Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood takes the lead in condemning Israel, Cairo leadership

'The talk about peace is now rejected by any human being'

By BRENDA GAZZAR, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT, CAIRO
January 21, 2009 15:23
4 minute read.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood takes the lead in condemning Israel, Cairo leadership

Hamdi Hassan 88. (photo credit: )

 
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In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is leading popular condemnation of Israel's three-week Gaza offensive against Hamas and is at the forefront of accusations against the Egyptian government, criticizing it for not fully opening the Rafah border crossing to Gaza and for complicity with Israel. "Hamas is the movement of resistance and she has the right to resist the occupation," Muslim Brotherhood MP Hamdi Hassan told The Jerusalem Post this week. Hassan suggested that Operation Cast Lead, which he called "a massacre," had helped to advance the agenda of Islamists all over the world. "I believe that the talk about peace is now rejected by any human being, like it is by all the Arab countries, and whoever talks about peace with Israel, I think people will look at him with intense contempt," he said. "Israel has lost in this battle and peace talks have gone backwards in the coming year." But experts in Egypt are divided as to whether Israel's Gaza offensive will ultimately serve to strengthen or weaken the Muslim Brotherhood, as Hamas has strong historic and ideological affiliations to the group. Some argue that people in moderate Arab countries will continue to blame Hamas and its Islamist supporters for opening the door to Israel's devastating offensive. "The situation in Gaza will weaken them because Hamas did not succeed in Gaza," said Emad Gad, head of the Israel unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "I think the moderate Arab countries will say [Israel's offensive] is the result of your policies - you let Israel back into Gaza." But others argue it will likely have the opposite effect. While it was still early to know for sure, "it has probably tended to strengthen the Muslim Brothers," said Moheb Zaki, senior adviser at the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies. The fact that Hamas survived an IDF onslaught for three weeks was in itself a great moral victory for Hamas and its supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood, he said. "A guerrilla [force] that survives has won," Zaki said. "How can a military army, with helicopters and tanks, win? It can only win on one condition, if it annihilates the guerrillas completely, if they cease to exist. Then they've won. You give them a very bad blow, OK, they will recover from the blow." Hamas appears to the Arab world as people who has resisted the military might of a very powerful army, he said. "Victories are perception," he said. While its military capacity has been reduced, it can recover, just has Hizbullah apparently recovered in Lebanon after the 2006 war, he said. Others, however, suggest that the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood - which for decades has provided social welfare to poor Egyptians - has more to do with the socioeconomic conditions in the country than with politics. "The popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has nothing to do with politics and religion, it's related to living conditions here," said Egyptian liberal political thinker Tarek Heggy. "Over the past 60 years, both the deterioration of living conditions and of educational standards have made it easier for them to sell their impossible-to-deliver agenda," the promise of an Islamic welfare paradise. "We haven't seen this in the Sudan, we haven't seen it in Iran, and even in Saudi Arabia, we haven't seen it, he said. "There are many poor people there in the deserts." The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, is an outlawed Islamist organization in Egypt that is allowed to operate relatively freely. The movement's members - which renounced violence in the 1970s - run as independents or with other political parties but do not hide their affiliation, running under the banner "Islam is the solution." The Brotherhood has renounced global jihad and embraces democracy, seeing it as the best way to achieve its aim of "establishing a democratic state grounded in Islamic precepts," according to author and terrorist expert Amy Zalman. The Muslim Brotherhood has branches throughout the Islamic world, including in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, the Persian Gulf, Eurasia and Africa. In Egypt, members of the group are often arrested, and reports and sometimes even footage of torture - which the government denies as nothing more than "isolated incidents" - are not uncommon. At least 350 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were reportedly arrested on Saturday during a protest against Israel's military offensive, and a security official told Reuters that around 620 Muslim Brothers had been rounded up over the weekend. But experts say that Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood have developed a mutually beneficial relationship over the years. The Brotherhood gets to participate in the political arena, while the Egyptian government has an excuse not to welcome increased democratization, Zaki said. "It can tell the West that if you pressure us for democratic reform, then you are going to get the Muslim Brothers [in power.] So you better back off."

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