Muslim Brothers: are they really not that bad?

Koert Debeuf, an employee of the European liberals in Cairo, is preparing us for the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. "They will take the political leadership in the Middle East," he writes in the Flemish weekly magazine Knack. But that's not too bad, because according to him, "we have to compare Muslim Brothers to US Republicans."

Last month I happened to have lunch with members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in Washington DC and I did not feel like I was sitting with the equivalent of Muslim Brothers. The Republican Party is, like the Democratic Party, an electoral association through which candidates for office - from Governor to President - must fight their battle of ideas in the primaries. Republicans and Democrats do not have an omnipotent party chairman as Belgium does. Registered party members decide. Is religion an exclusive Republican feature? Democratic Conventions also open in prayer. Do only Republicans stand with the US Armed Forces? Marines also carry the American flag into Democratic Conventions. Are Republicans shunning women? I have the impression that a majority of the American conservative movement are women. Look at opinion leaders such as Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Michèle Malkin, Liz Cheney, Bay Buchanan etc. Egyptian Muslim Sisters I have not heard that much about.

On the contrary, Muslim brothers in Egypt and Tunisia want to Islamicise their states, including the position of women. Egyptian Muslim brothers do not want a woman as a Presidential candidate, and by the way Copts need not apply either. Debeuf cites Michèle Bachmann as an example of a 'Muslim Republican'. In Egypt she would not be allowed to submit her candidacy. In the US she could. She was among the first candidates to fall aside. Apparently, her notion of homosexuality was not appreciated too much. Ultimately, the voter decides.

Debeuf regards Rick Santorum as an American version of a Muslim brother. I did not hear Santorum say that the US Constitution should be replaced by the Old Testament. The Muslim Brotherhood enshrines the Koran as the constitution, as does Saudi Arabia. Sharia law is therefore anchored. If you compare Debeuf's way of reasoning one can equally say that his political boss, Guy Verhofstadt - in particular when you see him raving in the European Parliament - looks more like a Muslim Brother than, for example, the occasionally lacklustre Mitt Romney. Only the beard is still missing.

Debeuf confuses the place of politics and religion in society. Western Europe is highly secularized. Christian Democrats rarely refer to the Bible and are more like a power cartel without a distinct religious identity. In fact, Christian Democrats are socialists who (occasionally) attend church. Outside of Europe, religion plays a public role, like in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the US and of course in the Arab world. Europe is the exception, not the rule. In the US, Latin America and Asia, there is generally a separation between church and state, for example in Indonesia, the most populous Muslin country. In the US, the founding fathers ensured a separation between church and state in the constitution, aiming to guarantee political and religious freedom. Precisely for that reason did the first pilgrims flee Europe to settle in a new world.

However, in the Arab world there is a trend from secularization to Islamization, under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood. They conquered the political space because their social and political organizations could quickly be turned into an electoral machine. They could also cash the "opposition dividend" against the autocratic leaders, such as the Tunisian Ben Ali, whose party was a member of the Socialist International, thus the sister party of Belgian socialist parties.

But Tunisia is not going in the right direction. I was an observer at the elections in Tunisia in late October of last year. It is a secular country in itself, but the Muslim movement Ennahda (rebirth), obtained 40 percent of the votes. Tunisia has a much stronger civil society than Egypt, but Ennahda has begun to nibble. Nabil Karoui, owner of a television channel, was asked to appear in court simply because he broadcasted the film Persepolis which showed an image of God. Radical Muslims threw Molotov cocktails at his house. Ennahda supports the process. Human Rights Watch calls the situation "alarming".

With his reference to the "Muslim Republicans", Debeuf tries to make us believe that the Muslim Brothers are not that bad after all. This is dangerously naive. They will gradually Islamicise their countries. The Iranian Nobel laureate and fighter for women's rights, Mrs Shirin Ebadi, warns in The Wall Street Journal of March 15 for the consequences of the Arab Spring. "In Egypt, political leaders talk about a return to Islamic law that results in a decline of women's rights as we had seen in Iran in 1979. We were pressed back in time 1400 years".

Republicans abolished slavery; Muslim Brothers are introducing the slavery of women.

Koert, wake up!

Published on 22 March, 2012 in the NRC