By Jamal Khashoggi
In mid-December 1992, Mohammad Ali Ibrahim, a Muslim Brotherhood leader in Somalia, visited me in my Jeddah office of al-Hayat newspaper because he had a statement he desired to publish. In the statement, the Brotherhood warned of American intervention in their war-torn country. At the time, Somalia was about to enter its third year of a grinding civil war which did not only destroy the country but also led to a famine which claimed some 300,000 lives with no hope on the horizon that warlords would sit and negotiate to end the crisis.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
This synchronized with former American President George Bush’s (senior) desire to improve the U.S.’s reputation following the war of liberating Kuwait, which Bush won alongside his Gulf allies but which angered other Arab and Muslim people. Somalia seemed like an easy task for him. Perhaps he thought if he restored security there, it would count as proof that the Americans do act for humanitarian causes and not simply to profit from oil windfalls. However, the logic of conspiracy theories reigns and trust in the U.S. counts for little. Therefore, the Somalian Brotherhood leader was not enthusiastic about this American campaign. Truth be told, such behavior by the Brotherhood did not surprise anyone as it is a typical Brotherhood stance. Two years before this incident took place, the Brotherhood’s political miscalculations revealed themselves during the phase of building an international alliance to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The Brotherhood’s stance was doubtful and it served Saddam to a higher degree than it served their traditional allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. It was a fateful phase of which they are still paying the price.
I asked Ibrahim why his party was against American intervention in Somalia although the country was torn apart and there was little hope that they could end the war on their own. He brought up conspiracy theories which were popular at the time and said the Americans were either coming to besiege the Islamic tide in Sudan (the national salvation revolution was in its infancy and was under pressure after it made the mistake of siding with Saddam Hussein) or coming out of greed for Somalian uranium and not out of love for the miserable people of Somalia. On Sudan, I told him it was none of their business and that they should let the Sudanese people handle their own affairs. I told him Somalia should work on itself and that the Brotherhood are weak but educated so they should cooperate with the Americans to stop the civil war and establish a national government and then they can participate in building a new Somalia. I also told him that a donors’ conference could be held at a later date to help Somalia. He angrily interrupted me and said: “I already said the Americans are not coming for our sake! They are coming out of their greed for uranium.” I coldly said: “And in this case, work on the Somalia nuclear reactor will stop!?” He didn’t like my answer and said I was mocking him so he took the statement and decided to leave. However, I soothed him and sent the statement for publication and a summary of it was published. I admit, I was not accurate as I chose statements (from the written statement and from my conversation with Ibrahim) that implied they are ready to cooperate with American forces. Of course, he reprimanded me the day after. But we didn’t change history as they neither cooperated with the Americans nor did the Americans succeeded at their task. The latter withdrew six months later. Twenty years on and until this very day, Somalia still suffers from a hideous civil war which turned from tribal fighting into terrorism and extremism led by al-Qaeda.
Nothing has changed
I recalled this story as I looked at a statement for Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi – who I think should maintain his prestige by quitting politics. In the statement, Qaradawi rejected the planned military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He said: “I totally disagree with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s ideology and methods but I will never accept that the party to fight them be the United States.” He justified his stance saying that America “is not motivated (to act) by Islamic values but by its own interests (which it seeks to serve) even if blood is shed.”
It is much the same stance as that held by the Somali leader I met in 1992. This opinion, however, is not exclusive to Qaradawi as the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and Egypt agree with him. What’s even more surprising is that Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood – which is also in dire need of foreign intervention to topple the Assad regime - have announced that they reject foreign intervention in their country and said they prefer to lift the ban on importing arms to Syrian rebels capable of toppling the regime on their own!
Jordan’s Brotherhood addressed an additional fear in their statement, which is no less eloquent and enthusiastic than other similar statements. They said intervention is an attempt to sew new divisions in the Middle East and murder its people. It’s as if the Middle East is not currently being divided by its own people who are killing one another! The statement by Egypt’s Brotherhood implies that there is a bigger conspiracy that goes beyond the war on ISIS. To back its allegations, the Muslim Brotherhood said the West raised the slogan of fighting terrorism as an excuse to attack the Islamic world, tear it apart and occupy its countries. It also referred to America’s injustice against the natives and its usage of the nuclear bomb against Japan. It went on and on with its usual rhetoric which is more suited to an enthusiastic beginner journalist and not a political party which once made it to power and dealt with the U.S. on both the official and unofficial levels. This pattern of political intellect and analysis makes the Brotherhood stumble; however they keep resorting to this intellect as if they’ve learnt nothing from their past experiences. Why so? It is because it’s a rhetoric that aims to gain applause and chants of “Allahu Akbar.” Thus, it is not a rhetoric of policies which requires action on the ground.
Is the Brotherhood as such because its leaders are raised in an environment full of lecturing, preaching and ideals? Or is it due to spending such a long time outside real political governance that they have not gained political skills and wit or even the logic of giving priority to their interests?
The Brotherhood’s confusion regarding the international alliance against ISIS is a simple example of their political crisis - in comparison with their disastrous mistake in Egypt. But to address all these mistakes requires a revolution from within the Brotherhood, which requires eliminating their old leaders to replace them with politically aware youths. Or even better, the Brotherhood’s role must be limited to dawa, preaching and guiding, and they must thus leave politics to those who are good at it.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on September 20, 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.