The Ikhwan and the “power of the street”

Developing Just Leadership

Afeef Khan

Shawwal 24, 1434 2013-09-01


by Afeef Khan (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 7, Shawwal, 1434)

The Ikhwan may have been pushed out of power by a brutal military coup and have offered thousands of martyrs, but if they can show their staying power in the streets, they can defeat the military and bring it to its knees.

The more times change and the more old faces are replaced by the new, the more it appears that the problems covered by the faces and ravaged by the ebb and flow of time remain the same. Great wisdom from the past can be buried with it when circumstances do not perennially change for the better, and when it cannot be applied to what afflicts us today, just because it happens to be part of a past that was equally discouraging. Regarding the ongoing tragedy in Egypt, due at some level to the way the Ikhwan misplayed their hand, it helps to recall a 1961 panel discussion in which participants included Malcolm X and James Baldwin, two incredibly and extraordinarily articulate men in their prime, and well ahead of their time. The discussion features what at first blush may seem like divergent views on the sit-in movement in the US during the 1960s civil rights struggle, and it touches on the impact of power on the perception of equality and the appraisal of freedom. Some pertinent excerpts have obvious relevance to our brothers in Egypt:

Malcolm X: …one of the reasons [Elijah Muhammad] is giving a solution that differs drastically from the sit-in movement [is that] he’s trying to make us men. The very fact that you find students all over the world that are standing up for their rights and fighting for their rights, but here in America the so-called Negro students have allowed themselves to be maneuvered under a tag of “sit-in.” Actually the name describes its nature — it’s a passive thing.

If their goal is integration, it’s not a worthwhile one, but if their goal is freedom, justice, and equality, then that’s a worthwhile goal. If integration is going to give the black people in America complete freedom, complete justice, and complete equality, then it’s a worthwhile goal. Holding this integration bottle and dangling it in front of the American Negroes today has actually disabled them or it has nullified their ability to stand up and fight like a man for something that is theirs by right rather than to sit around and beg and wait for the white man to make up his mind that they’re worthy to have this thing.

I think that this is why in my opinion we disagree with the sit-in movement. If they are willing to wait for another 100 years for the white man to change his mind to accept them as a human being, then they’re wrong; but if they’re willing to lay down their life tonight or in the morning in order that we can have what is ours by right tonight or in the morning, then it’s a good movement. But as long as they’re willing for the white man to make up his mind that they are qualified to be respected as human beings, then I’m afraid that all of their waiting and planning is for naught.

James Baldwin: I don’t agree that the sit-ins are necessarily passive. I think it commands a tremendous amount of power in one’s personal life and in terms of political and polemical activity… When the sit-in movement started… when a great many things started in the Western world, they had a great deal less to do with equality than they had to do with power… and I do believe that we have to decide what [it is] we want.

What has happened in the world in relation to black people is not that white people have suddenly changed and become more conscious of the black man’s humanity; what has happened is very simple: it’s that white power has been broken. And this means in a lot of things, it’s no longer possible for the Englishman to describe an African and make the African believe it; it’s no longer possible for a white man in this country to tell a Negro who he is and make the Negro believe this. The controlling image is absolutely gone.

It seems to me that the responsibility that faces us, which faces me in any case, is since there is a distinction between power and equality, [since] there is a distinction between power and freedom — and I know that in terms of, for example Africa — that an African nation cannot be respected unless it is free, unless it has its political destiny in its own hands, which is what we mean by power. There is no hope that the English will deal with an African nation… they will deal with an African nation as a subjugated nation as long as it is in fact subjugated.

…I don’t think that a warrior is necessarily a man. And, in fact, it has been proven that football players, and all these people in teams and in armies, are not men. It is very difficult to be a man. And what it involves, for me anyway, is an ability to look at the world, to look at whatever it is, and to say what it is, and to deal with it, to face it, even if it does mean laying down your life, and in a way it always does mean that.

From their words, it is evident that both men aspire for all people to be imbued with freedom and justice — as they are inalienable rights accruing to one simply by being born — especially for those who have been historically oppressed and made to feel that their basic humanity is somehow less than the humanity of those who hold temporal power. Both men refer indirectly to the “power of the street” as the only legitimate power that can be wielded to great impact by the oppressed. Malcolm X suggests that the power of the street is substantially diminished, and even misused, if it is only employed to “integrate into” or otherwise belong to the corrupt system of rules, laws, customs, and socializations that are responsible for all the oppression and injustice to begin with. If the goal is to belong to the same system and simply change the faces of those who are in charge, then the power of the street has been mishandled and dispersed without any noticeable progress.

