The past four years witnessed a significant transformation inside the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the impact of which will likely be felt for generations to come. Sudden changes in the group’s fortunes, from seizing power, to quickly losing it in a coup, to subsequently suffering the worst crackdown in its history, have left the Brotherhood searching for answers to chart a path forward. The group’s use of violence as a methodology for change has been a key feature of this forced reevaluation in the new Egyptian context.
Although much debate in recent decades has focused on the group’s commitment to democracy and electoral politics, the body of the organization has not significantly evolved ideologically. In its early days, the group had no trouble reconciling clandestine violent action through its Secret Apparatus while its leader Hassan al-Banna engaged in politics and even ran for office. The reality is that the Brotherhood in Egypt was never new to electoral politics and democracy for it to have registered as a significant “evolution” in scholarship exploring the group’s attitudes.
When President Sadat released Muslim Brothers from prison in the 1970s, they were allowed to rebuild their organization, and eventually, under Mubarak, they once again participated in elections. The group “abandoned” violence then because it was unnecessary and futile. Although soldiery and violence is not central to the Muslim Brotherhood’s stated methodology for social and political change, at least in the initial stages, it features in Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna’s writings and vision for an ideal Muslim society.1 The group may have been non-violent since the 1970s, but it was never pacifist, and this proved to be key when the Brotherhood faced its first true adversity since the abrupt end of its decades long détente with the Egyptian state in 2013.
There are no more than 900,000 full members of the organization inside Egypt,2 yet with their families, low level members, and supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood represents an important minority in Egyptian society. More importantly, the global nature of the organization and the historical centrality of the Egyptian chapter still makes the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood important to both Muslim Brothers worldwide and Islamism overall.
For this reason, it is important to carefully examine the relationship between one of the oldest Islamist movements in the world and violence over the past four years, and what ideological revisions have taken place. This paper will focus more on the latter, specifically related to a recent book authored by a group of Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamist scholars, which was sanctioned by the then leadership of the organization inside Egypt, titled The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup.3 The book provides a critical insight into how some scholars have successfully attempted to reconcile the group’s methodology with violence. Those who advocate such violence do not call it so, as violence to them has a negative connotation. Rather, they deem it to be a form of legitimate defensive Jihad or “resistance.” Other leaders in the organization have rejected this approach, favoring a more gradualist strategy. Some believe that the time is not ripe for violence, while others see murders and assassinations as redlines that are not to be crossed.
The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup and other documents and statements by Brotherhood and allied Islamist leaders explicitly show how at least one major faction of the organization has supported violent action within Egypt. Although there are strong indications that this faction and its associated splinter groups possibly have operational ties to terrorist groups in Egypt today, such as Hassm and Liwaa al-Thawra, this paper will not discuss the issue of operational linkages to violence and its implications for a possible terrorist designation of the Egyptian chapter. Nor will it focus in detail on the chronology of the dizzying leadership disputes within the organization, except where it relates to the issue of violence. Instead, the focus will be on offering context for the book, with translated excerpts,4 and analysis to help address the knowledge deficit in academic and policy circles regarding the question of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and violence.
The Brotherhood’s Rebirth
The July 2013 coup may have shaken the Brotherhood to its core, but what brought it to its knees were the subsequent months of mass arrests, killings, and near total breakdown in command and control. However, not all senior leaders were imprisoned or fled; some remained operational inside Egypt, including members of the group’s most senior executive body: The Guidance Bureau. Key among them was Guidance Bureau member Mohamed Kamal, an ENT physician and medical school professor from Asyut5 who had overseen the Brotherhood in the Upper Egyptian governorate before his rise to the senior post in 2011.6 Kamal may have been a largely unknown figure to outsiders, but he exercised enormous influence inside the Muslim Brotherhood and over its inner workings until he was killed by security forces in an October 2016 raid at the age of 61.
