Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood and Bin Laden

There has been some controversy over the Muslim Brotherhood reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden. So I thought it'd be useful to translate their Arabic press release and explain what's going on.

Statement from the Muslim Brotherhood on the Assassination of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden (May 2, 2011)

The entire world and especially Muslims have experienced and been concerned by a malicious media campaign that conflates Islam with terrorism and describes Muslims as violent since connecting the events of September 11th to Al Qaeda.

Today, the American President announced that special forces from the American Marines successfully assassinated Osama Bin Laden, a woman, and children along with a number of companions. We now find ourselves facing a new situation.

The Muslim Brotherhood announces that they are against the use of violence in general and against the method of assassination. They instead favor fair trials of those accused of any crime.

The Muslim Brotherhood calls for the entire world and the Western world - both the people and especially its governments - to stop tying Islam with terrorism and to correct the false image of Islam that has been deliberately promoted for years.

The Muslim Brotherhood affirms the legitimacy of resistance against the foreign occupation of any country guaranteed by divine law and international conventions. To confuse legitimate resistance and violence against innocents has been the intention of the Zionist enemy in particular.

So long as occupation remains, so will legitimate resistance remain. America, NATO and the EU must quickly announce the end of the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The Muslim Brotherhood calls for the US to refrain from intelligence operations against its detractors and to refrain from entering the internal affairs of any Arab or Muslim country.
Eric Trager read this statement and oddly concludes "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Sticks with Bin Laden." He goes on argue that this statement casts doubt whether the MB will "moderate" in post-revolution Egypt. As Marc Lynch tweeted, "this is a bizarre reading." But that hasn't stopped others to agree with Trager.

Let's address the statement point by point. First, there is no doubt many conflate Islam with terrorism. Now I don't think it's as pervasive as the MB implies, but no one can deny it exists.

Second, condemning assassination does not mean the MB has decided to "stick with Bin Laden" and refused to "moderate." Quite the opposite in fact. For years the MB has struggled to definitively prove it has internalized democratic principles and rejects terrorism. Their condemnation of assassination must be understood in that light. If it supports the killing of Bin Laden, why wouldn't it support the assassination of rival politicians in Egypt? Moreover, this sentiment reflects a broader Arab and Muslim feeling that while they are happy he is gone, they are uneasy in how he was dispatched. As a movement competing in elections in Egypt, we can't expect the MB or any other Egyptian party to stray from public opinion.

Third, what is extreme about asking for fair trials for criminals, even bloodthirsty terrorists? We hear the same arguments here in the U.S. all the time.

Fourth, the MB has always sought to separate "legitimate resistance" against "occupation" from Al-Qaeda style terrorism. Of course, for Israelis facing indiscriminate rocketfire or American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, this distinction is entirely meaningless. But for the future of Egypt, it's hugely important. The Brotherhood views Al-Qaeda and like-minded individuals as a threat to its mantle as the primary Islamist movement in Egypt. It considers the AQ philosophy as an existential threat and treats the group accordingly.

Fifth, the demand for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and the recognition of the rights of Palestinians is not a unique MB demand. It's a near universal demand of Arabs and Muslims alike. The demand for the respect of sovereignty also reflects a broad societal concern over the history of colonialism and leadership pliant to foreign interests. The important question is not one of ends, but means. It's hard to criticize the MB for demanding such core planks of their political platform in a press release. The more important question is whether the MB will gain enough influence to fundamentally alter Egyptian foreign policy, and even more uncertain, whether it would choose to do so even if it did gain that capacity.

Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood is difficult enough. In fact, it's not even clear that the Muslim Brotherhood understands itself. Yet there's no doubt that hysteria over mundane press releases only makes the job harder.

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