fleets scattered around the Arabian Gulf, Arabian sea and the Indian ocean. After Baghdad had ignored a number of International Security council resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal of Iraq, 'the International Allies' launched aerial and heavy rocket strikes, beginning in the middle of January 1991 against concentrated Iraqi forces in Kuwait or those that existed in Iraq. On the 25th of February "Liberation" was announced of all of Kuwaiti soil and the Ruler of Kuwait returned to his country on the 15th March after spending eight months in Saudi exile.
The importance of this event with regards to our research is concealed in the position of the political Islamic movements of the foreign 'non-Muslim' powers concentrated in a number of Arab and Islamic states, and to be specific in Saudi Arabia 'the birthplace of Islam' and which it is said the second rightly guided Caliph Umar ibn Khattab advocated that "two religions cannot co-exist in the Arab Peninsula". The positions of the Muslim clergy differed in this matter. Sheikh Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani opposed with respect to the principle of foreign intervention whatever the excuses were, while Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and the Council of Senior Saudi Ulama issued a fatwa authorising such intervention. Remarkably, a consensus (or close to a consensus) of 'The Muslim Brotherhood' was for the disapproval of the intervention of foreign powers (14). Of those who opposed foreign interference was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most prominent leaders of the 'Afghan Mujahedeen'. He had announced his support for Saddam Hussein, which pushed Washington to finally stop its financial support for him... He had, until that time obtained a large portion of American aid for the 'Mujahedeen'.
Another event to cast its bloody shadows over the ideology of the political Islamic movements and their relations with the West, was the Algerian elections which ran in December of the year 1991 in which the 'Islamic Salvation Front' achieved an overwhelming victory in the first round. At that time the ruling 'National Liberation Front' was placed in second rank in comparison to the largest. When the Algerian government realised that to go straight into the second round of elections will mean a result of the loss of its authority to rule, so it proceeded to annul the elections and dissolve 'The Islamic Front', and arrested its senior leaders… Bloody confrontations erupted between the two sides and did not officially end until the year 2002 after Algeria sustained more than 200 thousand killed, and millions wounded, missing, arrested or displaced.
France stood with all its weight on the side of the Algerian government addressing the Islamist violence. At that time the French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua had adopted a very extreme position to the Islamists, calling for the delivery of all necessary support for Algeria. Afterwards, in the year 1994 the confrontation transformed into a 'battle of mutual annihilation'. As for The United States which had committed to being neutral in the first phase, rather it called a number of external American officials for meetings at a high level with ‘Anwar Haddam’, a senior leader in ‘The Islamic Front’ who was resident in Washington. Knowing that the American relations with the Algerian Islamists was very strong and were returning to a phase of ‘Jihad’ in Afghanistan where the 'Algerian Jihadists' formed a fundamental section of the combatants there.
At that point, information circulated saying that the pact was reached between Washington and the Algerian Islamists, and one of its main clauses stipulated negotiations between the Algerian Government and the ‘Islamic Front’ in return for there being co-operation between Washington and ‘The Front’ In case of it reaching government. However, Paris met this ‘Pact’ with total rejection on the pretext that any agreement of this kind will lead to the strengthening of the extremists in the Mediterranean basin thus nothing was left for Washington except retreat. Starting between 1995 and 1997 saw the Islamists victory in Algeria would negativity affect the stability of a number of allied states in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt) so (America) therefore dealt positively with the Algerian rulers, immediately after the presidential elections in the year 1995 in which Liamine Zéroual attained the office of president. The relationship with the 'Islamic Front’ at that time had been 'put on ice'. It is important here to show that the Algerian government in the year 1993 set about severing diplomatic ties with Iran after Algeria was concerned with Tehran’s holding of official contacts with 'The Islamic Salvation Front'.
Another factor added to the 'frustration' of the Islamic movements especially the Palestinian ones, was the Oslo Agreement between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Israel. It became clear that the Organisation represented by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was involved in secret negotiations with Israel in Oslo beginning in the year 1991 sponsored and encouraged by the United States and the European Union. The signing of this agreement was completed in Washington on the date of 13 September 1993 attended by the American President Bill Clinton. But the agreement earlier encountered fierce opposition by a number of Palestinian organisations, 'Hamas' and 'Islamic Jihad' to be exact. And so that was the beginning of the division between the Islamic movements and the Nationalist Authority in the occupied Palestinian lands. The Palestinian wounds became deep rooted when Jordan in July 1994 signed the ‘Wadi Araba Treaty’ of peace with Israel.