Magdy Shalash, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader responsible for key governorates in the Delta and former professor of Jurisprudence Principles at al-Azhar University, was one of Kamal’s top deputies and explained his significance during a 2016 interview on Turkey-based pro-Muslim Brotherhood channel Mekamleen:
“After the clearing of Rabaa al-Adawiya [square], he [Kamal] and his Brothers left [the square] and reunited the Muslim Brotherhood. He managed the Muslim Brotherhood through what was called the Crisis Committee, or the High Administrative Committee, which was seconded by the General Shura Council [of the Muslim Brotherhood] in February 2014… [he could be credited for] establishing a new generation in the life of the dawah of the Muslim Brotherhood.”7
Kamal greenlit limited violent action in early 2014, in what the Egyptian government and even some Brothers called “Special Operations Committees.”8 The Muslim Brotherhood internally called it a plan to “disorient, attrite, and fail [the regime].” 9 Kamal oversaw the affairs of the Brotherhood uncontested until Spring 2015, when his detractors attempted to take over the leadership of the organization. A year later, he offered his resignation from the executive committee, but maintained de-facto leadership until his death. He benefited from the fact that, unlike many of his detractors, he was on the ground and had rebuilt the Brotherhood internally.
Several factors, including personality clashes, careerism, and arguments over whom had legitimacy, contributed to the leadership disagreements. Some older leaders protested Kamal’s new committee, claiming it was meant to be temporary and not to replace the actual Guidance Bureau, and thus not replace them and their positions. Some of these older leaders, like Mahmoud Ghozlan, Acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat, Deputy Acting Supreme Guide Ibrahim Mounir, and Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein began to talk more about “non-violence” in spring 2015, and lobbed hushed accusations that Kamal and his wing were abandoning the “fundamentals” of non-violent action.10
The exact reasons for the falling out are still being examined. However, the centrality of disagreements over violent action is indisputable. There was also much talk of disagreements in “visions,” although this tended to ultimately boil down to the issue of what constitutes “revolutionary action” and what can be done to overthrow the regime short of full-scale armed confrontation. Other issues were and still are at the center of the debate. These include disagreements over how best to engage the international community, media, the Egyptian population, and other political players, as well as technical matters related to bylaws, terms of appointments, and opening the space for younger leaders to climb the ranks and energize the organization. Yet the consequential nature of the question of violence has always cast a shadow over the different disagreements between quarreling factions.
The older leaders comprising the so-called “old guard” waited over a year and a half before voicing their objections—something that Kamal’s supporters keenly point out. Where they simply unaware of the activities of Kamal and his associates, thus really never having influence over the organization in the first place? Or did it become clear that Kamal’s plan was ineffective and even counterproductive as the Brotherhood paid a human cost and its international reputation as a non-violent organization was now being scrutinized? It is difficult to ascertain intentions. Yet it is important to note that this “old guard” had, for instance, found satellite networks like Masr al-An, which explicitly incited violence and cheered armed groups as late as spring 2015.11
Understanding the internal machinations of the post-coup executive committee overseeing the affairs of the Muslim Brotherhood is critical to shedding light on the nature of the debate over violence and the group’s relationship to it. This is highly contested, due to the secretive nature of these matters and the conflicting narratives pushed by either the Muslim Brotherhood, their apologists, or the regime. Although this confusion should not surprise observers, the result has been a collective resignation among researchers, journalists, and others that no information can be known and that the organization’s relationship with violence simply remains unsubstantiated. The reality is far more complex.
Even the most cursory reading of literature and articles published on Islamist platforms shows how the issue was being internally debated. Some of the content posted on Islamist websites like Noonpost and others drop any pretensions that the Muslim Brotherhood, whether in whole or a faction, has not had any relationship to violence. A prime example can be found in a series of articles written by Islamist researcher Ahmad al-Tilawy,12 who describes himself as “loyal [Muslim] Brother” who formerly was in the organization proper.13 Although al-Tilawy’s focus, like other Islamist writers, is not on the issue of violence—as they see focusing on this as harmful to the organization and unfair due to the differences in opinion—they nonetheless cannot avoid mentioning the issue when discussing internal disagreements. In a February 2016 article explaining the internal disagreements inside the Brotherhood, al-Tilawy wrote:
“The main disagreement [related to] the use of cadres and financing of activities that were not adopted by the [Brotherhood] leadership in accordance to the rules of Shura [consultation] per the bylaws. Specifically, as it relates to a project adopted by the [Brotherhood] leadership which is the creation of “strong arms,” which is a special apparatus inside the Muslim Brotherhood that is meant to carry out specific special operations during the stage of Hassm [decisiveness] with the regime. This is after the stages of disorienting and attrition [of the enemy]. These are the three stages that the [Brotherhood] specified in its literature following the coup in order to overthrow the military regime and bring back legitimacy [Morsi]… [the old guard] did not believe that this stage [Hassm] has come about yet.”14
