Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics
INSIDE THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD – Book Sample
Contents- INSIDE THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
- List of Illustrations ix
- Acknowledgments xi
- Note on Transliteration xv
- Introduction: Unpacking the Brotherhood 1
- Debating Islamism and Theorizing the Brotherhood 14
- Constructing Islamic Collective Identity 34
- The Power of the Jama‘a: The Enduring Legacy
- of Hasan al- Banna 50
- The Brotherhood’s Art of Recruitment 67
- Tarbiyya and Consolidating the Brotherhood’s Identity 82
- The Brotherhood’s Organization, Structure, and Ideology 99
- Ikhwanism: The Brotherhood’s Code of Identity 118
- Enforced Coherence: The Brotherhood under
- Regime Repression 135
- Conclusion 155
- Notes 162
Introduction – Unpacking the Brotherhood
This book unpacks the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Unlike other works that tend to focus on the Brotherhood’s external behavior and activism, or what can be called the “outer” layer, this book concentrates on the internal dynamics, processes, and interactions that shape its identity and politics. In this respect I uncover how the Brotherhood as a sociopolitical movement came to be.
I unravel the tangled processes of recruitment, socialization, indoctrination, and identification that forge the Brotherhood’s identity and explore how this identity is constructed in everyday life. Put differently, this book is a journey that explores the inside world of the Brotherhood through the eyes of its members. By demystifying the multi- faceted character of the Brotherhood, I explain how the Brotherhood con- structs its identity, how one becomes an ikhwani (a Brotherhood member), and how this affiliation manifests itself in one’s everyday life.
I explain the intricate and disciplined structure of the movement, how it has survived repression, and the relationship between its identity and its durability. As an ethnographic and analytical study, this book contributes to the growing literature on the Muslim Brotherhood and sheds light on some of its understudied aspects.
This book is the culmination of my studies and observations of the Muslim Brotherhood for more than a decade. I started researching the Brotherhood in 2004, when Mohamed Mahdi Akef was chosen to become the new general guide (al-murshid al-’am). It was incredibly difficult to conduct field research during that time due to security repression and surveillance of the movement, and it took me months to build trustful relationships with the Brotherhood’s leaders and members.
I published my first book on the Brotherhood in 2007 in Arabic, The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Gerontocracy Fighting against Time, in which I explained the startling rise of the Brotherhood in the 2005 parliamen- tary elections and its impact on the movement’s politics and ideology. A few years later I realized that I had only scratched the surface and had little knowledge of the Brotherhood’s intricate structure and dynamics.
Therefore this book delves into more detail regarding the movement’s in- ternal politics and paints a clear picture of the dynamics and processes that shape its ideology, behavior, and activism. Informed by dozens of interviews, discussions, meetings, and informal conversations with leaders and members representing different generations and geographical areas across Egypt, this book provides a detailed account of the interplay of religion, identity, and politics within the movement.
It also contributes to the theoretical debate on how to study Islamists and whether or not they should be considered “social movements.” By doing so this book challenges some of the conventional and dominant narratives about Islamists and Islamism as a whole.
The Brotherhood’s Identity
To understand the Brotherhood’s activism, one needs to deconstruct the underlying factors that shape and motivate it. It is my contention that identity is one of the key drivers of the Brotherhood’s activism. I define identity in this book as the code of norms and values that guides and in- spires individuals in everyday life.
This code stems from multiple factors and is subject to intense socialization and indoctrination processes. As Craig Calhoun points out, identity is produced by acts of individual will.1 Along these lines in chapter 3 I explain that identity cannot be measured; however, it can be imagined and manifested.
