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