Arab governments' repression of the Muslim Brotherhood offers lessons for the future
The Saudi government decided to follow in the footsteps of Egypt and declare the Muslim Brotherhood, commonly known as "Ikhwan" [the Arabic translation of its name], a terrorist organization. As such, it will be considered a terrorist action or abetting terror to be a member of the group, to give support, to embrace its freedom of expression, and even to make the Rabaa sign. After the announcement of the decision, Saudi scholars and opinion leaders began erasing all sympathetic messages regarding the Ikhwan on their social media accounts. Saudis and those living in the kingdom who express support for the Ikhwan face jail time or the revocation of their citizenship.
The Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 by an idealistic teacher named Hassan al-Banna, quickly became the most influential Islamic opposition movement in the entire Middle East. The movement, which went into a period of stagnation after the assassination of Hassan al-Banna in 1949, was completely banned in 1954 by the then-President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser. The 1960s saw a decade of executions, exiles and prohibitions against the Muslim Brotherhood. Numerous leaders of the movement, including the influential Sayyid Qutb, were jailed, killed, or deported by the Egyptian regime.
In the following years, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak did not remove the ban on the Muslim Brotherhood but instead granted them an unspoken freedom to conduct their activities inside the country. Many members of the Muslim Brotherhood went into parliament under electoral alliances and participated actively in politics.
Until the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood was a livid memory but falling into oblivion in terms of political function. However, the Ikhwan was the most organized opposition party following the fall of Mubarak, it won the first free presidential election in Egypt, bringing its ill-fated candidate Mohamed Morsi to power.
The restrictions brought upon the Muslim Brotherhood after the July 3 coup are echoing the restraints of the 1950s and 1960s. History is repeating itself in Egypt, as some of the most important names of the movement are in jail and its followers are treated as terrorists. It will not be a surprise if other Arab countries decide to follow in the footsteps of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Some countries, such as Qatar, are being punished by "sister" countries for showing tolerance to the Muslim Brotherhood. Recently, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar.
Their justification was Doha's insufficient effort in providing regional stability. It is obvious however, that what the countries meant is Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Arab governments' declaration of total war against the Muslim Brotherhood is for the sake of protecting their own thrones and regimes. However, this is not a sustainable strategy as the Muslim Brotherhood and the ideology behind it is not destructible through prohibitions. As long as despots rule and injustices exist, political rebellion and alternatives to them will as well. The Muslim Brotherhood is the most consistent, non-violent and communal political movement of the past century.
In the Arab region, the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties inspired by it are facing the reinforcement of al-Qaeda. However, this reinforcement does not appear to be headed toward an alternative political movement because of its violent tendencies. Because totalitarian administrations cannot go on forever, the time will come for publically supported, broad-based political groups.
In this constrained period of transformation and anticipation, the most important responsibility of the future heirs of the Muslim Brotherhood is to make self-criticism and fill out theories.