US media is reporting that the office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a statement yesterday correcting comments in which he called Egypt’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement “largely secular.” According to one report:
The Obama administration took the rare step Thursday of correcting its own intelligence chief after the official claimed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper discussed the Islamist group during a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier Thursday. He testified that the organization has “pursued social ends” and a “betterment of the political order,” and downplayed its religious underpinnings. “The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said. But the DNI later issued a statement to “clarify” that claim. “To clarify Director Clapper’s point, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak’s rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation. He is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization,” DNI spokesperson Jamie Smith said. While the Brotherhood has renounced violence, one of its goals is to pursue the creation of an Islamic state. The CIA’s own website lists the Brotherhood as a “religious-based” party.
Despite this correction, US academics have given a newspaper interview in which they appear to have defended the original comments by the DNI. In an interview with the Voice Of America, Nixon Center academic Robert Leiken was reported to have said:
It’s worth remembering that it began as a religious awakening organization, an organization to propagate Islam—not as a religious organization,” said Robert S. Leiken, Director of the Mexico, Immigration and National Security Programs at The Nixon Center in Washington, D.C. Leiken separates Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood into three factions: One is what he calls a “social service organization” that performs charity work and which he says is not particularly political. “Another is very political, much smaller, but it’s interested in democratic participation, establishing Sharia law in any proximate future,” he said. Leiken describes a third faction as pragmatists: “Sharia for most of them means something that would be desirable in the future after the society has become Islamic,” he said. “Its idea was to spread awareness and belief in Islam, and then once everybody is Islamic in that sense, then you’d have Sharia law. It would be something everybody consented to. But I think that if you ask most Muslim Brothers, ‘Is this going to happen in your lifetime?’ they would say, ‘No’.”
Leiken’s distinction between a “religious awakening organization” and a “religious organization” fails to explain that the Muslim Brotherhood was the earliest example of Islamism, based on the concept that Islam is not only a religious but also a set of political principles around which Muslims globally should unite. An earlier post discussed Leiken’s claim that the Brotherhood is democratic