Listening to the Brotherhood

More and more members of the Muslim Brotherhood now see western ideals as compatible with an Islamic party

According to leading commentators, thinkers and editors, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is a firebrand conservative movement with a goal of forcing religion on others and achieving global domination based on Islamic law. It is supposedly in favour of censorship and against women in power. But the group is much more complex than these assumptions suggest.

"I've read The Looming Tower and I'm not interested in publishing a piece that legitimises the Muslim Brotherhood," an opinion editor for a major American newspaper told me. The book, which chronicles Muslim extremism through the actions of the personalities that helped create al-Qaida, reveals how easily Americans and the west can be swayed when dealing with Islamic movements.

It has been suggested that Sayyid Qutb, who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood before being kicked out because his views were too radical and violent, has tarnished the Brotherhood in Egypt, making editors unwilling to publish material that "legitimises" the Islamic movement.

There is no basis for such attacks, Mohamed Habib, a deputy in the Brotherhood, says: "Any act of violence, or violent tendencies are not part of the Brotherhood's ideology. For example, Qutb was removed from the group because of his views."

This has done little to dissuade American thinkers on the "radical" nature of the Brotherhood. The media should aim to show all sides to the internal debate over the direction of the MB, not the most radical. Similar to political parties anywhere, there is disagreement within the Islamic group, but many do not divulge this fact in their writing.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is on record as wanting to destroy Western civilization from within. While this thought may seem paranoid or farfetched, we have to remember that these organisations take a long view of history. The destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 is just one tool in their arsenal," Dr Zuhdi Jasser told Washington Times' Inside the Beltway in an article by Jennifer Harper on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Mona Eltahawy writes in the Washington Post that the Brotherhood was behind the banning of The Da Vinci Code from Egypt in 2006.

"That ban came in response to a complaint from a Christian parliamentarian … [and] has capitulated to Muslim zealotry, too." She then connects that "zealotry" to an alleged earlier move by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to ban books.

"In 2001, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamic political organisation that today is the main opposition to Mubarak's regime – serving in parliament complained that three novels published by a branch of the culture ministry were "pornographic".

She fails to note that these calls for banning the books are from a member, not the movement as a whole. In fact, when the Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building was released the same year, it was the Brotherhood group in parliament that stood against censoring the film while members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) sought to block it. The Brotherhood members said that while the film portrayed aspects of society and scenes they felt immoral, it was "not their place" to intercede.

Osama Diab, writing for Cif this week, also asserts that the Egyptian government is attempting to outdo the Brotherhood over religious piety.

"The increasing popularity of Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood has forced the government to adopt a more righteous stance. The regime is keen to prove it is as pious as the Brotherhood," he writes.

The problem is, these commentators don't sit down and listen to what the Brotherhood leaders have to say. Or they ignore it completely in an attempt to show only one side of the group's conservative wing.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a prominent MB reformist leader, recently told me in an interview that the MB "want to create new public opinion that believes in freedom and justice and development and that public opinion could one day create change through a democratic system".

As for the accusations of violence he said that "some say the Brotherhood will create a public revolution against the regime. It is their right to believe so and whoever wants to do that, go ahead but, not the Ikhwan."

The world should take the leaders at their word, at least for now. The Brotherhood has denounced violence and called for democratic reform in Egypt. It is one of only two political groups in the country that holds internal democratic elections for its leader (the next coming in January when Supreme Guide Mahdy Akef steps down from his post).

This is not the Brotherhood portrayed in the media.

Certainly, the Brotherhood has a public relations problem. Its references to "Zionists" when discussing Israel do little more than create tension in westerners who otherwise may be inclined to agree with the Brotherhood's religious tolerance and abhorrence of extremist (Salafist) ideas.

Abdelrahman Mansour, a young Brotherhood blogger and aspiring journalist, recently showed how the Brotherhood is more and more becoming the group that is ready to create a society of peace and tolerance – a vision espoused by the prophet over 1,000 years ago in Medina.

He said, when discussing the controversial issue of including religion on national identification papers, that the "government should get out of religion. If we didn't have religion on the ID or other papers, people would not be so quick to be violent. Just remove it and remove religion from government."

Not the global domination in the name of Islam that many writers would have people believe. Mansour is part of the growing trend among the Brotherhood, who see western ideals as compatible with an Islamic party.