It is perhaps a coincidence that only months later a new terrorist group called Hassm, which is suspected of Muslim Brotherhood ties due to the background of its cadres and ideology, unleashed an ongoing campaign of violence across Egypt.15 Notably, old guard Muslim Brotherhood Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein appeared to explicitly confirm al-Tilawy’s mention of an early plan of “disorienting and attrition,” understood to mean the types of low-level violence that swept Egypt early on after the coup. The brief and perhaps accidental revelation happened during a January 2016 interview on the old guard owned channel Watan.16 Hussein was being questioned on strategic planning and answered that plans come and go and must be reevaluated as conditions change, giving the example of “disorienting and attrition” as an early plan that was later replaced.17
In an interview conducted by the author of a Muslim Brotherhood youth who had been incarcerated and now works for a Brotherhood-tied online website, the term “disorienting and attrition” was confirmed as having been discussed by the group’s cadres and leaders, but that many found it to be insufficient, due to its focus on arson and small bombings.18
Al-Tilawy went on to write that:
“The other wing which is represented by Dr. Mohamed Kamal…did indeed begin in using some youths in these special operations, which included activities such as attacking army and police checkpoints and [public] facilities. Something which the other leaders did not wish, at least at this stage and the way it was done, as there were dead among citizens, army, and police.”19
In his 2016 interview on Mekamleen, Brotherhood leader Shalash provided further context and confirmation of what Al-Tilawy wrote and others have expressed in interviews with this author regarding the “disorientation and attrition” plan. Commenting on the issue of strategic planning under Kamal, Shalash commented, “[Kamal’s committee] understood the revolutionary role that the stage necessitated and the revolutionary action that suited at that time.”20
Shalash, as is common with all other Brotherhood leaders in his faction, carefully uses words such as “power,” “strength,” and “tools of power,” in clear contrast to proposals for mere protests, and “revolutionary” as a euphemism for action that goes beyond non-violent protests. In fact, some Muslim Brotherhood leaders have explicitly deemed arson and blowing up electricity pylons as “levels of non-violence” or “creative non-violence.”21
The vagueness is intentional, but also not entirely difficult to decipher. Shalash explained that when there was an initial “unambitious” proposal that merely called for protests, the group’s base roundly rejected it and clamored for a “strong plan,” as they wished for reprisal and to decisively overthrow the government.22 Mass arrests, killings of over 1,000 Islamists, abuses in prisons, and Islamist incitement fueled these calls for violent action as it became both politically permissible and religiously proper as a form of “self-defense,” if even “preemptive self-defense.” Kamal and the committee responded to this call with their revised plan of “disorienting, attrition, and failing [the coup] …then after that, focus[ing] on the joints of the regime and deal[ing] with it so that the regime falls in the hands of the revolutionaries.”23 The curious choice of words in discussing the “joints” of the regime may appear convoluted at first and, although it is never explicitly stated to reveal attacking the foundations of the regime so it may collapse, Shalash strongly hints at this. In the same interview, Shalash clarified that these “joints” are only few and if the “revolutionaries owned limited and simple tools they can deal with this regime.”24
The consistent emphasis on what is understood to be a limited approach to violence is due to the unpopularity of proposing full scale armed confrontation, which virtually all Brothers recognize is a doomed endeavor. Shalash himself recognizes this in the interview when he contrasts his and Kamal’s “vision” with the militarism and whole scale violence their detractors accuse them of promoting. This is in fact a critical distinction that is central to the nature of violent activity sanctioned by this Muslim Brotherhood faction, as the nature of violent activity is both convoluted and clandestine by design.
As the Mekamleen interview progressed, Shalash emphasized the significance of January 25, 2015, in Kamal’s planning by saying that it was the opening salvo of a strategy to bring the regime to its knees by January 2016. Indeed, January 2015 was perhaps one of the last times the Brotherhood came out in large numbers and caused significant havoc across the country through road blocks and other activities. Dozens were also killed and injured. At the same time, something new came to the fore. A group calling itself Revolutionary Punishment (RP) announced its founding and began to carry out several attacks.25 RP was significant due to its consistency and overt focus on using firearms to attack police, carrying out over 150 attacks during its roughly one year of activity.26 Although the group never revealed who was behind it, its rhetoric, ideology, area of operations, and choice of targets, clearly point to a connection with at least one faction inside the Brotherhood, especially as it was not a Salafi Jihadi group.Recent investigative reporting has demonstrated further evidence that Mohamed Kamal’s committee specifically founded RP and another group by the name Popular Resistance Movement.27
Another source of information that helps shed light on the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood’s internal disagreements and Kamal’s activities are the interrogation transcripts of jailed Brotherhood leaders affiliated with the old guard. The nature of this source is controversial, but the specific sources consulted are interrogations conducted by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, where there are no reports of torture. Prisoners can of course still be under duress due to prior torture or threat of it after the fact, but this is not known to be the case for senior leaders.
