Muslim Brotherhood praise for terrorists undermines claims of non-violence
"We are not terrorists... Our flaws are many, but violence is not one." So wrote Gehad el-Haddad, the former media spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, in The New York Times on February 22.
Sent from Tora Prison, where he has been incarcerated for the past three years, Haddad's opinion piece is a rare admission of mistakes made by the Muslim Brotherhood under the short-lived Morsi administration.
He acknowledges the movement was guilty of "political manoeuvring" that lost it popular support in Egypt, but insists it was and remains committed to non-violence - and so did not deserve the severe repression its members, alongside other civil society groups, have faced in Egypt following the 2013 military coup.
Interestingly, two days before this article appeared, a posting on the Muslim Brotherhood's official website raised a question mark over whether the movement was really as committed to non-violence as Haddad claims.
February saw the much-publicised death in February of Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman in a US jail, where he was serving a life sentence for conspiracy to conduct terrorist attacks in America. Before seeking exile in the US, Abd al-Rahman became famous as the spiritual leader of the Gamaa Islamiyya, that waged terrorist attacks against Copts, tourists and the security forces in Egypt in the 1990s.
|The Muslim Brotherhood website offers condolences to the Gamaa Islamiyya over the death of Sheikh Omar and hopes that his actions on Earth were sufficiently meritorious to earn him a seat at the highest level of Paradise|
He is also credited with giving legal sanction for the Jihad movement, then led by al-Qaeda's current head Ayman al-Zawahiri, to murder Egypt's President Sadat in 1981.
The Muslim Brotherhood website offers condolences to the Gamaa Islamiyya over the death of Sheikh Omar and hopes that his actions on Earth were sufficiently meritorious to earn him a seat at the highest level of Paradise.
There is a stark contradiction between the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand insisting on its implacable non-violence and praising a religious authority who has indulged in takfir to justify political assassination, given his blessing to the murder of civilians and inspired groups that have hijacked religion for violent ends across the region and beyond.
Back in the 1960s, when the Brotherhood faced similar fierce repression at the hands of the Egyptian authorities, the then-leader, Hasan al-Hudaybi, sought to pull it back from the path of violence and takfir charted by Sayyid Qutb.
Hudaybi's famous work Du'at la qudat ["Preachers not judges"] was a plea for the movement not to go down the cul de sac of terrorism that threatened its existence.
It was largely thanks to Hudaybi that the movement was able to rebuild, disbanding its armed wing and refocusing on social work and recruitment - da'wa.
Half a century later, it seems the Brotherhood has still not made the fundamental break with violence and with terrorist groups such as the Gamaa Islamiyya, Jihad and al-Qaeda that grew up in the aftermath of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
|It is not the case that Abd al-Rahman's violent career was all over so long time ago that he is of no relevance today|
Still the movement seems to esteem men such as Omar Abd al-Rahman, who preach war against rulers they deem ungodly and the murder of those who publicly oppose their religious totalitarianism, even trying to kill Egypt's Nobel prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz.
It is not the case that Abd al-Rahman's violent career was all over so long time ago that he is of no relevance today. Al Qaeda issued a statement after his death accusing the US authorities of killing him and threatening vengeance.
If the Muslim Brotherhood really has aspirations to become an accepted part of the democratic process in Egypt and across the region, it is surely time it goes beyond pleading its non-violence - and really distances itself clearly from those that espouse murder and terrorism in the name of religion.
To do this it must make clear that its vision for society is fundamentally different from the nihilism of terrorist groups.
Having crossed the line into politics after the 2011 revolution, the movement must prove that it is committed to non-violence if it wishes to regain a place in political life. Part of this is to condemn, not celebrate, those religious figures that have and continue to promote murder in the name of faith.
If a new generation of Brotherhood leaders cannot do even that, not only will authoritarian Arab governments be able to present all Islamist movements as terrorist by nature, but the Brotherhood will fail to win back public support - however many letters its leaders write from jail.
David Powell worked for 20 years as journalist in pan-Arab television news, including BBC Arabic and MBC. He is now a an analyst of Middle East affairs specialising in media and Islamist movements.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.