MB goes Rural

Hossam Tammam


The May 2008 elections of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau show that the grouphas undergone a major transformation. The Muslim Brotherhood used to be an urban group inits membership and style of management. Now its cultural patterns and loyalties are taking ona rural garb. As a result, the Muslim Brotherhood is losing the clarity of direction and methodit once had.Over the past few years, the Muslim Brotherhood has been infused with rural elements. Itstone is becoming more and more patriarchal, and its members are showing their superiors thekind of deference associated with countryside traditions. You hear them referring to their topofficials as theuncle hajj “, “the big hajj “, “our blessed one”, “the blessed man of ourcircle”, “the crown on our heads”, etc. Occasionally, they even kiss the hands and heads of thetop leaders. Not long ago, a Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian kissed the hand of thesupreme guide in public.These patterns of behaviour are new to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that emerged andoperated mostly in an urban context. The new ways of speech and behaviour, which I willrefer to as theruralisationof the Muslim Brotherhood, have affected every aspect of thegroup’s internal operations. In its recent elections, the Muslim Brotherhood maintained a tightlid of secrecy, offered the public contradictory information, and generally seemed to beoperating with little regard for established procedure.The Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council elections emphasised ritual over order. The mainconcern of the Brotherhood, throughout the recent elections, seemed to be with maintainingan aura of respect for the leadership and getting the rank-and- file to offer unquestioningloyalty to top officials.A system of secondary loyalties has emerged inside the Muslim Brotherhood, in nearindependence from all considerations of institutional work. Entire geographical areas, indeedentire governorates, are now viewed as political fiefdoms pertaining to one MuslimBrotherhood leader or another. Muslim Brotherhood members would refer to a certain city orgovernorate as being the turf of certain individuals.Duplicity, another trait of rural communities, is also rampant. Feigned allegiance is common,with members saying one thing in private and another in public. As is the custom in thecountryside, deference to authority is often coupled with resistance to change. As a result,you’d see members pretending to listen to their Muslim Brotherhood superiors while payinglittle or no attention to what they say. Many of the new ideas put forward by MuslimBrotherhood leaders have been ignored, or at least diluted and then discarded.When a Brotherhood member comes up with a new idea, the Muslim Brotherhood leadershipreacts as if that member spoke out of order. Self- criticism is increasingly being frowned uponand the dominant thinking within the Brotherhood is becoming traditionalist andunquestioning.The Muslim Brotherhood has been active in recruiting teachers and professors. But most ofthe new recruits are rural in their culture and understanding of public life. Despite theirscholarly pedigree, many of the academics that have joined the Brotherhood are parochial intheir understanding of the world. The Muslim Brotherhood has nearly 3,000 universityprofessors in its ranks, and few or any of those are endowed with the habit of critical thinking.They may be academics, but they are no visionaries.In the recent Muslim Brotherhood elections, five members of the group’s Shura Council wonseats in the Guidance Bureau. Most of those were either from rural areas or people with apronounced rural lifestyle. Four were from the countryside, including Saadeddin El-Husseinifrom Sharqiya, Mohamed Hamed from Mahala Al-Kobra, Saadeddin El-Katatni from Minya.Only one was from a metropolitan centre: Osama Nasr from Alexandria.Over the past decade or so, most of the newcomers to the Guidance Bureau were from thecountryside: Mahmoud Hussein from Assiut, Sabri Arafa El-Komi from Daqahliya, andMohamed Mursi from Sharqiya. Rural governorates, such as Assiut, Minya, Daqahliya andSharqiya, are now in control of much of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially middle-rankingposts, while Cairo and Alexandria have seen their status gradually erode. The Brotherhoodleadership is encouraging the trend, for rural people are less prone to challenging theirleaders.There was a time when the Muslim Brotherhood appealed mainly to an urban audience. Butsince the late 1980s things have changed. Due to the long-running confrontation with theregime, the Muslim Brotherhood has found it harder to recruit urban supporters. Also, the lackof innovation in Muslim Brotherhood ways has turned off many city dwellers. Instead ofjoining the Muslim Brotherhood, the young and disgruntled, as well as those seeking spiritualsalvation, have joined the Salafi current or become followers of the country’s new breed ofwell- spoken televangelists. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has mostly abandonedreligious propagation in favour of politics may have accelerated this trend.What the Muslim Brotherhood has to offer is something that city dwellers don’t really need.The Muslim Brotherhood offers an alternative family, a cloning of the village communitywith its personalised support system. This is something that appeals best to new arrivals fromthe countryside, to people who miss the stability and comfort of a traditional community.The attraction of countryside people to the Muslim Brotherhood over the past two decadescoincided with the disintegration of the extended family and the weakening of communal ties.Moreover, the Westernisation of city life may have pushed many people with a ruralbackground into seeking a moral and social refuge in the Muslim Brotherhood.In universities, the Muslim Brotherhood attracts newcomers to the cities rather than originalcity dwellers. It is more successful in recruitment among students in Al-Azhar University thanin other universities, and more successful in rural governorates than in Cairo and Alexandria.Following the 1952 Revolution, Egypt as a whole underwent a wave of ruralisation. But eventhen, the Muslim Brotherhood focussed its recruitment on people with an urban lifestyle. Fiftyyears ago, the Muslim Brotherhood recruited mostly among the sons of governmentemployees, teachers, and generally the white-collared class. Egypt’s countryside was notwelcoming to the Muslim Brotherhood or its outlook. Now, the Muslim Brotherhood hasgone so conventional that it is gaining ground in the countryside.The Muslim Brotherhood can run effective campaigns and even win elections in many areasin Egypt’s countryside. Yet, it is my belief that the countryside is affecting the MuslimBrotherhood more than the Muslim Brotherhood is affecting it.In Hassan El-Banna’s time, Muslim Brotherhood leaders were mostly urban in their ways:Hassan El-Hodeibi, Omar El-Telmesani, Hassan Ashmawi, Mounir Dallah, Abdel-QaderHelmi and Farid Abdel Khaleq. Even in the countryside, top Muslim Brotherhood memberswere known for their urban lifestyle: Mohamed Hamed Abul- Naser and Abbas Al-Sisi, forexample.By contrast, the new breed of Muslim Brotherhood leaders is rural in its ways. This goes evenfor Cairo-based Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Mohamed Mursi, Saad El-Katatni,Saad Al-Husseini and Sabri Arafa El-Komi. And the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide,Mahdi Akef, is more rural in his leadership style than his predecessor, Maamoun Al-Hodeibi.

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