Neither description is right, says Ibrahim al-Hudaybi. The former Brotherhood member says the organization is not al-Qaeda, but neither is it committed to non-violence. The better reality is that it is in transition, and the future is still uncertain.
His article is translated at Mada Masr, and here is why a non-violent ethic evolved in the years before the revolution:
Socially speaking, the organization mainly includes middle class professionals, and they are conservative by definition and not willing — due to their professional positions — to make choices that might alienate them from society (or justify such an alienation) and lead to grave social consequences.
Furthermore, the organization’s leadership has been — throughout the past decade at least — chiefly composed of businessmen, with economic interests that require protection by preserving a connection with the regime, to a certain extent. This initially led the organization to adopt an extremely conservative stance towards the revolution, reducing it to a limited reformative process, without pushing for any significant changes in economic and social structures.
In addition, the Brotherhood’s social investments, in terms of schools, medical clinics, mosques, and associations, also required maintaining a certain relationship with the government, in order to preserve those investments, eventually eliminating the prospect of violence.
Hudaybi argues that Rabaa radicalized many, and as the state arrested leadership the Brotherhood was increasingly unable to hold to its traditionally tight organizational structure and discipline.
Leaders, however, and especially outside the organization want to preserve the Brotherhood brand of non-violence so as to maintain support from international human rights organizations. But at the same time, they face internal pressure:
Such conflicting motives, combined with weak organization making them unable to control the movement as a whole, some leaders have become aware that pacifism won’t be an option for long. They have tried to prevent the full engagement of members in violent acts by redefining violence, using the now famous slogan: “Anything short of bullets is peaceful.”
And this article from Foreign Policy describes the Ultras Nahdawi, which have taken up the protesting mantle. Its youth say they are not the Brotherhood, though Hudaybi (without mentioning Ultras) describes many of these similar protesting and violent groups have emerged from the younger Brotherhood ranks. But if this connection is somewhat nebulous, here is how it describes the Nahdawi association with violence:
When the police do inevitably attack one of their demonstrations, however, the Nahdawy can rely on a subset of their members to spring into action and engage with police forces: the Maghouleen, or Unknowns.
“The Maghouleen are the ones who meet the police head-on,” Faisal said, lowering his voice. “They’re an anonymous group of front-line fighters. No one knows who they are, but they are armed and will be violent if they need to be.”
So what is the attitude of the Brotherhood leadership? The article quotes a respected analyst:
Political researcher and Brookings fellow H. A. Hellyer said this sort of rhetoric has been at the center of the Brotherhood’s PR strategy since the military takeover: championing dissent but refusing to take ownership of it.
“The reality is that the Muslim Brotherhood has lost tremendously in the last year and a half and everything they’re doing right now is about maintaining a semblance of brand,” Hellyer said. This “brand” is pro-democracy, anti-violence, anti-extremism — and the Ultras don’t quite fit the bill. So even though their ideologies and goals align, the Brotherhood isn’t about to wave the Nahdawy banner.
“It’s also all about redirecting: putting a message out there but not taking responsibility for it,” Hellyer said.
The outcome, according to Hudaybi:
This violent tendency represents the Brotherhood’s “organization” only as much as “their determination to remain peaceful” does. The organization is going through a transitional phase, in which both views of violence and non-violence are being adopted, sometimes by different people, sometimes in different statements (in different languages and on different sites), and at other times by the same people in different situations.
Under this organizational disintegration, there is currently no way to determine who will prevail eventually.
And his somber prognosis:
The more we fail to handle this situation — on the social and ideological level, the first being more important — the more likely it is for the discourse which claims that there is no difference between the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.