Last Updated: Fri Aug 24, 2012 08:47 am (KSA) 05:47 am (GMT)

The Brotherhood, Sinai and the Iranian experience

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed

The 1949 marriage between Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Egyptian princess Fawzia – sister of King Farouk – did not last for more than a year. This characterizes the relations between Cairo and Tehran over the past 100 years, vacillating strongly between love and enmity. There are some who believe that the long love affair between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian revolution remains ongoing, and that while this has yet to bear fruit in terms of political relations; it will sire a special relationship between the two countries following Dr. Mohamed Mursi’s ascension to power.

Nobody monitoring events in our region can ignore the special relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood in general, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in particular, and the Iranian regime. Muslim Brotherhood literature praises Iran’s Islamic experience, and I fear that this will serve as a model for their own experience in governing Egypt, for this will lead them into dire straits. The best example regarding the [political] experience of an Islamic party is that of the Turkish Islamists, and the Brotherhood should model themselves after this, particularly as this represents the most successful Islamist model and is in line with the aspirations of the Egyptian revolution, in terms of freedom and pluralism.

It is too early to judge the Muslim Brotherhood’s governance project, and whether this is genuine or not, however they certainly won the elections legitimately and so it is their right to govern Egypt in the manner that they see fit. However it would be a mistake to simplify the differences between Egypt and Iran, and between the Brotherhood and the Khomeinists. Perhaps the most important thing to happen since Mursi’s election has been his success, until now, in neutralizing the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] and the Tahrir Square youth. This can be compared to what happened in Iran following the Khomeinist revolution that had been advocated by various national forces, as well as accepted by senior military leaders. Ayatollah Khomeini was able to isolate his allies and monopolize power under electoral rather than democratic slogans; he was able to gain control of the military and security institutions, and he increased his grip on power over the eight years of war [Iran – Iraq war].

Is there a parallel to this in the Brotherhood’s onslaught against the Egyptian military apparatus, particularly after President Mursi retired Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshall Tantawi, whilst at the same time awarding him the Order of the Nile?

Of course, we all saw the poor performance of Field Marshall Tantawi and SCAF over a full year following the toppling of the Mubarak regime. It was clear that they did not have a political project in mind, whilst they also failed to manage the political leadership in the post-revolutionary period.

We are not witnessing a lot of hype over the Sinai issue, which is being portrayed as negligence on the part of the Egyptian military, when in reality this is the result of transgressions by radical Islamist movements. Rather than the Muslim Brotherhood paying the price for this, it is the victims, namely the military, who are being held responsible. We say victims because a radical Islamist movement killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, not the other way round, whilst this also almost led to an unprecedented confrontation with Israel.

The Muslim Brotherhood beating a drum over Sinai parallels the Khomeinist regime being a drum against Iraq during the early days of the post-revolutionary period, and the Khomeinists utilized the ensuing 8-year war to strengthen their grip on power and the state in the name of defending the homeland. Whilst after Khomeini accepted a ceasefire, Iran was completely under the control of a single totalitarian religious group. This is the issue, namely the utilization of the Israeli “scarecrow”, benefits the Brotherhood in strengthening their grip on power in Egypt. Whilst at the same time the specter of the Brotherhood benefits the Israeli right-wing that is led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, granting him more domestic authority, as well as US support.

If the Brotherhood is relying on the Khomeinist experience then they must not see what we can see regarding the Khomeinists comprehensive failure to achieve any of their stated objectives, from exporting the revolution to transforming Iran into a peerless regional and political force. The Iranian Islamist experience serves as a model for failure, and an abject lesson to all aspiring powers, nothing more. Iran is more similar to North Korea, successful in the military field, particularly in terms of moving closer to producing nuclear arms, but failing in all other spheres of government. More than this, the Iranian experience is doomed to failure. In addition, Egypt is not like Iran, and the 2011 Egyptian revolution has nothing in common with the 1979 Iranian revolution, not to mention the huge differences between the Brotherhood and the Khomeinists, as the latter were very popular in Iran due to their Shiite roots – which is akin to Catholicism, namely based on the authority and holiness of the Pope. This is completely opposite to the roots of Sunni Islam in Egypt, which does not believe in any single religious reference or the holiness of the Muslim Brotherhood General Guide, who has no authority over religious or civil life in Egypt.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published on Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 23

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