I argue that the Brotherhood’s collective identity is the outcome of mul- tiple processes and factors. Building on Alberto Melucci’s seminal work on collective identity I trace how the Brotherhood constructs its identity through ideational as well as institutional factors. For Melucci collective identity is not a datum or an essence, a “thing” with a “real” existence, but the outcome of negotiations, bargains, exchanges, decisions, and conflicts among actors.2
He aptly defines collective identity as “a process in which actors produce the common cognitive frameworks that enable them to assess their environment and to calculate the costs and benefits of their action.”3 It is also a reflection of the mutually reinforcing processes and interactions that occur within social movements and are shaped by the opportunities and constraints in the external environment.4
Throughout this book I employ Melucci’s interactive and analytical concept of collec- tive identity to uncover the processes that shape the Brotherhood’s identity and explain how it came to be.
Over the past two decades collective identity has been a subject of extensive scholarly work to better understand the rationale of collective action. Scholars have studied the relationship between culture and collec- tive action, identity and modes of mobilization, interests and the incentives of participation in collective action, and grievances and collective identity.5
Despite the literature’s useful contributions, it is mainly concerned with investigating the impact of identity on collective action, but not the other way around, that is, how a movement reshapes its individuals’ identity in everyday life. This book seeks to fill this gap in the literature by examining the impact of collective action on individuals’ identity, in other words, how a social movement transforms its members’ mindset, worldviews, and perceptions—their identity.
By deconstructing the process of identity construction, I explain how the Brotherhood recruits members, indoctrinates them, and reshapes their worldview.
The Brotherhood’s identity formation is intertwined with other pro- cesses of recruitment, indoctrination, and identification. As I explain in the following chapters, these processes occur simultaneously and serve as a concrete foundation for the Brotherhood’s identity and structure. They also correspond with the Brotherhood’s objectives and ideology.
In fact it is these very rules that distinguish the Brotherhood from other Islamist social movements. By deftly weaving a web of internal relations, culture, norms, and values, the Brotherhood produced a distinctive code of identity that enabled its survival against all odds.
As I show in chapter 5, the Brotherhood has an intricate, multitiered system of membership, with sympathizers at the bottom and the most active and committed members at the top. This system not only facilitates the alignment of members’ behavior with the Brotherhood’s objectives and ideology but it also ensures their loyalty and commitment to the leadership. The membership structure also plays a pivotal role in protecting the movement from state infiltration.
It is with this system that the Brotherhood selects, trains, indoctrinates, and scrutinizes prospective members’ attitudes and behavior before granting them full membership. I contend that the relationship between the Brotherhood’s member- ship and its identity is robust, although it has been overlooked in the literature. As I will clarify, the recruitment and promotion system was designed to correspond with the identification process. In order to rise within the movement’s ranks, members must meet certain requirements and carry out certain activities. These reflect members’ degree of loyalty and willingness to submit to the Brotherhood’s ideology and leadership.
Ikhwanism as a Form of “Distinctive” Identity
The key question this book explores is how one becomes an ikhwani and how this affiliation manifests itself in everyday life. Answering this question reveals many facets of the Brotherhood’s identity. As discussed earlier, the Brotherhood’s identity is not merely a product of the religious or theo- logical convictions of members; rather it is a socially constructed product of the movement’s organizational dynamics, symbolic production, and ideational framework set by its leaders and ideologues. Accordingly this identity is contested in everyday life by similar or rival identities and, more important, within the movement itself.
As a social entity every organization encounters different views and conflicting interests of its members, leaders, and stakeholders. Without a strong sense of identity, these organi- zations may be more vulnerable to fracturing and splitting.
As a social movement the Brotherhood has built a distinctive form of identity that differentiates it and its members from other groups and allows it to maintain its activism. I call this identity ikhwanism, referring to the cognitive code of norms, values, and regulations that guides and directs members in their everyday lives. When individuals join the movement, they abide by its rules and regulations; after a while, they start to act not as individuals but as brothers (ikhwan).
This sense of ikhwanism, or togetherness, helps the Brotherhood generate collective action, deepen the commitment of its members, and enhance the resilience of the movement as a whole. As I explain in chapter 8, ikhwanism is not a rigid set of sacred or spiritual values but rather a constellation of social and organizational norms that are created and utilized in everyday life. Moreover ikhwanism does not negate other facets of members’ personal identities. To be and to behave as an ikhwani does not conflict with a member’s social identity as a father or brother or professional identity as a lawyer, doctor, or teacher. In fact the uniqueness of the Brotherhood’s identity is that its members have multiple layers of identity that facilitate the dissemination of its ideology in society.