The content of the interrogations themselves makes them worth considering and have been corroborated by independent research. The leaders’ statements in the transcripts are diverse, indicating that it is unlikely to have been a government dictated script, and the Muslim Brotherhood did not dispute their content. For instance, some senior leaders refused to talk and denied all charges, while insisting the organization is non-violent and that they were mistreated, though not tortured. Leaders who do talk refrain from incriminating themselves and the Brotherhood as a whole. Curiously, most of the statements attempt to directly or indirectly lay the blame on Mohamed Kamal, painting him as a manipulative liar who acted without consulting them. This is surprising, considering the senior leadership position Kamal had both during and after the coup and even after these leaders’ arrests.
Old guard leaders easily tarnishing Kamal’s reputation appears to be a common theme. Senior leader Mohamed Sudan, in an interview with the author—ironically in the waiting area of the UK Parliament while his superior Ibrahim Mounir testified on the group’s activities—did as much. Sudan refrained from explicitly confirming that Kamal was involved in violent activity. He was, however, quite cautious with his words. “Mohamed Kamal had a different point of view from the others…he took his own decisions,” he said.28 “He would lie to intermediaries and tell them he had approval for decisions.”29 Sudan also appeared to lay the blame for the authorities killing several senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders in 2015 on Kamal. “Other movements [by Mohamed Kamal] led to the arrests of Mahmoud Ghozlan and Abdel Rahman al-Barr. Mohamed Kamal took risks. He made wrong assumptions about his power and the state. He is responsible for [this incident and arrests].”30 When asked specifically about Kamal and the Special Operations Committees, Sudan refused to specifically confirm or deny that the Muslim Brotherhood was violent, but added, “Mohamed Kamal is from Upper Egypt. They all have weapons there. There were rapes, imprisonment, and torture. You know the culture there and vendettas. The youth also pressured him. We [old guard leaders in the UK] were surprised by things that happened in Egypt done by the Muslim Brotherhood.”31
In his interrogation in Case no. 423/2015, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Saad Eliwa echoed the same. “Mohamed Kamal and three assistants would take decisions on their own. They were Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, Hussein Ibrahim, and Ali Batekh.”32 Elewa would go on to claim that he was unaware of what was happening and was surprised when a mid-level leader told him there were orders from the Guidance Bureau to engage in violence.33 At that time, he and others outside of Kamal’s close circle allegedly wanted to write a statement about the need for non-violence, but Kamal and others refused to sign it.34
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahmoud Ghozlan would allege the same story in his interrogation. He added, “we discovered that Dr. Mohamed Kamal was responsible for a group of youth calling themselves ‘The Special Operations Committee,’ and he would issue them orders carrying the name of the Guidance Bureau. These orders were not legitimate.”35 Ghozlan then alleged that when he and others tried to interfere and objected to the use of violence, specifically assassinations, Kamal and his wing said they were not legitimate and the differences escalated.36 “[I told Kamal] we used to hear about attacks that took place and we did not know that they were done under his orders.”37 Mohamed Mahna Moussa, a Muslim Brother, denied the charges against him but clarified the nature of “special operations” work. He said that all orders were coming from the same executive committee, but that the core of the disagreements were over “advanced operations”—specifically assassinations and any shedding of blood—which old guard leaders found objectionable.38
For their part, old guard affiliated leaders Abdel Rahman al-Barr and Mohamed Taha Wahdan categorically denied the charges against them, insisted the Muslim Brotherhood was non-violent, and went so far as to deny that Special Operations Committees ever existed or professed ignorance.39
Quarreling between the two Brotherhood factions continues to this day. Several attempts at mediation have failed. In December 2016, Kamal’s faction, whom can be called the “new guard,” launched a coup of their own and assumed all leadership positions inside the organization. They went so far as to relieve all senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders who were not imprisoned of their positions, including many old guard leaders. There are now two largely distinct factions claiming leadership over the group. Both sides do not recognize the legitimacy of the other, yet both are legitimately part of the Muslim Brotherhood. They also command their own constituencies, not only in Egypt, but also in foreign countries.
