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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh


Many are surprised with the indulgence of Islamists, who have led the change in the Arab world, with local country affairs, the absence (to a large extent) of the Palestinian cause from their political speech, as well as their indecisive positions towards Israel and the Western powers supporting it, especially the United States.

In addition, some compare the statements related to the Arab coups, which took place in the middle of the last century to these related to the recent uprisings. While the former focused on Palestine as either a reason for the coups or among their priorities, the current uprisings have focused on fighting corruption, improving the economy, enhancing democracy and restructuring state institutions. In fact, some sides which still define themselves with the so-called “axis of opposition” are skeptical about the Muslim Brotherhood and claim that there is a “deal” between the US and the Brothers to assimilate the movement in the new Arab political regime, without necessarily reflecting on the conflict with Israel.

Interpreting the Islamists’ Position vis-à-vis Palestine

This article seeks to understand the attitudes and justifications of the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia. These positions can be summarized by the following considerations:

1. The uprisings or the changes, which were mainly led by Islamists in a number of Arab countries are still unaccomplished or incomplete, because the head of the regime would leave, whereas most of its components would remain intact; or the scope of freedoms would expand without changing the entire regime. These uprisings, in contrast to military coups, were not introduced on board of tanks and there is yet time before they can manage different state institutions. Thus, Islamists have preferred gradual democratic change through constitutional institutions and through peaceful transfer of power. Accordingly, it is premature to hold them accountable for jurisdictions and powers they have not yet owned.

2. In new systems which depend neither on the decisions of the new leaders of the revolution nor on what the “new inspiring leader” dictates, the majority of seats were not won by Islamists hailing from the same political spectrum. Hence, they respected the rules of the democratic game and did not impose their opinions but sought partnership with the different political forces in managing the transitional phase. Accordingly, the pursued policies did not necessarily express their own opinions, but focused on the primary issues agreed upon.

3. There is fear of the recurrence of the “Algerian model” of dealing with Islamists, when they won the elections in the late 1991; besides the concern of the possible Western reaction through siege and obstruction, as is the case with Hamas in Palestine and with Sudan and Iran. These concerns have urged the emerging Islamic powers to avoid provoking the anti-revolution forces, which still maintain pressure cards they can use to foil the Islamist experience or take the country to civil war. Moreover, the Turkish model has played an attractive role, through its gradual approach and economic and political success.

Awaiting the crystallization of the change movements and the fulfillment of the political, economic, military, and security institutional transformations as well as strengthening the internal front, the emerging Islamic powers have favored to show utmost flexibility and reassure other sides, without having to go to wars which they are not yet ready to fight.

Accordingly, the fear of aborting their experience has clearly influenced the conduct of the Islamists regarding the Arab uprisings. Therefore, they did not see any interest in antagonizing other forces or giving justifications for external interference.

4. Islamists were faced with a corrupt, infiltrated internal front, fragmented military and security institutions, weak economy in addition to ethnic and sectarian tension. Moreover, the people who took out to the streets to restore their usurped rights have for long been humiliated, alienated from their religion and culture and stripped from their dignity and pride.

Thus, it was urgent for the Islamists to strengthen the internal front and establish its cohesion and to free society from corruption, estrangement and dependency to pave the way for liberating the occupied land and the holy sites. In other words, focusing on these elements was necessitated by the doctrine of priorities.

5. Islamists refuse the claim that Palestine has not been present in their political speech. However, their occupation with the regime change and the focus by international media on issues related to the Arab uprisings, made the Palestinian issue seem marginal or not as present as other hot issues. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian flag was present in different squares in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya and the masses were chanting in several cases “Today here and tomorrow in Jerusalem.” In Egypt, for example, the masses celebrated “the Friday for Jerusalem Day,” in Al Tahreer Square in May 2011 and they attacked the Israeli embassy in August and September 2011 and were about to break into it.

Indeed, the statements of a number of leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt regarding Israel and the United States were not sufficiently covered in the media which focused instead on vague declarations which were generally quoted out of their context. For example, in his weekly message published on 19/5/2011, Mohammad Badei’, the Supreme Guidance of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that Israel would not know security or stability as long as it belittles the rights of Palestinians. (Al-Khaleej Daily, Sharjah, 20/5/2011)

In a statement published in mid September 2011, Badei’ said that the Muslim Brotherhood considers Palestine a priority. He further clarified that the former Egyptian regime has not justly served the Palestinian cause, but rather abandoned it for the interests of the “Zionist-American project.” This, Badei’ concluded, was one of the reasons for the Egyptian uprising which has sought to support the Palestinian people (Sama News Agency, 18/9/2011). In selections of his weekly message published on 17/9/2011 by Al-Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper, Badei’ launched a severe attack on American policies. He demanded the US Administration to address the fact that Israel occupies Palestine and has usurped the Palestinian land and uprooted its rightful owners. He added that if America was really concerned about abolishing terrorism, then it must look for its motives and causes. These, to Badei’, are undoubtedly embedded within “conquering people, condescending at them, and treating them with double standards; all of which are specifically rooted in the Palestinian exodus.” He concluded that the Arab revolts have risen to face that Zionist-American challange.

