Archive for the ‘Global’ Category

During the course of the Arab Spring, we have noted various types of Islamist group emerging into the public sphere.  From the well-organised Muslim Brotherhood and their political party, the FJP, to the newly formed Yemeni Salafist party, the Rashad Union. Muslims of various creeds and affiliations have taken an active part in the political revolutions sweeping the MENA region.

Yet, not all of the Islamists vying for attention belong to parties or established movements.  For some, this is because of a doctrinal aversion to hizbiyya or partisanship; for others, it is simply because they are unaffiliated to any specific theological movement or Islamist grouping.  Khalil al-Anani terms them ‘informal’ Islamists:

“They are not officially affiliated with any Islamist movement. Nor are they keen to establish their own organizations. Ironically, they shunned joining any of the new Islamists parties. Moreover, whereas “formal” Islamists, for example, the MB, ad-Dawa al-Salafiyya, and ex-Jihadists, rushed to formal politics, “informal” Islamists prefer to play outside the official framework.”

Perhaps the archetypal unaffiliated or ‘informal’ Islamist is the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Despite being associated with the Ikhwan, and playing a pivotal role in the initial formation of the Global Muslim Brotherhood Organisation, al-Qaradawi has established a global independent platform for his doctrine of wasatiyya or ‘moderation’ in one’s interpretation of Islam.  Through his appearances on the popular Al Jazeera show Al Sharia wal Hayat, his leadership of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, to the publication of numerous books translated into a multitude of languages, he has been able propagate his ideology to a global audience independently of the Egyptian Brotherhood.

It is the flexibility of operating outside of any formal religious or political organisation that has been a boon for this type of Islamist personality in the wake of the Arab uprisings.  Whilst politico-religious movements such as the Ikhwan and the Salafis have entered parliament, Islamists such as the Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, who bridges the gap between the two, have been left untarnished by any controversial pronouncements made by members of either movement, and have built allegiances that cross traditional class and economic boundaries.

It is worth noting that these types of Islamist only represent a short term threat to the political aspirations of the Brotherhood and the Salafi movement; in the long term, these independent Islamists serve to frame the terms of the political debate along Islamic lines.  They broadly share the same goals as these movements in that they wish to see greater Islamic unity, and to see a prominent role for the sharia in the legal systems of their respective countries.


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I discovered what looks to be a fantastic resource in the making today: the American Foreign Policy Council’s World Almanac of Islamism (currently in beta development phase) is an interactive map of the world with links, eventually by country and continent, to the various Islamist parties and groupings.  In the words of the AFPC, the Almanac “is a comprehensive resource focusing on the nature of the contemporary Islamist threat in individual countries and regions, intended to provide an accurate picture of the rise or decline of radical Islamism on a national, regional and global level.”

I’ve added a link to the Almanac on the sidebar.

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Although IslamOnline still exists (we’re still awaiting the English section mind you), a new website, brought to us by the founders of IslamOnline, is with us: OnIslam promises to be everything that the old IslamOnline was.  And best of all, they’ve brought back the only portal dedicated to Islamist movements on the net, al-Islamyoon.

You can read more on the developments that led to the change of personnel, and the setting up of OnIslam, here.


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The title of this post is also the title of a new book co-authored by Amr Hamzawy and Nathan Brown (it’s also the raison d’être of this blog).  The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held an event featuring the authors last Wednesday, whilst the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) kindly provided an overview of the discussion (see here for the full report).  According to POMED, Brown had this to say:

He then explained that the conversation would focus on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas, two groups that, while outwardly similar, were inherently different.

Different?  How can this be?  Both the MB in Egypt and Palestinian Hamas are part of the same broader Islamist movement.  Indeed, Hamas is part of the Global Muslim Brotherhood.  Of course, in their different contexts, both organisations pursue different tactics: Hamas, as a genocidal terrorist organisation, has the freedom to institute Islamic law within its Gaza fiefdom and conduct terrorist operations against Israel; the Egyptian MB are a proscribed organisation and must work within the confines of a closed, authoritarian system where their members are frequently arrested and imprisoned – it is simply not in the MB’s interests to pursue the same guerilla campaign for which they were banned in the first place.   Were the situation reversed, there is no doubt in my mind that the Brothers would revert to type and install an Islamic theocracy.  Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are the same movement with the same ideology and goals.