Professor Baldwin opines, it is the power of the street that can bring the oppressive order to a grinding halt, that can break the power of the oppressor. Thus if the goal of the empowered in the street is to achieve complete justice, complete freedom, and complete equality, then this means that the very definitions and foundations of the status quo must be changed to accommodate the new direction. The favoritism-based mechanisms and institutions of the existing order, be they adjudicative, executive, legislative, or constabulary, cannot be relied upon to guarantee the rights of those who were previously deprived of them. All engagements that precede the establishment of a new representative government with a new constitution must take place in the street, where ad hoc institutions will substitute temporarily for new ones that will be constructed on principles of truth and justice from the ground up. The oppressive order, its officials, its functionaries, its enablers, and its proxies will have to be sidelined and eventually gelded.

It was the power of the street that displaced the Pharoah (Mubarak/Israel/America), that broke the power of his government and its institutions — not “free” elections that were managed and overseen by the Pharoah’s lingering hangers-on, kickback recipients, and handlers in Washington and Tel Aviv. Not realizing where their power lies is what caused the Ikhwan to be johnny-come-latelys to the party to which Mubarak was not invited, and it is what caused the Ikhwan government to be overthrown by an entrenched oligarchy that was not completely removed because the power of the street was channeled into the corrupt and self-serving institutions of the oppressive order. The combined muscle of the oppressed lies in the force that comes out of concentrating the power in the street to bring all oppressive societal institutions to a standstill. The Ikhwan and by extension the people of Egypt — and the Ikhwan are their legitimate representatives — are the oppressed, and thus their power is the power of the street. If the Ikhwan organize and motivate the people to stay in the street, despite the long odds, until the existing societal institutions no longer function, then the Muslims will win, regardless of how loud the oppressors and their enablers howl.

Contrary to whatever propaganda line comes out of the media organs run by the oppressor, the people have nothing to lose by staying in the street and not working as slaves. They have already lost everything: they have no jobs, no education, no opportunities, no way to leave, no affordable food and services, and in many cases, no hope of having a better life in the future. Those who have the most to lose are the ones who run the oppressive order; they are the ones who thrive on a slave class, on a plantation (Obama) mentality. Their systems work because the people have no education, subsistence wages, bleak futures, and no access to using their own resources for their own benefit, and thus it is in the interest of the corrupt power brokers to maintain this kind of status quo.

Finally, the Ikhwan should realize that the power of the street and taking up arms to secure deprived rights are not an “either-or” scenario. The Ikhwan have every right in the world to take up arms and use force if necessary to reverse the rule of dictatorship, which was displaced by the will of the people. No one can dispute this right. Putting elected representatives in prison without charge and then massacring those who protest the usurpation of their natural and human rights to choose their own representatives are the very essence of oppression. Both Malcolm X and Professor Baldwin agree that real men fight and ultimately lay down their lives for principle. Real men are not the ones who pick up a weapon and then indiscriminately start mowing down anyone and everyone, throwing all morality, humanity, sympathy, and empathy to the wind. The real men in this equation are the Ikhwan and those who back them on a platform of principle. The government security forces, soldiers, officers, commanders, and their US and Israeli handlers are the pussies and patsies, for they are the ones who are killing people that have owned up to their right for representing themselves.

If the Ikhwan choose to elevate their street protest to armed resistance as a means of accomplishing their legitimate objectives with ultimately less pain and more gain, then it is up to them to decide — and they need not have to shrink in front of the non-violent mumbo-jumbo that comes out of the mouths of those who have never counseled their own to non-violence. Witness the occupation of Libya, the dismemberment of Iraq, the radioactive poisoning of Afghanistan, and now the desire to violently overthrow the government of Syria. These same ones tell us to forget about the past and look to the future. That’s an old story — we should be wiser today. It is for precisely this assertion that we cannot forget the past, for if we do not learn from it, we are condemned to a future that replicates a past we do not want. And Allah (swt) says, “Permission to fight [with the use of force] is given to those who have been oppressed and, verily, Allah has indeed the power to support them, those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying, “Our Sustainer is Allah!” For, if Allah had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and masjids — in [all of] which Allah’s name is abundantly conscientized — would surely have been destroyed [by now]. And Allah will most certainly support him who support His cause: for, verily, Allah is most powerful, almighty” (22:39–40).

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