Then the Balkan war flared up (April 1992) when the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina found themselves a target of attacks of genocide from Serbs and Croats to an equal degree, whilst the world stood watching and preventing the Bosnians from obtaining weapons in order to defend themselves. The logic of the Islamic movements was saying: if it's possible for the West to mobilise around a million soldiers to strike the regime of Saddam Hussein and liberate Kuwait in the year 1991, how is it incapable of protecting the Muslims of Bosnia from the genocide which they are subjected to? Hundreds of Muslim mujahedeen, a majority of whom had been in Afghanistan, responded to calls of the political Islamic movements to head to Bosnia, and partake in the defence of the ‘Muslim lands’.
Although the Bosnian war ended with the signing of the ‘Dayton Agreement’ in December 1995 supported by America, ‘Islamic frustration’ did not diminish with regards to that agreement which did not recognise the establishment of an Islamic state in Bosnia and Herzegovina rather a federal state in which the tripartite leadership did not give the Muslims any priority in their country. Equally, the wording of the Agreement dismantled groups of Mujahedeen who had joined the Bosnian Muslim army. At that time some of the Mujahedeen obeyed these orders where others refused and called for a continuation of the fight in the Balkans. And likewise the 'Mujahedeen' in Bosnia found themselves once again 'not taking part in the Jihad' as a consequence of the 'treachery' of the West, starting with the United States of America.
New relation, relation renewed!
The main and most important gateway of the new relationship which the United States wants with the political Islamic movements will be via 'The Muslim Brotherhood' as it is the largest of those movements which holds coordination on a leadership level that transcends local and national borders which is provided by the international organisation of 'The Brotherhood' (28). American diplomacy since the beginning, focused its sights on 'The Brotherhood' in Egypt due to the fact that they were the most organised and the most comprehensive in number with the widest influence and effect on the other Islamists in both the Arab and Islamic worlds. Of course adding to that, the historical dimension of the establishment of the Egyptian Brotherhood. That is to say the improvement in the relationship between Washington and Muslim Brotherhood could reflect positively on the relationship and the Brotherhood’s powerful political position in a number of Arab states towards the relationship with the United States, and to opened lines of communication with it. Especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as the central group in the Islamic world. (29)
Official American documents have been seen, revealed recently by the website 'Wikileaks' that for years American officials were following the affairs of the 'Muslim Brotherhood' in Egypt. They meticulously observed the Brotherhood's developing relationships with the Egyptian authorities during the period of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. However, here we will restrict ourselves to the last ten years which is pivotal to our study.
In a document traceable to the date of 31st May 2001, and signed in Cairo by the American ambassador at that time Charles Kurtzer, indicates to the necessity of distinguishing between the hawks and the doves in the 'Brotherhood'. And the document states the younger generation 'wishes to open up a dialogue' with the American administration (30). As for the telegram dated the 21st of June 2001, it talks about 'good links' between 'The Brotherhood' and the regime of Hosni Mubarak. And perhaps what happened in the general election in
Egypt in the year 2005 confirmed this observation, as the Mubarak regime displayed 'partial tolerance'. The 'Brotherhood' fought the parliamentary battle as independents and gained a striking victory giving them 88 representatives in the People’s Assembly.
Thus 'legal' means were opened up by American officials for communication with 'The Brotherhood' as they were the biggest block of representatives after the ruling national party. And a telegram dated 31st of May 2007 disclosed that a member of the American congress David Price met all the heads of the parliamentary bloc in Cairo including the head of the “Brotherhood” Bloc in the People’s Assembly Mohamed Saad El-Katatni. In doing so, Price was the second member of congress to meet El-Katatni after the congressman Steny Hoyer. And perhaps these meetings were in response to an invitation from El-Katatni himself to western governments on the 15th December 2006 for the American administration was holding 'a constructive dialogue' with 'The Brotherhood' (32). Several Telegrams were issued from American Embassies confirming that El-Katatni 'is always a tightly linked source with the Embassy and he meets with its officials regularly'.
Furthermore, documents show the Brotherhood’s desire for meeting again with the Americans out of a grievance of the 'Brotherhood' for not being invited in the year 2007 to take part in a meeting with the congresswoman Betty McCollum and the Egyptian People’s Assembly. The grievance sparked the interest of the American embassy hence it dedicated a part of one of its telegrams setting forth the Brotherhood’s position, on the grounds that "they are showing a noticeable development towards the American politicians (...)" the Brotherhood are not only intending to hold meetings with us, but they have also begun complaining they have not been given this opportunity. (34),
Before the 'Wikileaks' documents uncovered all of these details, American officials were 'justifying' meetings with the 'Brotherhood' as they came in the context of general communications which were convened regularly with the 'independent representatives' despite their organisational affiliations. They were always pointing out that no American law existed that prohibits dealings with the 'Brotherhood' like those existing for other Islamist groups, for example ‘Hezbollah’, ‘Islamic Jihad’ and ‘Hamas’, knowing that these are recently considered the ‘Palestinian wing’ of the 'Muslim Brotherhood’. It is not necessary here to give special importance to the presence of some of the leaders of the 'Brotherhood' at the famous speech of Obama at the University of Cairo... However it's a mere additional indicator!
