IN PURSUIT OF LEGITIMACY

Hesham Al-Awadi
On the extraordinary morning of 11 September 2001, I happened to be in the London office of the Muslim
Brothers conducting interviews for this study. The faces of everyone in the office reflected the shocking scene of aeroplanes crashing into the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.
Although the identity of the perpetrators was initially unclear, there were early fears that radical Islamists from Al-Qa‘eda might be involved. The Brothers in the office were clearly uncomfortable about the potential implications. If Islamists were indeed involved, such an event would certainly heighten the fears of the Americans, and of the West at large, against Islam and Muslims, and would give more credibility to Huntington’s notion of the “clash of civilisations”.
In the midst of these legitimate Western fears, the significantly visible line of differentiation between moderate and radical Islamists would become blurred or irrelevant. Not only would this register as a seriously mistaken attitude on the part of the United States and the West towards the sophisticated Islamist phenomenon, but it would encourage authoritarian Arab regimes to quell all Islamists indiscriminately, on the basis of would-be conventional wisdom that
“all Islamists are potentially dangerous”.
Egypt’s President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak was among the Arab leaders who had already launched coercive campaigns against Islamists, both moderates and radicals, since the early and mid- 1990s. His campaign reached its peak in 1995, when 95 civilian Islamists who were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were put
on trial in military courts, charged with belonging to an illegal organisation and conspiring to overthrow the government.

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