Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda may soon follow him to the grave. But the doctrine of jihad – exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood – lives on.
Like thousands across the world, I celebrated the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. He rejoiced in killing. But bin Laden’s murder is not the end of Al Qaeda. And even if Al Qaeda were totally eliminated, the world would still have to deal with Al Qaeda’s progenitor.
Bin Laden was many things, but he was not original. He was himself introduced to the doctrine of jihad by the late Palestinian theologian Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Significantly, before Azzam begun teaching bin Laden and others in Saudi Arabia, he was a member of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.
Unlike Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood has evolved and learned the hard way that the use of violence will be met with superior violence by state actors. The clever thing to do, it now turns out, was to be patient and invest in a bottom-up movement rather than a commando structure that risked being wiped out by stronger forces. Besides, the gradualist approach is far more likely to win the prize of state power. All that Khomeini did before he came to power in Iran was to preach the merits of a society based on Islamic law. He did not engage in terrorism. Yet he and his followers took over Iran – a feat far greater than bin Laden ever achieved. In Iran the violence came later.
The point is that fighting violent extremists is only part of the battle; perhaps the easier part. The bigger challenge may be to deal with those Islamists who are willing to play a longer game.
In the West, bin Laden’s ignominious death in a Pakistani hideaway has frequently been contrasted with the mass protests that have swept the Middle East in recent months. Policymakers and commentators have drawn the conclusion that the Arab Spring has triumphed over jihadism, setting the region on a high road to democracy. This is too hasty a conclusion. Let’s take Egypt as an example.
Just how likely is it that Egypt will end up – after the inevitable transition period – being ruled indirectly or directly by the Muslim Brotherhood?
The answer depends on a combination of three factors – two domestic and one foreign:
1. The Brotherhood’s strength within the Egyptian military, which is still in charge of the country;
2. The absence of a formidable secular rival within Egypt;
3. The willingness of America and her allies to underestimate the ambitions and the political skills of the Muslim Brotherhood.
For the moment it looks like all three factors are working in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Make no mistake: The Brotherhood are working to realize the vision summarized in their motto: “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Qur’an is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
A series of concrete goals derived from this motto used to be available on their website, though this is (perhaps not surprisingly) unavailable at the present time. Fortunately, some of the contents have been republished at http://mideastweb.org.
Among the “sub-goals” of the Muslim Brotherhood:
True, the Brotherhood’s leaders have insisted that they are committed to democracy and the rule of law. But they will give an idiosyncratic twist to these commitments.