By Tarek Heggy
In Part Three of his book, In the Aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, under the heading “A Paroxysm of Bloodshed and Terrorism”, the noted Egyptian historian Abdul Rahman al-Rafi’i wrote: “Contributing to the dramatic rise in the murder and crime rate was the adoption by terrorist elements in the society of the Moslem Brothers of militant violent political action as a means of overthrowing the political order. There is no doubt that the aim of these elements was the seizure of power by the Society. It is equally clear from the statements made by Hassan el-Banna, the Supreme Guide of the Society of the Moslem Brothers, that he believed he would one day reach power.”
However, to be fair to el-Banna, we will quote the words of the same author: “It appears from the statements he made that he wanted to overthrow the regime … not through bloodshed and terrorism but by winning over the majority of the Egyptian people. But the terrorists among his followers disdained the constitutional route to power, opting for the more direct route of murder and terror. Hence the campaigns launched at one time by some Moslem Brothers against constitutional systems.”
The history of the Moslem Brothers is well documented by Abdul Rahman el-Rafi’i, who distinguished between two trends within its membership structure. One, which included el-Banna himself, believed the Society’s ultimate aim of attaining political power could be achieved by peaceful means, that is, by winning over the majority of the people to its rallying call. This trend can only be regarded as a legitimate component of the mosaic of Egyptian political life. Even those who oppose the vision and ideology of the Moslem Brothers have no right to consider those among its members who aspire to power through persuasion as anything other than legitimate players in the democratic game. The same does not apply to the other trend within the Moslem Brothers which, according to el-Rafi’i, considered that working to attain power by mobilizing public opinion through elections would take too long and that the use of force was the only viable option. The proponents of this school of thought are not politicians but, in the words of el Rafi’i, “terrorists.”
Among the Brothers who sought to reach power in Egypt not through elections – as el-Banna advocated – but through the use of force were those who murdered Egyptian prime minister Mahmoud Fahmy el-Noqrashy (1948), judge Ahmed el-Khazindar (1948) and General Selim Zaky (1948); fired shots at Gamal Abdel Nasser in Alexandria’s Mansheya Square (1954), killed Minister of Waqf Dr. el-Dahaby (1977), assassinated President Anwar Sadat (1981), killed Egyptian intellectual Farag Foda (1992) and attempted to kill Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1993). These murderers belonged to the trend within the Society of Moslem Brothers whose members disagreed with el-Banna’s preference for a ‘peaceful’ accession to power through winning over the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people, believing rather that power would only be attained by force of arms. There are thus two distinct trends within the Moslem Brothers: one which believes that a peaceful accession to state power is possible and another that power can only be seized by force of arms.
Since the Brothers’ assassination of Prime Minister el-Nuqrashi in 1948 until their failed assassination attempt against Egypt’s president in Addis Ababa in 1995, there is no evidence that the first trend which subscribes to el-Banna’s doctrine of accession to power by non-violent means has become the only trend within the society. Some might argue that I am confusing the Moslem Brothers with other movements like the Jama’at Islamiya, Jihad or the Jama’at Takfireya. But like other students of political Islam in Egypt, I am well aware that the ‘kitchen’ of the Moslem Brothers is the source of all other trends of political Islam. I also know that their literature (whether peaceful like the works of el-Banna or militant like those of Sayed Qutb) are the reference works for all the Egyptian trends of political Islam – indeed, for all trends of political Islam in the world. Take the literature of the Wahabi trend, for example, which is simplistic and shallow, its driving force the momentum of petrodollars. It does not rise to the level of the literature of such masters as Hassan el-Banna or Sayed Qutb [a far deeper thinker than the man who inspired him, Abul’Ala el-Mawdoody].
Although I deplore and condemn all the illegal measures taken by the Egyptian authorities against the Moslem Brothers from 1948 up to the present day, at the same time I am entitled to ask what proof we have that the trend of Hassan el-Banna, who advocated accession to power by peaceful means, is today the only trend within the Society of the Moslem Brothers. And what proof is there that the trend which opted for forceful reform, that is, through the use of violence and bloodshed, has disappeared? Or, for that matter, what proof is there that the accession to power of the peaceful trend within the movement will not be followed by a takeover by the non-peaceful trend which will refuse to step down, as Hamas has done in Gaza, under the pretext that only they are qualified to apply God’s law?