The Brotherhood seeks peaceful change, while Hamas has an armed wing. The Brotherhood focuses primarily on Egyptian issues, rarely stepping into foreign policy, while Hamas is the center of international attention.

Again, any perceived differences in tactics are purely illusory.  The Egyptian MB had (see p.30 and passim) and continues to possess an armed wing.  The Brotherhood also maintain a network of contacts and sympathisers throughout the West, such as in London, where a political bureau and publishing house is to be found.  Yes, Hamas, like the Egyptian MB, concentrates primarily on the dynamics of their own political context; but both organisations enjoy a network of supporters and sympathetic ideologues that act in accord with the Islamic movement as a whole. 

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Some of us forget that Islamism, in particular the political strain, has been with us for a very long time.  Lord Cromer for instance, second, perhaps, only to Lord Curzon, as the archetypal Imperial colonial administrator-in-chief, had some prescient and insightful things to say about the then emerging phenomenon over a century ago.  His words will resonate with supporters of liberal democracy everywhere:

Panislamism almost necessarily connotes a recrudescence of racial and religious animosity. Many of its adherents are, I do not doubt, inspired by genuine religious fervour. Others, again, whether from indifference verging on agnosticism, or from political and opportunist motives, or – as I trust may sometimes be the case – from having really assimilated modern ideas on the subject of religious toleration, would be willing, were such a course possible, to separate the political from the religious, and even possibly from the racial, issues. If such are their wishes and intentions, I entertain very little doubt that they will find them impossible of execution. Unless they can convince the Moslem masses of their militant Islamism, they will fail to arrest their attention or to attract their sympathy. Appeals, either overt or covert, to racial and religious passions are thus a necessity of their existence in order to ensure the furtherance of their political programme.


Panislamism almost necessarily connotes an attempt to regenerate Islam on Islamic lines – in other words, to revivify and stereotype in the twentieth century the principles laid down more than a thousand years ago for the guidance of a primitive society. Those principles involve a recognition of slavery, laws regulating the relations of the sexes which clash with modern ideas, and, which is perhaps more important than all, that crystallisation of the civil, criminal, and canonical law into one immutable whole, which has so largely contributed to arrest the progress of those countries whose populations have embraced the Moslem faith.

It is for these reasons, independent of any political considerations, that all who are interested in the work of Egyptian reform are constrained to condemn Panislamism. More than this, the utmost care has to be exercised lest any natural and very legitimate sympathy for genuine Nationalism may not be unconsciously attracted towards a movement which is, in reality, highly retrograde and deserving of but scant sympathy. It is at times not easy to recognise the Panislamic figure under the Nationalist cloak.

See http://www.scribd.com/doc/38558264/Lord-Cromer-on-Pan-Islamism

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A few comments on Marc Lynch’s review of Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals in this July’s issue of Foreign Affairs.

Berman’s book attempts to highlight the growing sense of unease experienced by Western intellectuals at what can best be described as Islamism’s non-violent strains, heretofore largely ignored in favour of concentrating on the immediate threat from violent Islamist groups such as al-Qa’idah.

Lynch is rather charitable towards Berman, whose shoddy research and preconceived animus towards the enigmatic Tariq Ramadan at times hinder what is otherwise an important contribution to scholarship.

Elsewhere, Lynch himself makes some uncharacteristically tendentious and unproven assertions of his own, particularly in his depictions of political Islamist organisations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood:

“What to make of the popularity and electoral prowess of Islamist movements across the Muslim world? It is impossible to support democracy without being prepared to defend the rights of Islamist movements to participate in and win elections.”

From Kuwait to Morocco, and from Baghdad to Jakarta, political parties and movements with an Islamist agenda have seen their support fall away in election after election.  Only in the tiny strip of land known as the Gaza Strip have Islamists seized the reins of power via the ballot box; and then, faced with a desperately poor, disproportionately young electorate, Hamas have only been able to maintain authority with the use of tactics reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany.

