Published Thursday, October 30, 2014
Al-Akhbar: In your opinion, what are the implications of the recent operations in Sinai?
Ahmed Ban: The takfiri groups want revenge on the Egyptian army following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [government], where dreams of creating an Islamic Caliphate and an Islamic state in Egypt were shattered.
The recent operations indicated a lack of intelligence related to Sinai, which works in the terrorists' favor and has led to the failure of the army's attempts to crush them until today. Confronting such criminal activities requires a strategy. Reports on the evacuation of Sinai’s residents to fight the terrorists are unacceptable. Creating good relations with the tribal sheikhs is imperative now, since the security solution alone will not be enough to confront people who are trained, carry modern weapons, and utilize the Sinai’s [rugged] terrain.
We need a comprehensive plan to address this dangerous phenomenon, where the economy, politics, and culture are considered all together, instead of just security measures, which will only lead to more terrorist operations.
AA: What links does the Muslim Brotherhood have with the extremist groups active in Sinai, who are suspected of links with al-Qaeda in Libya, in particular?
AB: Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood was the first to take up violence, by creating a private structure in 1940, which only became apparent in 1948, when the famous "Jeep" was apprehended and uncovered the case. Violent activities and assassinations continued after that. However, the MB realized this was a dead end in 1966, in conjunction with the executions of Sayyid Qutb and his cohorts.
In the 1970s, however, other groups became active, with the Military Technical College incident, the assassination of al-Sheikh al-Thahabi, and former President Anwar Sadat. This was followed by the [Islamist] wave which hit Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s, with organizations like Islamic Jihad and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya. But most of the leaders of those groups have truly recanted [violence] since 1995. The rest of the leadership contacted al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. They are currently active in Sinai or the Valley.
The biggest force today is Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is comprised of a union between 100 members from al-Naser Salahuddin Brigades – a Palestinian group in Gaza – with al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in Sinai. It also gave birth to a better trained cell called al-Furqan Brigades, which is the biggest threat.
In the meantime, Egyptian authorities attacked the tunnel and weapon smuggling trade [between Sinai and Gaza]. This produced the "sacred alliance" between tunnel traders, arms dealers, and takfiri groups. They aim to wear down the Egyptian state and go back to business.
This intersects with the scenario adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is to exhaust the state. Investigations and the courts will ultimately decide if this is due to coordination between those groups and the Muslim Brotherhood or out of sympathy. However, it is certain that the Sharia Council for Rights and Reform, created after the January 25 Revolution, bolstered relations between the moderate and extremist wings of the Islamist current as a political actor in the sphere of Islamist movements.
AA: How true is the divide between reformists and extremists in the Muslim Brotherhood?
AB: One could say there was always a department promoting the Muslim Brotherhood and creating lines of communications with civil society actors. But this faction did not have any weight inside the Brotherhood. For example, the education committee in the Brotherhood has never seen a reformist member. It seems the Brotherhood has a written code, which is outdated and backwards and a spoken one, which it uses to deal with political and civil forces.
Thus, the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood with the FJP was merely a facade. There was no separation between the proselytising wing and the political entity.
It is deeply regrettable that the head of Misr al-Qawiyya party Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh could have separated from the party early in the January 25 Revolution, when it began making deals with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He could have taken an important bloc with him, but he was late for sentimental reasons and the chance was lost. It also seems that the zero sum game group took control of the Brotherhood and remains so today. Egypt's Brotherhood did not learn the lesson of the Turkish or Moroccan experiences and chose the most dismal model.
Today, the imprisoned leadership keeps insisting on leading the organization. There are no reformists available to draw a new theoretical line, but the organization is full of angry members.
However, I call on the reformists inside the Brotherhood – if they exist – to separate themselves from the followers of Qutb who have been controlling the Brotherhood since the 1970s.
They live in a state of total separation from reality due to the spiritual isolation they practice. Although the Brotherhood got lost when it was controlled by Qutb's followers, since the internal elections in 2009, the Guidance Office has been isolating the reformist MB officials.
AA: What is your contention with Qutb's supporters, who you said took control of the organization?
AB: The "Qutb" leadership supports reaching power by any means. But it believes this society is composed of infidels or is at least living in the jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic era]. The Qutb group goes back to 1965. Back then, when they were sent to prison, they were called the Group of Tens for being sentenced to 10 years each. They were released in 1975.
This group took control of the administrative offices of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the most important committee, the Education Committee, which formulates the group mentality of the Brotherhood's members, based on the ideas of Sayyid Qutb.
Qutb's central idea was based on the dichotomy between al-Hakimiyyah, from the [Quranic verse] "no governance but to God," and al-Jahiliyyah, meaning that society has steered away from Islam. So, a vanguard [from the Brotherhood] was needed to embody Islam and be a model for society. Thus, the organizational ideology of the MB led them to be a brigade or isolated religious cult, treating society with hostility, instead of permeating its fabric, from 1965 until today.
AA: Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared on the political scene in the 1970s.
AB: Ever since the group looked for some reformist issues to promote a positive mental image of the Brotherhood. This began in earnest during the term of [former MB Supreme Guide] Omar al-Tilmisani in 1973 and the creation of the Brotherhood's political group, particularly in the universities in the 1970s, which included Issam al-Aryan, Aboul-Fotouh, Hilmi al-Jazzar, Hamed al-Dafrawi, and other student leaders at that time. The MB was on the track of the political process. But when Tilmisani died in 1986, this group was struck a knockout blow and slowly became isolated, until it found itself outside the context of the Brotherhood's orientation and far from influencing the organization's mindset.
AA: This week, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood National Alliance to Support Legitimacy raised the slogan "down with the regime." What do you think of this slogan at this time?
AB: Peculiar... The Brotherhood were political when they needed to be revolutionary. Today, they call for revolution, when the facts on the ground call for cumulative political work. Raising the slogan of overthrowing the regime is an expression of complete separation from facts. The popular mood does not favor revolutions. Egyptians are tired and despondent.
It should not be forgotten that the January 25 Revolution took place before the wave of enlightenment reached Egypt and in the midst of high illiteracy rates and reduced awareness. Tunisia is different, not just due to al-Nahda's different way of handling political developments and giving priority to building a modern state. The Brotherhood in Egypt favored the interests of their organization. However, Tunisia also benefits from an active and influential civil society.
AA: Will the Egyptian regime's measures, its police tactics, and animosity towards young people and workers be a blessing in disguise for the Islamists?
AB: Yes. The current regime's insistence on repeating the mistakes of its predecessors will give the Islamists the chance to return and I don’t believe it is unlikely to witness another revolutionary wave in Egypt. The current landscape is in favor of the interests and aspirations of the Brotherhood to crowd out those who dream of a "new country." This landscape will be the outcome of the "stupid" policies, which led the symbols of the past to take over the scene once again. The embers under the ash will turn to fire at any moment.
Young people in Egypt were silent and did not participate effectively in the political process. But this was not out of submission and it could become flammable at any moment. I believe the recipe for getting out of the current crisis necessitates an end to assaults on the freedoms and rights of people and moving forward on the questions of national dialogue and transitional justice. They are both part of the roadmap on which the regime bases its legitimacy.
In parallel, a council of elders must be created to reassess the political landscape. Egypt will not rise without national consensus, allowing the state the possibility of stepping out of the circle of reaction and taking the lead.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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