As the Brotherhood’s code of identity ikhwanism consists of five key norms and values: allegiance (bay’a), obedience (ta’ah), trust (thiqa), com- mitment (iltizam), and loyalty (intima). These reflect the Brotherhood’s distinct identity and define its role in the lives of its members. They play a key role in ikhwanizing the private and social sphere of the Brotherhood and strengthening the loyalty of its members.
The Jama‘a Paradigm
Ikhwanism does not operate in a vacuum; it needs an organizational structure that can activate and sustain it in everyday life. There is a crucial link between the Brotherhood’s identity and its structure.
This is tailored to intensify and enhance the indoctrination process. The Brotherhood’s regulations and norms require members to behave in a manner that com- plies firmly with its objectives and ideology. According to Melucci, norms refer to the “point at which operational needs (the allocation of resources) come together with the needs of integration and control (power).”6
These norms help the Brotherhood institutionalize its ideology. The regularity of the movement’s activities (e.g., seminars, battalion training, camps) helps members interact, communicate, and, most important, acclimate them- selves to its norms and regulations. The incessant processes of indoctri- nation, ritualization, and habituation reshape individuals’ identities and foster a strong sense of self-identification.
The Brotherhood’s organizational structure was created by its founder, Hasan al-Banna, and is maintained by his successors. As I explain in chapter 3, al-Banna created a unique organizational structure that blends the movement’s mission, ideology, objectives, and strategy.
I call this the jama‘a (groupness) paradigm: an organizational framework that connects the movement’s religious, social, and organizational aspects and galvanizes them in everyday life. This framework also responds to the spiritual, material, and social needs of the Brotherhood’s members by enhancing their solidarity and strengthening their social bonds. Furthermore this organizational structure has generated a unique system of values and norms that defines the Brotherhood’s disciplined and cohesive character.
Interestingly, despite the complexity of the organizational structure, it is far from rigid or static. In fact, as I explain in the following chapters, it is elastic, inclusive, and adaptable. It helps the Brotherhood recruit, accommodate, and assimilate members from diverse social, cultural, educational, professional, and geographic backgrounds, integrating them all under the umbrella of the jama‘a.
The jama‘a paradigm is the outcome of complex processes of social networking and indoctrination. As a social movement the Brotherhood al- locates resources, mobilizes individuals, and sets ideological frameworks that bind members together and foster their commitment. It consistently capitalizes on social networks, familial relationships, and religious bonds in order to expand its constituency.
The jama‘a paradigm is the lynchpin of the Brotherhood’s collective identity and serves as the foundation for its activism and unity. Al-Banna and his successors always stressed the importance of being part of a group or a movement, a jama‘a; in fact the Brotherhood’s organizational structure is based on the very idea of collec- tiveness, or being a jama‘a.
Over the past century the Brotherhood has demonstrated a remarkable degree of resilience. Founded in 1928 as a religious and charitable organization, it played a key role in shaping Egypt’s politics and society. During the 1930s it was mainly involved in charitable and social activities, with little interest in politics.
Entry into politics came in the early 1940s, when al-Banna decided to run in the parliamentary election of 1942, though he eventually withdrew in light of pressure from the government.7 At the end of the 1940s the Brotherhood’s military wing (the Special Apparatus) en- gaged in violence against British authorities and Egyptian officials, leading to the assassination of al-Banna on February 12, 1949, and the dissolution of the movement.
Under the Nasser regime the Brotherhood was subject to harsh repression and even eradication attempts during the 1950s and 1960s. This repression peaked after the movement was outlawed in 1954; hundreds of its members were arrested, prosecuted in military courts, and tortured. However, the Brotherhood experienced a resurgence in the early 1970s after President Anwar Sadat took power. His more accommodating stance led to the release of many members and their return to political life. Building from this point, the Brotherhood returned to prominence and became an influential actor in Egyptian society. It plunged into formal politics, expanded its social network, and reached out to liberal and secular forces during the 1980s.