Obama's speech was the magical key to draw open the doors to dialogue. Yet the interested parties were preparing, organising and planning in anticipation of particular key events to move from confidential / indirect communications to official recognition, direct relations and shared work with strategic dimensions. We will not enter into the nature of the ‘Arab Spring’ which has a complicated background now, but rather we say the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain provided a suitable theatrical background which enabled the United States to provide its new dramatic production for the audiences in both the Arab and Islamic worlds and the leading heroic role is for the political Islamic movements.
It isn't strange that in Tunisia, Egypt then in Libya and Syria, branches of the Muslim Brotherhood appeared among the popular action which those countries had witnessed. That is to say political Islam forms an important social stream in the Arab world, despite whether its arrangements had attained legal legitimacy for open activity. At that time Washington’s dilemma was that it was unable to ignore the calls for democracy in other countries, while it does not allow the threatening of its undemocratic allies (Tunisia, and Egypt and the like). The 'Muslim Brotherhood' emerged as the main force filling a part of the void of the political vacuum caused by the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak that allowed Washington the opportunity of dealing publicly with political Islam.
At the end of June 2011 Washington officially announced that it had decided to resume communications with the 'Muslim Brotherhood' in Egypt. One observer described this decision which Foreign Minister Hillary Clinton in July 2011 stressed “That the matter of recognition of groups which hold views that are acceptable to voters even if they are incompatible with liberal western values that assist the United States restoring it’s control and guaranteeing the survival of its influence". (35) And as usual, reactions were varied from officials of the Brotherhood to the American position. So at the time, the official spokesman of the Brotherhood by the name of Dr Mahmoud Gazlan said The Brotherhood hasn’t received until now any request or communication from the United States for the purpose of holding a dialogue in an official capacity. The general deputy leader Dr Rashad al-Bayumi announced that the Brotherhood rejects any official contacts with the United States as a government, and that if any contact were to occur with the American government, it would be through the Egyptian foreign ministry.(36) And this position is understandable because of the negative view of most of the Egyptian people to the American policy in the region. In addition to that, the official position of the 'Brotherhood' was keen not to appear as if the 'Brotherhood' had returned to being linked with the West.
Although Western political analysts believe that the problematic points of the American decision is the issue of the Egyptian Brotherhood's relationship with the Palestinian Islamic movements and position of Israel and the ‘Camp David’ accords..., Emad Jaad a researcher at the al-Ahraam centre for political and strategic studies, says "America might also use the Egyptian Brotherhood in order to apply pressure on ‘Hamas’ to accept certain things when the matter is necessary".(37)
The American decision to resume communications with the 'Brotherhood' is a practical application for the American strategic trend in dealing with (and we will not say exploiting) moderate political Islam in the confrontation of political Islamic Militant/Extremists/Terrorists. It is the general framework for the next American move in light of the developments of the region. "The current American cooperation (with the 'Brotherhood') is graver than the cooperation of the previous phases, because previously it was tactical cooperation for the sake of specific short term purposes. As for today Washington has no choice in the midst of the general chaos which is hitting the Arab world, because there isn’t on the Arab stage an organised power other than the 'Muslim Brotherhood' right now, even, a strategic option"
It is a mistake to believe that the new American orientation towards moderate political Islam are from the results of Obama’s arrival to the White House. Things do not happen with this simplicity in the corridors of the strategic decision making of the United States. Individuals, whatever their rank, they bestow on political situations a distinctive character, but the general strategic plan formed by officials, academics and experts extend for months and perhaps years. And certainly the discussion circling around Washington was and still is around the benefits and disadvantages of relations with political Islamic movements. Especially since there are those who see that ‘Al-Qaeda's ideology is bankrupt’, in the words the deputy chief of the American National Security council Denis McDonough (39) Which require different plans for dealing with Muslims who are American and non American.
Despite the fact that the political decision settled on the side of resuming communications with the 'Muslim Brotherhood' however, there are many questions asked of the American administration: How to distinguish between moderate Islam and extremist Islam? And how is the balance in the relationship with governments which may be undemocratic and non-transparent with the relationship with moderate Islamic movements? And what are the best ways to encourage political reform without us unleashing the genie of revolutionary forces from its source? And the truth is that these questions had been subject to research and discussion since the nineties, and successive American administrations came to some answers which were put into practice in countries where circumstances allowed for it.
