The Muslim Brotherhood, Israel And The Jews

From its founding, the Muslim Brotherhood has been hostile, yet not completely rigid, toward the Jewish State. Now, will President Morsi invite Egyptian Jews to return home?

Both Morsi and Sadat have altered their stances towards Israel
Both Morsi and Sadat have altered their stances towards Israel
Mohamed Hosny*

CAIRO - Leading Muslim Brotherhood member and former presidential adviser Essam al-Erian created a stir when he called on Egyptian Jews in Israel to return home, because Egypt is now a democracy. Some might think that Erian’s courting of Israel and the Jews represents a break with the history of the Brotherhood, supposedly characterized by total enmity to the Zionist entity and its Jewish population. However, the fact is that this is simply a reflection of the Brotherhood’s untiring pragmatism throughout 80 years of political activity.

My point is not to accuse the Brotherhood of opportunism. Rather, it is the reformist nature of the group — investing in the support of a conservative middle class — that explains its stances regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Basically, the Brotherhood views the conflict in an ethical-religious light, which isolates the liberation struggle in Palestine from the tyranny in Egypt. The enemy is not Zionism in particular, but Jews in general, as proven by Prophet Mohamed’s biography, or Sirat, and sayings, or Hadith.

It was not by coincidence that the Brotherhood’s first intervention in politics came following the breakout of the 1936 Palestinian revolution, with a project called “A Penny for Palestine,” whose goal was to raise funds for the Palestinian cause. Ever since that time, the “Palestinian cause” has featured highly on the Brotherhood’s political agenda.

But it became clear early on that the Brotherhood’s vision of the issue of Palestine is anti-Jewish at its core. So, in the protests that broke out on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1945, young members from the Brotherhood destroyed shops owned by Jews and torched a synagogue.

The Brotherhood’s animosity toward Jews increased in the following years. In the 1947–1948 student union elections, the Brotherhood organized students in groups opposed to Jews. And after the 1948 War, their terrorist operations continued and their clandestine body was revealed.

After a long retreat during former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era, members of the Brotherhood returned from the Gulf in the 1970s and resumed their activity, with new orientations that took into account President Anwar Sadat’s Open Door policy and his rapprochement with the U.S. and Israel.

In the 1970s, Brotherhood magazines betrayed the contradiction between their religion-based slogans and pragmatic positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For example, the title of the editorial for Al-Dawah magazine’s October 1979 issue was, “Those Jews are not trustworthy.” The article rejected negotiations with Jews, accusing them of spreading moral degeneration and evils and conspiring against Muslims.

However, in the same issue, then-MP and Brotherhood Supreme Guide Omar al-Telmessany described the Americans as “people of the Book” who should be honored. Telmessany approved the negotiations with Israel, saying that Prophet Mohamed negotiated with the Jews when he entered Medina.

Consequently, he refrained from supporting the National Coalition against Camp David and opposed the Arab boycott of Sadat, expressing hopes that the president would remain in power.

After the assassination

The second Intifada, which erupted in 2000, sparked a broad popular movement in Egypt and the Arab world. The Brothers were, in their own way, part of the movement. However, they used a confused language in their views on the struggle: A language that mixed political realism with ethical-religious rhetoric, but that never hinted at the relation between Zionism and imperialism on one hand and Hosni Mubarak’s regime on the other.

For instance, on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Camp David Accords, in March 2004, MPs from the Brotherhood bloc called for freezing Camp David, blaming it for all the evils, diseases and destruction in the country — including AIDS.

Following the assassination of Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, the Brotherhood organized conferences for the professional syndicates, whose boards they control, to call for opening the door to “jihad,” the abrogation of the Camp David agreement, and the expulsion of the American and Zionist ambassadors.

The same ideas were repeated in former Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef’s discourse following the Dahab bombings in April 2006. But in this case, the man went the extra mile to assert that the Brotherhood accepted Camp David in principle.

The first time the Brotherhood linked U.S.-Zionist hegemony and the tyranny of Mubarak’s regime was following the rigging of the 2010 parliamentary elections and the loss of the parliamentary bloc it had in the previous session. On November 23, 2010, a piece on Ikhwan Online read, “The peace treaty signed between Egypt and the Zionist entity prevents the conduct of fair elections because of fears of the rise of the Brotherhood, who said they are opposed to the peace treaty with Zionists.”

After the January 25 revolution, the Brotherhood only cautiously participated in public events organized to condemn Israeli practices. It continued to raise religious slogans against the Jews, while at the same time calling for the amendment of the Camp David Accords.

Morsi emerges

But as the Brotherhood edged closer to power, it became more pragmatic in handling the Arab-Israeli conflict and Camp David.

On 16 February, Mohammed Morsi, then head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said U.S. aid was part of the Camp David Accords, adding that it was improper for the U.S. to threaten to stop aid, or else the whole treaty would have to be reviewed. He added that his party wants the peace process to continue.

And when he ascended to the position of president, Morsi basically followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, demolishing Rafah tunnels, allowing surveillance of the Gaza borders, and coordinating the Israel-Hamas truce with Israel and the U.S. Nothing changed in reality, maybe with the exception of some rhetorical gestures.

It might be the case that Erian’s recent statement is not serious at all. It is probably simply a matter of improvisation from a man who feels persecuted in his own group. However, the fact remains that such statements are in complete resonance with a long history of Brotherhood zigzags and pragmatism.

*Mohamed Hosny is a writer and researcher specializing in Israeli history and politics. He is a PhD candidate at Ain Shams University. This article was translated from Arabic by Dina Zafer.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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