Sheikhs against the Brotherhood
In Tunisia, the press reports that there is a significant difference of opinion between Hamadi Jebali, “star” of Ennahda, and the party’s founder and leader Rachid Ghannouchi.
This dispute, regarding the approach to governing, has reached an impasse after Jebali’s initiative to form a “technocrat” government to replace the authoritarian Ennahda-dominated government was blocked. “Sheikh” Rachid Ghannouchi stubbornly rejected this proposal, frankly stating that “we will not leave power.” Jebali, angered by Ghannouchi’s frighteningly authoritarian stance, submitted his resignation as prime minister, and some now believe that he intends to establish a new Islamist political party, one with a more liberal and flexible approach than Ennahda.
Before Jebali there was Sheikh Abdel Fattah Mourou, who served as Ennahda’s counterbalance to Ghannouchi. He previously called on Ghannouchi to step down as party leader in order to save the Islamist movement. However Mourou later retracted this statement after Ghannouchi publicly praised him, although we don’t know what the Ennahda leader said to him behind closed doors to convince him to soften his position.
These events bear a resemblance to some previous developments in Egypt, where Rifaq Abu Al-Alaa followed the same path as Essam Sultan and Mohamed Mahsoub and others, and left the embrace of the mother Muslim Brotherhood organization to craft a political platform of their own. The entrance of these figures into the political arena as independents was said to be at the behest of the Brotherhood itself, and at the initiative of the organization’s younger members at that. However the Muslim Brotherhood later rejected these political platforms, leading the youth to form their own party in 1996. However, the government’s political commission refused to recognize this political party, and this became a high-profile case in Egypt, particularly as the party applied for a political license on three separate occasions and met with refusal each time. The party was eventually able to officially register itself following the ouster of the Mubarak regime in 2011 under the name Hizb Al-Wasat Al-Jadid otherwise known as the Wasat (moderate) Party.
Around this time, affiliation to the Wasat Party, or merely communicating with it, was grounds for expulsion from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, despite its similar ideological, educational, and political activist model. Recently, following the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt, senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh took the decision to run for president, against the wishes of the mother organization. He therefore jumped, or was pushed, out of the Brotherhood and formed his own political party, increasing the number of his followers and supporters. Today, he continues to attempt to promote himself as a moderate alternative to the Brotherhood, as an Islamist with a liberal and nationalist flavor.
These are the most prominent Egyptian cases, but there are many trying either to jump ship from the Brotherhood, or win over some of the organization’s support base by competing with it over religious slogans, particularly following the Brotherhood’s missteps after taking power. In fact there are some Egyptian parties who are seeking to take the Brotherhood’s place, particularly in terms of the organization’s primary activities of Islamic Dawa (Call) and discourse, away from direct political action. This is what former Brotherhood leadership figure Kamal El-Helbawi, and former Brotherhood Deputy General Guide Mohamed Habib are currently trying to do.
Note that we are only talking about defections from the Brotherhood organization, rather than ideology or approach that it embraces. The Muslim Brotherhood is not the only organization that utilizes religious slogans for political mobilization and to attract the general public. There are other groups such as the Salafi political groups and Hizb ut-Tahrir that are urgently calling for the establishment of a caliphate. There are also divisions and differences of opinion within each trend that sometimes reach the point of violence and even the exchange of accusations of treason. It is sufficient to read what the Salafists say about the Muslim Brotherhood and what the Brotherhood say about the Salafists, not to mention what Hizb ut-Tahrir say about them both, to see the ferocity of these disputes.
The question that is raised here is: Which of the above represents the “true” Islamic viewpoint?
Speaking for myself, they are all mere mortals and nobody has a monopoly on the divine, regardless of what slogans one shouts.
The deciding factor is evidence, the results on the ground, and how this benefits the people, rather than physical manifestations of religiosity and the repetition of the same tired speeches and sermons.