However, this growth caused the Brotherhood to be perceived as a threat to the Mubarak regime in the 1990s, and once again it became a target of regime repression. The relationship between President Hosni Mubarak and the Brotherhood reached an impasse after the fraudulent 2010 elections, when the Brotherhood won no seats and boycotted the second round of voting.
It was not until the popular uprising of January 25, 2011, and the ouster of Mubarak that the Brotherhood reemerged as a key political force. In June 2012 Mohamed Morsi, chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), became Egypt’s first democratically elected president. However, after only one year in power Morsi was ousted by the military on July 3, 2013, following mass protests.
Since then the Brotherhood has witnessed one of the greatest crises in its history: hundreds of its members and supporters have been killed,8 thousands are in prison or in exile,9 and several key leaders, including the movement’s most senior leader, General Guide Mohamed Badie, have been sentenced to death.10 In addition the movement’s financial assets have been frozen, and its charity and educational centers have been seized by the government.11
Yet despite this unprecedented repression, the Brotherhood survives and maintains its activism, particularly in rural and suburban areas.
This extraordinary ability to endure and accommodate repression constitutes one of the Brotherhood’s most defining features. Not only has it survived multiple waves of regime oppression and exclusion, but it has also sustained its structure and preserved its identity. It is due to this resilient identity that the Brotherhood has been able to survive and maintain its activism.
The durability of the Brotherhood has puzzled scholars and observers; however, it has not received much attention in scholarly work. This book provides an explanation for this dilemma. The Brotherhood is not a mere political force that seeks power; it is an identity-maker that aims to reshape societal norms and individualities as Islamic. It is thus heavily involved in meaning construction and symbolic production that shape its members’ worldviews and perceptions.
These processes, as I shall explain, help the movement accommodate repression by connecting members and enhanc- ing their solidarity, particularly during difficult times.
Repression sometimes plays into the hands of the Brotherhood and enables it to achieve three key goals: garnering public support, reinforcing internal coherence, and avoiding internal change. As I explain in chapter 9, the Mubarak regime’s attempts to destroy the movement actually helped it survive and expand. I also explain why the Brotherhood did not experience major internal splits or schisms over the past three decades, despite a number of disputes between the old and the new guard and between the conservatives and the so-called reformists.
Rethinking the Brotherhood
This book is not simply a synopsis of findings on Islamism, and it looks beyond the stereotypes and clichés about Islamists as rigid and immutable actors. It therefore does not treat Islamists as monolithic or homogeneous but as sociopolitical agents involved in the production of meanings and symbols in everyday life. In other words, this book is concerned with the nature of Islamists as social actors who have material and ideational interests in altering societal norms to match their ideology and objectives. The chief question I seek to answer is this:
How does the Brotherhood create its identity in everyday life? I have divided my response into a group of subquestions: What are the key processes of identity construction in the Brotherhood? What is the code of norms and values that guides the Brotherhood’s members? What is the role of the Brotherhood’s structure in fostering and consolidating members’ identity? What is the impact of repression on the Brotherhood’s coherence and unity? How may identity preserve and maintain the Brotherhood’s activism?
These questions are answered by the book’s chief contention: the Brotherhood’s identity is the culmination of intricate and intensive processes of recruitment, identification, socialization, and indoctrination. These processes are significantly affected by the external environment, particularly whether it is inclusive or exclusive, authoritarian or democratic, oppressive or friendly. I follow constructivism as a theoretical framework for this study.
Building on the seminal work of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, I argue that identity per se is a “social construct” and is therefore subject to multiple factors and variables. Social constructivism challenges the idea that identity is an immutable phenomenon.
In fact as a socially created reality, identity reflects the interaction between individuals and society whereby both constitute each other. It is the out- come of these processes of interactions between the self and society, individuals and groups, structures and meanings that take place in everyday
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