That Mohamed Kamal and his new guard had a relationship with violence and established the “Special Operations Committee” is no longer in serious dispute. The bitterness of the internal disagreements pushed each side to have to defend themselves and attack the other, leaving behind a trail of information that helps researchers piece together some of what had happened. When it comes to the old guard and the question of what relationship to low-level violence they may have had, and why exactly they ultimately turned on Kamal, this will likely continue to be a matter of deciphering who knew what when.
As he is now dead, it is easier to know about Kamal and some of his faction’s activities. Kamal was memorialized after his death by Egyptian terrorist group Liwaa al-Thawra in 2016, which is suspected of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, that Kamal was engaged in “Special Operations” work was so well-known in Brotherhood circles that in an interview with Islamist-leaning news site Masr al-Arabia Kamal’s own daughter commented:
“Dr. Mohamed [Kamal] was executed in this way, and all have tarnished him with [engaging in] violence, including leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood, because he wanted change…The issue [disagreements] were not about Special Operations Committees, but because [Kamal] was calling for a third founding for the Muslim Brotherhood through the injection of new blood and the reliance on youth…Special Operations Committees were just a part of the disagreement.”40
The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup
At the height of the internal disagreements in August 2015, a group called “The Sharia Committee of the Muslim Brotherhood” published a statement addressed to the entire organization on an affiliated though unofficial Muslim Brotherhood website.41 The statement takes and annoyed tone, as if emanating from a disillusioned, whistle-blowing employee. The authors claim the Muslim Brotherhood’s executive committee, headed by Mohamed Kamal, tasked them to formulate Sharia-based theorizations for “revolutionary work” in response to demands by the Brotherhood base for a religious opinion on the matter. They said that they had, in fact, written a complete study that they refrained from distributing widely for months, but have done so now in light of the growing disagreements over strategy. The statement linked to a file sharing website which hosted the only known link to their book. Upon inspection, the site showed that the document was uploaded in January 2015.
The scholars made several points in their statement:42
- That the “putschists,” meaning the post-coup Egyptian regime, are worse than the Khawarij—a despised early Muslim sect—and were worse than seditionists, as they pose a grave danger to the Ummah, or global Muslim community. They should therefore be treated as “aggressors.”
- That the Sharia ruling against the regime is “the necessity of resistance, in all of its forms and types.” The “resistance” ranges from “disabling” to “an equilibrium in fear and terror,” to “confrontation and Hassm [decisiveness].”
- That their rulings are general and that the “Sharia restrictions must be considered in execution.” They clarify that this half-step is to not “militarize the revolution and target innocents so that the revolutionaries may not be accused of violence.” Their study aims to educate the “revolutionaries” of their rights to fight back against the aggressors and “target only the guilty ones.”
- That their book was “recited word for word before the [Muslim Brotherhood] administration, was adopted by it, and was distributed to all Brothers.” And that it had an impact during the January 2015 protest wave.
- That their book is now the ownership of all Brothers and “it is not the right of any person or group to abrogate it…[because] it was adopted in a highly transparent and institutional manner.”
The statement and the book understandably created a great deal of controversy for its explicit nature. It took several months for this author to definitively authenticate that a body called the Sharia Committee of the Muslim Brotherhood did in fact exist, that the book was authentic, and was sanctioned by internal Brotherhood leadership at the time and even authored by some Brotherhood scholars.