Furthermore, Lynch would have us believe that true democrats, when faced with Islamists who have embraced the letter (e.g. the electoral process), but not the spirit of liberal democracy, should support their malevolent aspirations even if it should mean withdrawing support for the universal respect of human rights.  This is patently absurd and smacks of the worst kind of moral and cultural relativism.

I agree with Lynch that Berman’s breathless pursuit of Ramadan, particularly his ‘interrogation’ of him at a seminar in which Ramadan was asked to denounce views falsely attributed to his grandfather that had been largely concocted by Berman, has blinkered his quest to unravel the ‘real’ Islamic intellectual beneath .the polemic.  Whilst his criticism of Berman is valid, Lynch continues to attribute liberal pronouncements to Ramadan which Ramadan has not made; on Islamic inheritance law, for example:

“For example, when Salafi opponents have confronted him [Ramadan] with Koranic verses dictating that women receive only half the inheritance of men, Ramadan has argued that these passages should be reinterpreted given the modern changes in family structure and the fact that many women today raise children alone.”

Although Ramadan did state that this passage in the Qur’an should be reinterpreted for the modern context in which Muslim women often find themselves, in the same interview, he was unequivocal about whether this same injunction should be consigned to the history books as anachronistic:

“It is not possible to remove these clear-cut verses from the Koran…”

This suggests, much like Ramadan’s much vaunted support for a ‘moratorium on stoning’ that, should the ideal conditions return (a future to which much of the wider Islamic renaissance movement is working towards), the literal interpretation of this passage would be possible and, indeed, necessary.

And in the very same interview with Qantara.de, when asked explicitly whether women should have the right to lead prayers, Ramadan evades the question; preferring instead to couch his answer in terms of religious authority.

Lynch also creates a false dichotomy when he places Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.  It’s true that the majority of those who would self-identify with Salafism would reject what they consider as the narrow partisan agenda of the Ikhwan; but this does not make these currents polar opposites.  Indeed, within Salafism itself there are various schools of thought ranging from a total rejection of secular politics to an enthusiastic embrace of the structures and institutions of a secular democracy.  It would be much more accurate to characterise both movements as manifestations of the wider Islamic renaissance.  Most importantly of all, both movements subscribe to renewal as opposed to reform, meaning that they share the same broad aims even if their tactics differ and sometimes appear to conflict.

Much of what Lynch writes on political Islamists is informed by his own primary research and, in particular, his knowledge of Arabic.  Unfortunately, he is mistaken in his assumption that non-violent Islamism speaks for the majority of Muslims, particularly in North Africa, the Levant and parts of South East Asia.  Islamists do not, generally, respect the notion of universal human rights, preferring instead to accuse Western nations of violating them whilst simultaneously advocating their complete rejection by the Muslim populace as contradicting the tenets of Islam.  If Islamism really represented the Muslim mainstream, why then have its adherents failed so abysmally at the ballot box?

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Supporters of Islamism often make the fatuous claim that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation citing Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas Political Bureau in Damascus’ assertion that:

To underline the preposterous nature of this argument, in the same interview with Der Spiegel, Mashaal claims that Hamas militants do not ‘kill’; rather, they ‘resist’ (“Hamas does not kill; instead, it resists an occupation. There is a difference between killing and resistance.”)
Hamas is a terrorist organisation; of that there can be no doubt.  The United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, and many other countries have designated Hamas as such.  Of course, some apologists will claim that some countries such as Australia and the UK, only proscribe Hamas’ so-called military wing, the Izz ad-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, and not the rest of the organisation.  Whilst this is strictly true, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that members of the Hamas security apparatus and Hamas armaments find there way into the possession of al-Qassam Brigades operatives very easily.  This is to say nothing about the place of al-Qassam within the overall Hamas command structure, or its cooperation with and influence over the other individuals and entities within the Hamas organisation.    

In the same vein that Hamasniks claim that the al-Qassam Brigades do not necessarily reflect the ideology and beliefs of the organisation as a whole, apologists for the Muslim Brotherhood, wishing to ‘decontaminate’ the Islamist brand by disassociating it from terrorism and the espousal of violence, claim that Hamas is not part of the Global Brotherhood.

