There is nothing strange about the clash that has erupted between the leader of al-Qaeda, Doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, and his organization on the one hand, and the current ruling regime in Egypt, headed by Doctor Mohammed Mursi, his party the FJP (Freedom and Justice Party) and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. Indeed, differences between Jihadist Islamists and the Brotherhood are old and profound. And even if the fall of the Mubarak regime and the emergence of Islamists as major players on the political scene in Egypt has suggested to some that Islamists represented a single bloc, those who have been following the history of the Islamist movement, ever since the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928, through the trials and tribulations that followed, and up to their rise to power, realize that there are fundamental differences between the Brotherhood and the Salafists, that there are radical divergences between the Brotherhood and the Salafists on the one hand, and Jihadist Islamists on the other, and that all of them are at odds with the views of Takfiri Islamists.
The truth is that the map of Islamist organizations and groups in Egypt and in the world is both complex and entangled, and variations in their ideas and principles, as well as in their stances and their deeds, may not seem clear to some, but are certainly well known and quite evident to the members of these organizations and groups, as well as to researchers and specialists.
If Zawahiri supported the Egyptian Revolution and praised the fall of the Mubarak regime, that is only obvious and natural, just as Liberal, Nasserist and Leftist movements, as well as other Islamist groups and organization, supported the Revolution which the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists participated in. But as for the state each faction wished to establish on the ruins of the Mubarak regime, and the nature of its system of government, they differ from one faction to another.
The stance taken by the Muslim Brotherhood and by the Salafists on the new constitution provides a clear example. Indeed, the draft put forward by the Constitutive Assembly for general discussion has earned the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is standing behind it and backing it, and has begun preparing its supporters to vote “yes” when it is put forward for general referendum. Meanwhile, the Salafists have objected to some of its clauses and articles, and have threatened to gather their supporters to vote “no” if it is put forward for referendum without the clauses they are objecting to being modified. Yet the disagreement between the Brotherhood and the Salafists over the new constitution remains on a political level. Even if a confrontation were to take place between the two over the referendum on the new constitution, it would remain a mere disagreement on performance and stances, one that would be settled by the ballot boxes without turning into a bloody struggle, just like the disagreement between all secular forces and the Islamists. As for the disagreement between Jihadist Islamists and other Islamists, and with them secular forces, it is a disagreement in which it would be difficult to find common grounds, and one which it would be difficult to alleviate by having some of the parties concede certain demands or interests. Indeed, the contradiction is a fundamental one, and Jihadists do not accept anything other than the application of Islamic Shariah Law as they view it, not as anyone else does. Furthermore, the mechanisms they use to achieve their goals are not based on the media, conferences, seminars, protests and demonstrations, as are those of political organizations, groups and parties, but reach up to the use of armed force – i.e. Jihad.
President Mursi may sometimes find himself in an embarrassing position, if he is forced to take measures to enforce security and confront Jihadist groups, or he may fear to lose the support of some of those who sympathize with such groups if he were to engage in a decisive confrontation against them. He may also sometimes take certain decisions that would be understood as seeking to gain their sympathy, yet the result is clear in the Sinai or in the case of the Nasr City terrorist cell. And just as those close to Morsi in the FJP and in the Brotherhood, and from among his advisers in the Presidency, sometimes cause him to become implicated in problems he could have avoided, the way the President deals with Jihadist Islamists can also lead to problems that threaten his survival as an elected President, and also threaten the Egyptian state as such.
And if Mursi should reconsider some of his choices for advisers and aides, he should also come up with clear plans to deal with the phenomenon of Jihadist groups in order to preserve the country from the impending danger they represent for it. He is not required to go back to the methods of oppression or to broaden the circle of suspicion, as was the case under Mubarak, but rather to activate the law by enforcing it on everyone, close or far. Indeed, if such fire were to spread, it would burn everyone, and political affinities and sensitivities have no place if danger threatens everyone and exceeds narrow interests and the considerations of ballot boxes.
The writer is a columnist at several Arab publications. This article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on Oct. 30, 2012