The first corroboration of the existence of the Sharia Committee was by Muslim Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag when he was asked about it during a television interview on Al-Araby television network days after the statement.43 Darrag quipped that it should not be a surprise that a group like the Brotherhood, whose point of reference is Islam, would have a group of scholars to consult.44 When this author wrote an article in February 2016 in Foreign Affairs, in part discussing the book, the article was covered in a segment on a television show hosted by Muslim Brotherhood leader Hamza Zobaa on Mekamleen. In critiquing the article, Zobaa talked of the book and said that it did not sanction violence but rather “self-defense,” like the “liberations movements” in places such as Latin America, Mozambique, Zambia, and South Africa.45 Moreover, the Sharia Committee had begun to publish statements on its own Facebook page with its own logo before eventually changing its name to “The Association of the Revolution’s Scholars.”46
Most importantly, in correspondence with the author, Brotherhood leader Magdy Shalash confirmed the authenticity of the book and existence of the Sharia Committee.47 He further added that those who have cast doubt about the authenticity of the book were ignorant. At the time of the Sharia Committee statement and publishing of the book there was much confusion due to its heretofore secretive nature. A Brotherhood linked website, Rassd, had ran the sole story disputing the authenticity of the statement quoting leader Abdel Khaleq al-Sharif.48 Al-Sharif would later retract his statements on his personal Facebook page after saying that Muslim Brothers responsible for the committee reached out to him to explain that it indeed existed.49 Shalash confirmed the same to the author. He further explicitly confirmed that he participated in drafting the book. When asked about whom exactly commissioned the book, Shalash explained that a specialized committee working under the executive committee of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time oversaw their work.
Shalash had also said the same in his 2016 Mekamleen interview. When Shalash was asked about the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide’s famous line in 2013 “Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets,” he responded that this is not a fundamental of Islam nor even the Brotherhood, meaning that things can change. “There is a time when ‘our peacefulness is stronger than bullets,’ is appropriate and another when ‘our peacefulness is stronger with bullets.”50 He added that there is no debate over the issue of self-defense. He and the elected leadership of the Brotherhood have “transcended this and we have as a Sharia Committee established theorizations for revolutionary work…because the term ‘special operations,’ that is a security term.”51 Special Operations, as mentioned, is the term used by Egyptian authorities to specifically label violent Muslim Brotherhood operations. He also confirmed that the Sharia Committee was officially tasked by the executive committee, then headed by Kamal, with writing the book.
Translated excerpts and analysis:
What follows is the translation of several passages from the book, along with some commentary for clarity and analysis.52 The digital copy of the book itself does not have a proper table of contents, but can be divided into two major sections. The first section, which expands on why the new Egyptian regime is illegitimate, establishes the theoretical framework for the second section that proscribes violence and sets forth the conditions for it.
We need to know the Sharia classification for the military coup in Egypt, so that we may issue fatwas on how to deal with it.
A military group, their leader the Minister of Defense, overthrew President Mohamed Morsi. He is the legitimate president for which there was the first correct bay’ah (oath of allegiance) we can recall or know of in modern history. He was chosen by a popular majority with total free will without pressure or force…The bay’ah contract was in the 2012 constitution, which the people agreed to in total freedom.
The coup happened after the military group took over power, with coercive force, and kidnapped the legitimate president, imprisoned him, and fabricated charges against him. They also killed his supporters, burned their corpses, made lawful [the confiscation] of their wealth, stripped them and all the honorable men of the nation of their freedom, and implemented the plans of the enemies… There are several crimes before us:
First: Treachery and treason against a president they swore to serve and be loyal to.
Second: Rebelling against the rightful Imam with force. This rebellion either puts this putschists in the ranks of the bugha (seditionists), or that of the Khawarij, or enemy combatants, or all that was mentioned.
Third: The killing of thousands of Muslims who demanded legitimacy by this military faction, and unjustly sentencing tens of thousands to jail, places this faction in additional Sharia classifications.
And can they even be classified as tyrannical rulers, that is if we deem them as rulers in the first place? And is their unjust assault on people…justified? And do the guardians those whose blood was shed and society have the right to collective self-defense and right of retribution from the killers?
Fourth: If we add to what has been listed the putschists alliance with the Jews and non-Muslims against our brothers in Palestine, not only that, but against Sinai Egyptians, for God said: “And whoever is an ally to them among you - then indeed, he is [one] of them.” [Quran 5:51] This is among the most serious classifications that perhaps can expel someone from the creed.
Fifth: If it is proven that they are Khawarij, or seditionists, or aggressors, or all of what has been mentioned. Then what can be built on this ruling, and is it required to overthrow them, and what are the limits of resisting them, and what is the ruling with regards to destroying their tools of aggression and targeting their criminals…etc. These are issues that need more clarity and this study attempts to lift the veil on some of its aspects.