However, the facts prove otherwise: Hamas is part of the Global Muslim Brotherhood network.  It was founded by Muslim Brothers (Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi and Mohammad Taha), and it was Yasin’s Islamic Centre organisation (itself a Muslim Brotherhood-front – see p.16) that laid the foundations for the movement he eventually established in 1987, at the time of the first Palestinian Intifada, with the help of Brotherhood cash.  Furthermore, Yasin, revered as Hamas’ spiritual leader to this day, was  the leader of the Muslim brotherhood in the Gaza Strip.

Article 2 of the Hamas charter states that:

The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] is one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.

Article 8 provides the Hamas movement’s slogan:

Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.

This is the same motto as that of the Muslim Brotherhood (الله غايتنا والرسول قدوتنا، والقرآن دستورنا، والجهاد سبيلنا، والموت في سبيل الله أسمى أمانينا) [see Mitchell’s The Society of the Muslim Brothers – p.193-4].

According to Robert Satloff, Hamas was originally conceived ‘in order to provide a vehicle for the MB’s participation in the violent confrontation against Israel without exposing the Brotherhood and its wide network of social welfare and religious institutions to Israeli retaliation.’  This provided the Brothers with a convenient outlet for their hatred of Israel and a ready-made testing bed for their vision of an Islamic State.  Indeed, without this antipathy to the Israeli state, as Satloff puts it, Hamas would have no reason to exist and ‘would simply revert to being the Muslim Brotherhood [in Palestine]’.

The MB plays an important role in Hamas’ geopolitics, directing, not just providing support for, the Islamic Movement’s domestic and foreign policies:

Hamas has three circles of leadership. The first circle consists of local leaders inside the West Bank and Gaza. The most famous of these – Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantisi – were killed by Israel in recent years; their place has been filled by others, such as Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh. The second circle includes Hamas’s external leadership, a “political bureau” that includes Khaled Mashal and Mousa Abu Marzouk. The third circle consists of the international leadership of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement, which includes respected Brotherhood figures such as Muhammad Akef, head of the Egyptian MB, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatari-based Muslim scholar cum television star. These three circles each have different spheres of responsibility. Considerable evidence indicates that both the insiders and the outsiders play a central role in the determination of Hamas strategy on terrorist operations against Israel and the solicitation and disbursement of funds for that purpose. In other arenas, the inner circle is more responsive to the daily concerns of Palestinian life and builds up Hamas’s political standing in the territories through its fight against corruption and its support of social welfare activities; the outer circle maintains contact with Hamas’s international supporters and funders, including leadership of other terrorist organizations and Iran. As for the outermost circle of global MB leaders, they are likely to begin to exert greater authority over the strategic direction Hamas takes now that Hamas has registered such a historic achievement for the global Islamist cause.

During the period after the previous incumbent, Muhammad Magdy Akef, announced that he would be stepping down, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, Kamel el-Helbawy, told al-Quds al-Arabi that Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh should get the post to ‘support the Palestinian issue and Gaza’.

After the election of the new Supreme Guide of the MB, Dr Muhammad Badie, at the beginning of the year, Haniyeh pledged allegiance to him (bay’ah).  This is the Islamic custom when a new leader must secure the support or consensus (ijma’) of the Islamic community; elders in that community then give an oath of allegiance to the overall leader (traditionally the Caliph or Sultan).

The links between Hamas, therefore, and in particular the political bureau led by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, and the Global Muslim Brotherhood extend to more than just ideology.  It would be disingenuous to portray Hamas as an entirely separate organisation, despite its relative autonomy on the ground in Gaza.  Both the Egyptian MB and Hamas form part of a global movement underpinned by Ikhwani ideology with support networks stretching to North America, Europe and South Asia.  What is not entirely certain is the degree to which the various local manifestations of the Brotherhood movement are directed by the mother organisation, and whether the Supreme Guide of the Egyptian MB, Muhammad Badie, is the leader of the Global Brotherhood as well. 

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