Regardless of the widespread cacophony, the decision by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (EMB) to contest the presidency is calculated to stop a “quiet coup” by the country’s top brass. The revolution within the EMB is no less important than the January 25 uprising that ousted Mubarak. Despite wide criticism, the EMB along with its political arm – the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – ups the ante on the presidential elections. By settling on an EMB presidential nominee, the Ikhwan have not only raised political stakes, but also the value of contestation, even if the nomination of Khairat al-Shater may not be devoid of risks. What is the crux of this new dynamic and what is the significance of al-Shater’s nomination?
Only for a brief hiatus since its inception in 1928 have al-Banna’s society of brethren veered off the path of their preferred two-fold praxis of evolutionary and non-confrontational politics. That was during the 1960s-70s when the ideas of Sayyid Qutb developed a manhaj or framework of political change in which education (tarbiyah) and martial resistance formed its two extremes. That is, a twin modus operandi comprising both evolutionary and revolutionary routes for change. All of that was changed by Hassan Al-Hudaybi’s 1977 seminal treatise “du’at la quadat” (Preachers not judges). The book restored “wasatiyyah” (centrist politics) to its former place in the Ikhwani curriculum, originally designed by the EMB’s founder, Imam Hassan Al-Banna.
Four of the EMB’s General Guides I was privileged to interview – as part of an ongoing longitudinal investigation into the brethren’s conception of democracy begun in 1992 – confirm that the “du’at la qudat” ethos to be integral to the overall political imaginary of the Ikhwan. They all respect Sayyid Qutb’s prodigious intellect, but view his input into political change (dubbed “radical” in most scholarly narratives) to be the exception not the rule. This is where the Ikhwan are today: in the midst of a post-Qutbist moment. They are embracing centrist politics and totally discarding Qutbist ideology.