'third force' awaits US in
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
As the United States squares off against Iraq and the
regime of Saddam Hussein there is not much doubt as to
whom the winners and losers will be. But if one looks a little closer at Iraq
and beyond, there is evidence of a third element, an
Islamic movement spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood,
that could also be a winner.
After Iraq's bloody
nose in the 1991 Gulf War, the dynamics of the country's
religious society underwent a change, out of which
emerged growing support for the Brotherhood. The
government is well aware of this, but desperate to cover
On the surface, today's Iraq is Saddam's
fiefdom. He is everything: the army, the jury, the judge
and the executioner. Hospitals, universities and even a
mental hospital are named after him, and what he
dictates constitutes the country's religion. To go
against Saddam's writ is to invite detention and even
In the post-Cold War environment and
after the rap on the knuckles he received over his
ill-conceived invasion of Kuwait, Saddam realized that
he needed an ideology to prop up his authority and his
regime. He used Islam to do this.
hundreds of mosques built all over the Iraq. He
established a fully-fledged Islamic university, called,
of course, Saddam University, where only Islamic
theology is taught and where Sunni Islam is promoted,
while the beliefs of the majority Shi'ites are ignored.
Dancing clubs were closed, casinos were shut down,
prostitution was strictly banned and bars became a part
of history (liquor shops are still allowed, but drinking
at public places is forbidden). In a parliament of 250
members, 12 Islamic scholars were inducted.
these steps Saddam strengthened his political empire,
but he still felt that the country was vulnerable to
external and undesirable Islamic ideas and influences.
So he took steps to plug this potential gap. In
particular, all literature of the Muslim Brotherhood was
banned in Iraq. It remains so, even at Saddam
University, even for reference purposes.
Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest Islamist group in the
Arab world, founded as a religious and political
organization in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna in
opposition to secular tendencies in Islamic nations and
in search of a return to the original precepts of the
It grew rapidly, establishing an
educational, economic, military and political
infrastructure in Egypt and then in other countries,
such as Syria, Sudan and Arab nations, where it exists
largely as a clandestine but militant group, marked by
its rejection of Western influences.
the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic
Action Front, is an important opposition party. The
Muslim Brotherhood has given rise to a number of more
militant and violent organizations, such as Hamas, Jamaa
al-Islamiya and Islamic Jihad.
best efforts of Saddam's security apparatus,
including monitoring all those who attend mosques, the
Brotherhood has managed to plant seeds in the minds of
For example, although Dr Yusuf
Al-Qardawi is no longer a leader of the Muslim
Brotherhood, he is recognized as a leading Islamic
scholar in the Middle East. His books are included in
the syllabus of Saddam University. Similarly, the
seminal Koranic commentary written by Syed Qutub is also
included as a reference book.
According to a
teacher at Saddam University, a student reading these
books will gain an insight into the philosophies and
ideas of the Brotherhood. At the same time, the books'
footnotes give references to other important "firebrand"
literature relating to the Muslim Brotherhood. As a
result, a demand has been generated, and these books are
now smuggled into the country, mostly from Syria.
Over the past few years some suspected
members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, and
simply disappeared from sight, along with their families.
In the past six months, however, after crackdowns at
Saddam University where suspected Brotherhood members
were arrested and literature seized, the suspects
were subsequently freed with warnings after a few weeks in
The reason for this, apparently, is
the realization that the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq is
now not limited to a few individuals. They exist in many
underground groups from north to south, and authorities
fear that any repressive action will generate a fierce
Saddam faces problems in the north
from the Kurds and in the south from Shi'ites. He does
not want any problem with the Sunni population, which up
until now has been stable and in his favor.
Beyond Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood is
also gaining strength. This correspondent was in Jordan,
for example, when the Islamic Action Front declared a
jihad in favor of Iraq and Palestine if the US attacks
Iraq. In Jordan's capital, Amman and elsewhere in the
country, despite the existence of a clearly pro-US monarchy,
the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front
are registering volunteers at colleges and universities
to go and fight against the US in Iraq and against
Israel in Palestine.
Any war against Iraq, then,
is likely to further strengthen the hand of the Muslim
Brotherhood across the region in general, and within
Iraq in particular, making them yet another complicating
factor in the post-Saddam world.
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