By Iftikhar Hussain
Two populous Muslim nations, geographically far apart, did one thing in common, perhaps coincidently, and it was to rein in Islamic groups recently. General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi took on the powerful Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the government of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena banned the Jamate Islami party and Bangladeshi courts sentenced some members of the groups to death for war crimes.
While the Egyptian and Bangladeshi groups suffered setbacks, Pakistani ideological affiliate, Jamate Islami, and other Islamic groups continue to gain support and influence both from sections of the society and reportedly from state elements. Pakistani Jamate Islami is a key member of the political coalition ruling the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhutunkhwa province.
The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections is scheduled for May 26 and 27 and only two candidates are in the field – leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi and former Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, the man who is widely expected to win. General el-Sisi in a recent television interview has made it clear that if he comes to power, “the Brotherhood has no future in Egypt”. For many it will not be surprising if el-Sisi wins but how far he can be successful to get rid of the grassroots Islamist political entity, is a question that remains to be answered. Like the Jamate Islami in Pakistan, the Brotherhood has affiliates around the Muslim world. How will the Pakistani Jamate or similar groups in other Islamic countries react, is another question surrounding el-Sisi’s expected presidency.
Parallels Between Pakistan’s JI and Egypt’s Brotherhood:
The brotherhood gave birth to Al-Qaeda and Jamate Islami supported it throughout its violent history. Pakistan’s Jamate Islami, like the Egypt’s Brotherhood, aspires for both domestic and international Muslim causes. The Jamate Islami maintains close contacts with the Brotherhood and considers it an organization from which it can learn. The leadership of both the parties met at the Brotherhood’s headquarters in June 2012 after Morsi won elections and join hands to promote the image of Islam.
“Congratulations to Ikhwane Muslameen (Egyptian Brotherhood) on their glorious success. The sacrifices of the martyrs Imam Hasan al Banna, Syed Qutb and thousands of activists have borne fruit in the shape of the revolution in Egypt. God willing, an Islamic revolution is Pakistan’s destiny too,” said a JI leader Liaquat Baloch at the event in Cairo in 2012. The JI former chief, Syed Munwar Hassan has also repeatedly said that the JI would struggle to unleash a revolution in the country, similar to the one in Egypt.
JI Karachi former president Muhammad Hussain Mehanti has said to Pakistani leading newspaper Express Tribune back in 2012 that the Brotherhood has been a source of inspiration and it is in this spirit that the Idara-e Noor-e-Haq translates the works of their scholars Hasan al Banna and Syed Qutub in Pakistan. The works of JI’s founder and revered scholar Maulana Maududi have also been translated in Egypt.
Historian and author of ‘Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia’ Professor Ayesha Jalal says, the Jamate Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood have been historically linked ideologically and have also had comparable bases of support. “If you add to this some broad similarities of context, then the links between the two organizations become even more understandable. So it is hardly surprising to find them expressing admiration for each other.”
International best-selling author Ahmed Rashid in his writings says that the Jamaat-e-Islami branched out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1929 by Hasan al Banna, who spearheaded a movement that spread across the Arab world.
Taking on the Brotherhood:
For el-Sisi it might be just a matter of time to finish the brotherhood if his words are to be believed but former US diplomats say it is hard to believe el-Sisi’s claims. David Mack is a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East who follows developments in Egypt. “The Brotherhood represents a wide spectrum of opinion in Egypt and in official Washington the views of el-Sissi about the Brotherhood are not something generally encouraged”.
Another expert on the Middle East and former US diplomat, William Rugh, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has established itself as a political organization in Egypt’s political arena and it is difficult to imagine what al-Sissy says. “Gamal Abdul Nasir tried to suppress it but failed and I am skeptical of what el-Sissi claims no matter how much powerful he is”, the former US diplomat says.
Eliminating Brotherhood will resonate in region, Pakistan:
In Pakistan, most Islamic political parties aspire for global Muslim brotherhood or Ummah and domestically, because of using religion as a platform, they are considered to have more leverage than other groups, even if they do not fare better at the ballot. “No party can afford to disown the religion in its manifesto”, says Pakistan’s leading expert on Middle East Dr Hassan Askari. “The Jamate Islami issued statements in favor of Brotherhood’s Morsi when his government was ousted by military leadership of the country. He believes that Islamist parties in Pakistan react more actively to international Islamic causes than similar groups in any other Islamic country. Askari says how things will play out in post-election scenario in Egypt is something still to be seen and so is the reaction of Pakistan Jamate Islami. “It is not the inability of Jamate Islami to get all over political power and form a central government like the Brotherhood but rather it is because no other party in Pakistan disowns Islam in politics “.
William Rugh, the former US diplomat to a number of Middle Eastern nations says that specifically it cannot be predicted but as a general proposition whatever happens in Egypt post the presidential election will resonate in the region and in Pakistan too.
JI remains backward & cherishes Jihadi ideology:
The Brotherhood, which shaped the ideas of Islamists and particularly of groups such as al Qaeda, went through a transformation for political gains in recent years, according to the author of ‘A to Z of Pakistani Jehadi Organisations’ Amir Rana. “The Muslim Brotherhood today has evolved into a modern Islamist organisation that promotes democratic ways and education for all,” said Rana. “But the Jamaat-e-Islami remains backward and reactionary. Also, while the Brotherhood is putting up a fight with the military establishment, the JI here continues to be the bedfellow of the military in Pakistan”.