by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 2, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1435)
The combined assault by the Egyptian military and the Saudi regime on the Ikhwan and its supporters has exposed the unholy alliance of tyrannical regimes in the Muslim East.
The Egyptian military has never won a single battle against external enemies but this has not deterred it from proclaiming its non-existent virtues and valiant services to the “motherland.” Massively armed and with an organized hierarchical structure, it is able to crush any challenge to its hegemony. All it has ever achieved is the repeated conquer of its own hapless people even while abandoning the Sinai Peninsula to the Zionist invaders.
Hitheto a tool of the American-Zionist project, it has now become subservient to the Saudis as well. It was manifested in the Egyptian-Saudi assault on the al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood). This is an escalation of the anti-Islamic policies that has exposed both the Egyptian military and the Saudi regime in the eyes of most Muslims. Even the Saudis’ paid agents are no longer able to publicly defend the regime despite its dishing out millions of dollars to buy their loyalty.
The Egyptian military’s policy is clear. First brand the Ikhwan a terrorist organization and then put its members on trial in kangaroo courts where even the minimum requirements of legality are not met. Thousands of others languishing in jail are mercilessly tortured. Others are shot and killed in fake encounters in different parts of the country.
One could understand, perhaps in a perverse way the reason why the Egyptian military would display such visceral hatred of the Ikhwan.
One could understand, perhaps in a perverse way the reason why the Egyptian military would display such visceral hatred of the Ikhwan. After all, the movement represents the only organized power to challenge the military’s stranglehold on society. But what explanation is there for Saudis’ hatred of the movement, to place it in the same catagory as al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, etc. as a terrorist organization? After all, the Ikhwan have always played the game within the rules set by the establishment in whatever society they operate. When the Saudis declared the group a terrorist outfit, the Ikhwan’s office in London lamented this by drawing attention to the long-established relationship it has had with the Saudi regime. It is also a fact that members of the Ikhwan served in many Saudi educational institutions helping spread their message worldwide even while maintaining some degree of independence in their thinking.
So what is the reason for the Saudis’ brazen assault on the Ikhwan in Egypt? There are two reasons for this. First, the Saudis feared, quite rightly, that the Islamic Awakening movements sweeping the region would engulf them as well. The House of Saud had to stifle this before the winds of change blew their sand castles away. Second, the Saudis have always donned the mantle of leadership of the Muslim world. With the rise to power of the Ikhwan in Egypt, they felt a “Sunni” rival had emerged. The Saudis fear Islamic Iran just as strongly but it has used the sectarian card to divide and confuse some Muslims. What argument could the Saudis use to discredit the Ikhwan? Besides, the Ikhwan model, though imperfect, would be more attractive to the people than the archaic system in place in the desert kingdom.
Given their mindset and fear of being swept away, the Saudis were left with little choice even if it exposed them among Muslims worldwide, including among their most ardent supporters and admirers. The Saudis’ branding of the Ikhwan as a terrorist organization has provoked strong reaction from many Islamic organizations even in places like India where they have historically sought — and received — Saudi largesse. Petro-dollars, it seems can go only so far. For the Saudis, the loss of such support is a small price to pay.
Both the Egyptian and Saudi establishments are caught on the horns of a dilemma. In Egypt, the military’s brutal tactics have pushed many people into taking up arms against the security forces. While such operations will not be enough to dislodge the establishment and its supporting institutions from power, their net effect is negative for the regime. The military’s promise to restore order recedes further with each day. The slaughter last year of thousands of civilians participating in peaceful sit-ins, the arrest of thousands of Ikhwan members and supporters as well as the sentencing of hundreds of people to death (the March 24 mass death verdicts in al-Minya, for instance), have failed to crush the spirit of resistance. Instead, students have continued to protest. Almost every Friday, there are marches in the streets against the brutal military crackdown and demands for the restoration of the legitimate government. At the same time, militancy has escalated as people conclude that there are no peaceful avenues available for change.
The Saudis also stand exposed. Their claim to leadership of the “Sunni” world has been blown away because the Ikhwan are also Sunnis and may have a lot more in common with other “Sunni” Muslims than the obscurantist Wahhabi ideology espoused by the Saudis.
The Saudis also stand exposed. Their claim to leadership of the “Sunni” world has been blown away because the Ikhwan are also Sunnis and may have a lot more in common with other “Sunni” Muslims than the obscurantist Wahhabi ideology espoused by the Saudis. In its statement condemning the Saudi regime’s branding of the Ikhwan as a “terrorist” organization, the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama in India said that Muslims respected the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah but they do not have any regard for the Saudi regime that is an agent of imperialism and Zionism. This is a rare rebuke coming from an organization that has historically deferred to Saudi wishes. Islamic organizations elsewhere have been no less appalled by the Saudi attack on the Ikhwan although they have remained somewhat circumspect in their criticism.
Muslims have never had any great regard for militaries in the Muslim world, much less the one in Egypt. Far from being able to defend the borders of their respective states, they have grown into huge financial and business empires usurping vast state resources. The net result has been impoverishment of the people. An additional factor has been that the militaries act as conduits for the penetration of Western values into traditional Muslim societies.
Many Muslims viewed the Saudis differently primarily because of the sanctity of Makkah and Madinah. In their innocence, they thought the sanctity of the two holy cities is due to the Saudi regime and therefore, worthy of their respect and reverence. The Saudi regime’s assault on the Ikhwan, and its open embrace of US imperialism and Israeli Zionism have finally opened the eyes of most Muslims in the world. The House of Saud may have short-circuited its own illegitimate existence as a result of recent policies.