Similarly, Mohamed Morsi, President of the Egyptian Al Huriya wa Al ‘Adala (Freedom and Justice) Party, mentioned in a press release published on 23/1/2012 that the Palestinian cause was, still is and will remain, vital to the Egyptian people, especially that it was one of the fundamental triggers for the revolution of the Egyptian people.

In Tunisia, Rashed Al-Ghanoushi dedicated the victory of al-Nahda (Renaissance) Party in the elections to “Palestine, Jerusalem, Gaza and the Palestinian people.” He also attested that the heroic steadfastness of Gaza had inspired the whole Muslim nation. (Al-Quds Al-Arabi Newspaper, London, 27/10/2011) 

In another occasion, Al-Ghanoushi stated that the case of Palestine is that of a nation

[Arab and Muslim Ummah] rather than of the Palestinian people, and it cannot be restored except by unity. He attested that the interest in the Palestinian cause is a matter of conviction and “betraying Jerusalem is tantamount to betraying the Quran; thus, we shall not fall short in supporting the Palestinians” (WAFA, 24/11/2011). However, these clear, strong statements did not garner much attention in contrast to ambiguous stances which were quoted in separation from the whole statement he delivered in a symposium held by “Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy” on 30/11/2011.

This article does not allow for much citing, but it is important not to rush in forming accusations to Islamists because of partial and out-of-context statements, without taking into consideration their general public stands and statements which their leadership have expressed.

6. There is a clear, sometimes intentional, mix-up between the position of Islamists as political parties and the practical way with which they execute their positions within constitutional and political institutions. For example, the Muslim Brothers absolutely reject the Camp David agreement and dialogue with the Israelis. However, they believe that amendment or cancellation of such an agreement should go through the Egyptian constitutional institutions which represent the public. Therefore, they want others to understand that the Egyptian position is not just that of the Muslim Brotherhood but that of the people and that standing the consequences of this decision with its possible repercussions will be held by the people and not only by one party or movement.

7. Islamists were and remain to be among the top popular forces which have supported resistance and refused to relinquish any part of Palestine. On top of that, Islamists have been among the most prominent forces of resistance in Palestine and have paid high prices for their stances throughout the past years. Therefore, it would be unfair to hasten in concluding that the Islamists had fallen short in their commitments towards Palestine, before listening to them and trying to understand their circumstances

8. Entering the political realm for the first time, a number of Islamic powers seem to lack the skill and expertise for using appropriate political terminology or presenting cohesive political proposals. The basis for better understanding in such cases is reading the map of all positions and statements of the leaders representing these movements and monitoring what is really being executed on the ground, without maliciously selecting some gaps or errors, which do not reflect the truth.

In this context, it is clear that some international, and even Arab, media outlets which oppose the Muslim Brothers, seek to disfigure them through focusing on their loopholes and slips of tongue instead of reflecting a true image of their positions.

It goes without saying that there is a need to attend to the source of information and assure its credibility. It is noticed that the Israeli and Western media, despite its professionalism, is sometimes far from neutrality in its wording of the news. The Brotherhood in Egypt has already denied what was published by Ma’ariv newspaper regarding Israeli contacts with the movement to initiate a dialogue with it. Mahmoud Ghazlan, a member of the Guidance Bureau (top Brotherhood leadership) and the Brotherhood spokesperson, stressed the Brotherhood’s absolute refusal for any meetings or dialogue with the “Zionist entity” and emphasized that publishing such reports solely aims at internationally disfiguring the Brotherhood’s image. Ghazlan added that the Muslim Brothers definitely refuse “the Zionist existence in Palestine and assure their solid demands of freeing Palestine from the River to the Sea” (Al-Rai Daily, Kuwait, 20/12/2012).

Points for Consideration

Perhaps the previous points have clarified some of the objective circumstances which make the Palestinian issue not much present in the discourse of Islamists at the current stage. However, the Islamists may consider the following remarks:

1. The Islamic project of change is a progressive project which adopts the nation’s aspirations and causes. The Islamic proposal must be of clear aspects and vision and should neither be captivated by internal concerns nor by vague and ambiguous expressions, which set it at a distance from its supporters who chose it for its Islamic commitment

2. Islamists have moved forward with the process of reassuring the West more than they should have in terms of the nation’s causes on top of which is Palestine. However, such assurances must not come at the expense of its credibility or people’s confidence in its orientations. Besides, there are many procedures and positions which can be adopted to support Palestine without necessarily having to rush into a confrontation with the US and Israel.

3. The general aspirations of the masses which have guided the change process and overthrown the regimes are not limited to internal concerns or daily life matters. In fact, they have also revolted for their dignity that has been insulted in Palestine and Iraq. Similarly, they have revolted in an attempt to restore their civilizational and cultural role which cannot be achieved except by breaking the narrow local frameworks and unequivocally attending for the nation’s issues.

4. Empowering the position of Islamists in their own countries cannot be attained by casting away their opponents and appeasing them. Rather, it needs sticking more with the masses which have made the change and responding to their aspirations. The positions associated with the regaining of Palestine and Jerusalem, the nonrecognition of Israel, supporting the resistance and breaking the siege are positions which enjoy wide popular support. Such support is a true uplift for Islamists and a safety net for the implementation of their projects. While being as important as fighting corruption and securing development, it is by itself a test of the credibility of the Islamists.

The original Arabic article appeared on Al on 1/3/2012

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 17/3/2012