One of the important answers was the necessary existence of an 'Islamic model' that would be followed. We indicated previously to a call by Richard Murphy in the year 1995 to consider the experience of the Turkish ‘Welfare party’ with the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan of that desired model, but the circumstances didn't allow the maturity of that pioneering thought. However the situation changed in the year 2001 when the 'Justice and Development Party' was established in Turkey with its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the basis of a right wing conservative program with Islamic features. Just as a reminder we point out that the 'Justice party' was born out of a merger of the 'Al-Fadhila Party' and the 'Motherland Party' and a section of the 'Democratic Party' and various nationalist and Islamist figures. Previously it had entered into the elections in the year 2002 and won a sweeping victory.
On the other hand, the endeavours were given several planes and different levels with the aim of framing the political-religious Islamist action institutions not linked by direct relations with Arab and Islamic regimes, as in the case of the Organisations of Islamic cooperation for example i.e. it will be at the hands of the religious scholars who have a large social, intellectual and doctrinal presence while preserving direct contact with the pulse of the street and the activities of the popular Islamist movements. And therefore establishing a global union of Muslim scholars which convened its inaugural conference, founded in London during July 2004. The union which had at it’s head Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, someone who appeared as a symbolic figure of the Egyptian 'Muslim Brotherhood' he is now active in Qatar (with Qatari funding) he continues to play influential political roles in the developments of the “Arab Spring” peacefully and non-peacefully.
In the year 2006, the American State Department supervised the organisation of a conference in Brussels between 'European and American Muslims’. Participating in it was the 'Islamic Society of North America' who were very close to the 'Muslim Brotherhood'. The European Muslims had been represented in the conference by a number of favoured leaders to the current of “the Brotherhood”. The C.I.A supported this aim by dispatching an assessment expressing that the Muslim Brotherhood clearly demonstrates a ‘dynamic internal view and has an organised capability and is media savvy’. However, European governments were anxiously observing this American and Islamist convergence, without being able to prevent it. (40)
So we are now facing an “Islamist model” typified and propagated by Turkey in N.A.T.O, with a scholarly juristic cover advanced by the global union of Muslim scholars with a leadership of (Brotherhood) figures like al-Qaradawi and Rachid al-Ghannouchi (who was a refugee in London before his return to Tunisia) leader of Tunisian ‘Islamist Renaissance Party’ it is an effective political organisation like ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ and is under the umbrella of the trans-national organisation for national territorial borders. Thus they were completed components of political Islam acceptable to America and the only thing left for America was limited to areas of confrontation with ‘militant Islam’ / ‘extremist Islam’. However this confrontation has been left for objective and subjective conditions to determine the forms of that confrontation: through the People’s movement or a people’s revolution or a military/civil revolt - or a peaceful democratic change… etc.
Despite any of these methods, Washington did not find itself bound to the conditions which it previously imposed on participation in any of the political Islamic movements in the transformative processes, signs of free elections, an independent judiciary, rule of law, free press, respect for minority rights, respect for individual freedoms and other western democratic values, It is no longer the case that the decisive factor in discriminating between the acceptable and the unacceptable. The only demand that these groups are not an important factor for N.A.T.O or for it’s allies in the region. As for the various other matters pertaining to it, they are treated in the context of time and other political contexts. And it seems that there is a commitment with regard to these matters by the moderate political Islamic movements which is sponsored by and vouched for by Turkey ‘The N.A.T.O Islamists’ according to its new model.
And even if ‘The Arab Spring’ yields a phase of bloody anarchy and internal conflicts with a stamp of religiousness, sectarianism or ethnicism, N.A.T.O is in many ways the only beneficiary. Of greater importance is the downfall of the hostile regimes or those who have ended the effective strategic utilisation of it, the most extreme exploitation of natural resources and plans of reconstruction after the cessation of troubles, forming various rising regimes from the debris of crumbling regimes, and the recent employment of the moderate political Islamic movements in international confrontations appearing on the horizon, especially Islamic republics bordering Russia, and likewise in western Chinese regions where the transformation of groups of Islamist Uyghur who have Turkish origin against the central rule in Beijing.
Thus the special relationship between The United states of America (and with it Western Europe) and the political Islamic movements have come full circle to return to it’s natural strategy after it suffered a bloody ruinous rift for a short time. Turkey advanced a suitable ‘model’ (The speech of Mustafa Abdul Jalil chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya expressing on the podium of The United Nations when he announced aptly: “we look to the democratic Islamic state inspired by the Turkish model”) (41). The Arab Gulf states secured financial support and media propagation. The global union of Muslim scholars and international organisations for ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ are ready to establish a moderate Islamic character which Washington aspires it to be an effective weapon in the face of Militant/Extremist Islam. Perhaps what the Islamic preacher Dr Aaidh al-Qarni said via Twitter (August 2011) indicating as to the forth coming phase in the coming days: “Thank you very much to the N.A.T.O allies for their support of the revolution in Libya and the toppling of Gaddafi’s regime. I pray for the N.A.T.O Allies for good health and well-being because the prayer of the one who fasts will always be answered”.