ANALYSIS: On The Split Within The Global Muslim Brotherhood


Ahram Online has posted a review of a new book that discussed what is said to be a “reformist” faction with the Muslim Brotherhood that has “been under prolonged and severe attack from the traditionalists”, identified as the followers of Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. The review begins:

20 June 2013 Haitham Abu Khalil sets out a struggle that spanned a quarter century within the Muslim Brotherhood, one that the reformist current lost, giving a view on the character of Egypt’s current Islamist rulers.

Despite that most of the papers included in this volume deal with developments that took place before the January 25 Revolution, and have already been published in three editions between September 2012 and January 2013, its contents sings out from the crowd, revealing many secrets about the Muslim Brotherhood that currently rules Egypt.

The author reveals from the first lines that he belongs to the ‘main current’ within the Muslim Brotherhood — that is the reformist current the author claims has been under prolonged and severe attack from the traditionalist Qotbi current (followers of Sayed Qotb) who claim that the whole of society has gone astray, their solution to deconstruct society and build it anew, like in the time of jahilyya (the period before Islam).

This war between the reformists and Qotbis represents the main theme of the book’s stories that run all the way to the time when the Muslim Brotherhood’s representative, Mohamed Morsi, won the 2012 presidential elections. Till then, the reformists had expressed their concerns and objections to the Muslim Brotherhood’s party platform regarding the stance on women and Copts. Yet the most obvious signs of this ongoing battle came upon introducing Essam El-Erian to the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, and upon the retirement of Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef.

As much as Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh had appeared to be the iconic figure of the reformists, as the author describes, the true figures behind the movement were Ibrahim El-Zaafarany, Kamal El-Helbawy, Mokhtar Nouh and others. This group held various meetings before the revolution, throughout Cairo, Alexandria and Beheira, to establish plans for movement within and outside of the Muslim Brotherhood to spread the reformist current and push for change along various lines, one of which was changing the Brotherhood’s internal regulations.

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This is not  the first time that the suggestion of a split within the Muslim Brotherhood over support for the thought of Qutb. In 2008, French scholar Gill Kepel reviewed the history of he called “a schism within the Brotherhood movement itself that came increasingly to the fore after 1971” and centered on “those who supported the more radical ideas of Said Qutb, and on the other, those who supported the more traditional, politically-oriented views of Hasan Hudaybi, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide in the 1960s. 

Whatever the role played by Qutb in the events described above, the participation of Kemal Helbawy, former spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, casts severe doubt on the true “reformist” nature of the faction described above. In January,  Helbawy blamed the an Islamist attack on Egyptian border policemen on a “Zionist and U.S. plan to destabilize Egypt.” He also said “America plans to control the future of the world and is interested in Egypt because it is a pivotal state and the most important country in the Arab region.”  In July 2012, Helbawy called  for the U.S. to be “brought to its knees” at a rally for the release of Omar Abd Al-Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh” imprisoned in the US for his role in the 1991 World Trade Center bombing. Helbawy has made many other incendiary statements including that the “Zionist Movement  obeys the orders of a single official and praising Osama Bin Laden as a “leader of Jihad.” The Investigative Project has published an article titled “Ex Brotherhood Official Showcases Islamist Doublespeak” that examined Helbawy’s contradictory and deceptive statements. 

Abul-Fotouh has his own history of extremist statements. Shortly following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he accused the U.S of planning to “enslave the Arab nation” and In 2006, he continued along the same lines, advising support for “a Hezbollah-Iranian agenda than an ”American-Zionist” one”:

Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a member of its guidance office, said that the United States had invaded Iraq to divide Muslims and that it was better to support a Hezbollah-Iranian agenda than an ”American-Zionist” one. ”Which one is more dangerous to the Muslim world?” he said in an interview, before attacking ”the regimes who tremble before Iran. They are weak and tattered regimes who don’t acknowledge the will of their people.” When pressed, though, a vague ambivalence emerges. ”Iran would be at the end of our list of enemies, even though it’s not an enemy,” he said. ”Let’s combat the American danger on the region before we ‘compete’ with Iran.”

In January of this year, a UK-based Saudi newspaper reported that Helbawy, along with a number of other former Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders including  Abul-Fotouh, had announced the formation of a new Dawa (preaching) organization “to compensate for the Brotherhood’s neglect of Islamic advocacy due to their involvement in politics.” According to the report

Dr. Helbawy said that the Muslim Brotherhood has been preoccupied with politics and forgotten its commitment to Dawa, pointing out that the new organization “will be tasked with Dawa, Islam and education, and will not interfere in politics”. He called on President Mohammed Mursi to be the president of all Egyptians, not just one group. He clarified that the new organization “will not be parallel to the Brotherhood and will be concerned only with Dawa affairs and religious issues that have been neglected at the expense of politics”. He added that the organization will not be limited to a single approach; rather it will adopt its methods based on a variety of Islamic sources, whilst maintaining that each member of the new organization has the right to join any party. Dr. Helbawy concluded by saying that the “Rehabilitation, Construction and Development” publicity drive will end soon, so that real work can begin.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch believes it is likely that rather than truly pursuing reform, at least as it is understood in the West, it is likely that Helbawy and others within the Global Muslim Brotherhood are positioning themselves ahead of a meltdown and collapse of Egyptian President Morsi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood government. The close ties between Helbawy and Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi, as well as between Abul-Fotouh and Qaradawi, suggest that Qaradawi himself could be the real force behind this “reformist” faction. A history of friction between Qaradawi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood further supports this possibility.

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