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Ron Radosh

Many in this country will not trust Tariq Ramadan, especially after they have read Berman. Others, however, carry on with their own work to whitewash the Brotherhood. The most recent example comes from Foreign Affairs, in the form of a new essay by Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, associate professor of political science at Emory University. Professor Wickham too assures us we do not have to fear the group. She writes:

Those who emphasize the risk of “Islamic tyranny” aptly note that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as an anti-system group dedicated to the establishment of sharia rule; committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era; and continues to use anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. But portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature that exaggerates certain features of the Brotherhood while ignoring others, and underestimates the extent to which the group has changed over time.

Unlike Ramadan, she does not accept his version of the Brotherhood’s program in the early pre-1952 era. Instead, she assures us that they have changed. Readers of PJM, having read many of Barry Rubin’s entries detailing the current Brotherhood program, are by now well acquainted with what its leaders believe in the present. Rubin has pointed to their recent gatherings, as well as the words of its leaders in our own day and age. So has Glenn Beck in this week’s programs about the Brotherhood, in which — contrary to what his critics say about him — he has accurately portrayed what they believe.

But according to Professor Wickham, the Brotherhood always had good aims. Contrary to what Berman has proved, she asserts:

It was initially established not as a political party but as a da’wa (religious outreach) association that aimed to cultivate pious and committed Muslims through preaching, social services, and spreading religious commitment and integrity by example. The group saw its understanding of Islam as the only “true” one and condemned partisanship as a source of national weakness. It called on Egyptians to unite to confront the forces of Zionism and imperialism and pursue economic development and social justice.

Who can oppose such noble goals, like fighting “Zionism and imperialism” — the two are equated — and creating “social justice”?

Professor Wickham then argues that although they eventually entered politics to change the system, the system changed them. The result: “Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, all of which, they admitted, their movements had neglected in the past.” Evidently she has not read the most recent statements indicating that Brotherhood leaders are still neglecting them.

Rather, she assures us that today “its leadership is more internally diverse today than ever before.”  She continues to describe the group’s three major factions, assuring readers that its “pragmatic conservatives” and the weaker yet influential “Islamic democracy activists” are the group’s real future. ElBaradei’s chief spokesman, she informs us, is part of its “reformist wing.” Thus she praises the Brotherhood’s willingness to not play a major role at present, to concentrate on joining with others to force Mubarak to resign immediately, and to create “an interim government palatable to the military and the West.”

I agree that its leaders, as she puts it, are “savvy,” and that hence it does not want to “invite the risk of a military coup by attempting to seize power on its own.” But such an understanding on the Brotherhood’s part does not show anything but a desire to wait until the moment is ripe to attain what it has always wanted — an Islamic state based on sharia law. It hardly proves that the group has changed its openly stated agenda.

Indeed, even Professor Wickham ends with some qualifiers of her own; i.e., “[i]t remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood as an organization — not only individual members — will accept a constitution that does not at least refer to sharia; respect the rights of all Egyptians to express their ideas and form parties; clarify its ambiguous positions on the rights of women and non-Muslims; develop concrete programs to address the nation’s toughest social and economic problems; and apply the same pragmatism it has shown in the domestic arena to issues of foreign policy, including relations with Israel and the West.”

Professor Wickham should not hold her breath. All indications reveal only that she and others are confusing their own wishful thinking with reality. What she says about the Brotherhood, that “the best way to strengthen its democratic commitments is to include it in the political process,” is precisely what so many pundits said about Hamas in the Gaza Strip before it seized power and instituted a mini Islamic state. What happened is exactly the opposite; it used political power to oppose not only democrats, but the secular Fatah that shared its goal of destroying Israel and creating a Palestinian unitary state in place of Israel.

Her final words are these: “With a track record of nearly 30 years of responsible behavior (if not rhetoric) and a strong base of support, the Muslim Brotherhood has earned a place at the table in the post-Mubarak era. No democratic transition can succeed without it.”  She has it backwards. The truth is that a democratic transition the Egyptian people want will not succeed with the Muslim Brotherhood. Only its defeat will assure that outcome.

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