In the beginning, I53 wish to emphasize that this is an independent study removed from any affiliations or Islamist groups, and rather it draws its vision from Islamic Sharia and revolutionary actions on the ground…this study comes to lay the Sharia foundations for popular resistance and special operations as a necessary stage in the stages of revolutionary escalation in the Egyptian street.
This study is published on the fourth anniversary of the January revolution and the qualitative evolution in revolutionary mobilization. So that the opponents of the coup may know the Sharia proofs that fulfill the needs of this revolutionary stage.54
The subsequent section details the Sharia classification of the new Egyptian regime. The authors are specifically responding to arguments made by some Salafis and other Islamists who believe that obedience to the ruler, whomever he may be, is required in order to avoid bloodshed. Even if this rule is through Wilayet al-Mutghalib, or rule of the vanquisher or usurper, that is a ruler who assumes his throne through force and his rule is subsequently legitimized.
The issue of what constitutes a legitimate Imam and what can remove him from his position has been a key feature in Islamic writings for centuries. One of the most comprehensive books, The Ordinances of Government, written by medieval Islamic jurist Al-Mawardi (d. 1058) remains a key reference on the subject and is heavily cited in the book. Despite it being the 21st century, the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood as an Islamist organization necessitates dealing with jurisprudential issues of kingship even for a democratically elected leader to engage its Islamist base. The authors of the book, while expressing their reservations towards the applicability of the concept of the rule of the vanquisher, and questioning it at times, still write a detailed jurisprudential argument for why Sisi’s coup cannot be compared to the common medieval palace coups of centuries past. What results is a treatise full of references to Morsi as if he was a medieval Caliph.
They write that the difference between the coup and the rule of the vanquisher is that of heavens and earth. “The rule of the putschists over President Morsi in Egypt is not legitimate rule in any way as outlined by Islam in reaching power. Therefore, they are usurpers, thieves, thugs, and killers.”55 They go on to make their strongest argument that “the actions of the putschists contravene those of the ruler in Islam.”56 They also state that the Sisi regime does not implement Sharia and is therefore illegitimate. “A ruler that implements Sharia, the punishments, establishes Jihad, and protects the Muslims, their religion, and their property is the lesser evil of anarchy and infighting between Muslims.”57
The authors cannot completely dismiss the historical precedent for the rule of the vanquisher as the conditions of kingship abound in Islamic books of jurisprudence. Rather, they narrow its definition by saying that the rule of the vanquisher only comes when there is no Imam who has been given bay’ah. This happens when the Imam is “lost” due to death, his own resignation, or his removal by the people who loose and bind, that is essentially the wise men, which they define as “the Muslims’ Shura and parliamentary councils.”58 In the authors’ view, the removal of the rightful Imam—Morsi—certainly cannot be done through “a military coup whose plan came from Jews, Christians, their Arab agents outside the country, and was executed by the internal military group [the Egyptian military] and their weapons.”59
The book continues:
“Whomever overthrows a living Imam who has been given bay’ah to [elected] then there is no obedience to him, even if all other conditions are met, and it is required to contest his rule to return the title to its owner...
The military coup in Egypt does not establish a bay’ah to Sisi or anyone else, and it does not remove Morsi. Because Sisi overthrew a ruler who has a bay’ah and not one whom overthrew another ruler like him. All Egyptians are still beholden to the bay’ah to Dr. Morsi, because he was not removed per Sharia with this coup. More so, they have to free him from his imprisonment…
The other case [when rule of the vanquisher is legitimate] is when the victor overtakes a nation and the Imam either surrenders or escapes. Rule is then stabilized, and people are obedient to the new ruler, and the punishments of sharia are implemented and so on…. Morsi refuses to relinquish power and recognize the putschists, despite the forced disappearance and prison. And the putschists did not achieve any of what was mentioned anyways [overtaking Egypt] …
[Rule of the vanquisher] does not apply to Sisi because he moved to fight against rule by what has God has revealed [Sharia] and is preventing it.
All that has been mentioned makes the recognition of Sisi’s kingship impossible per Sharia.”60
Although the new regime’s abuses are central to the authors’ arguments on the permissibility of violence, the matter of the regime’s non-Islamist nature and alleged collaboration with “infidels” is equally and consistently emphasized. On the issue of the regime’s supposed secularism, the book declares: “They [the regime] have also engaged in the gravest act of innovation in Islam by declaring a separation between religion and state, and innovators can never be obeyed.”61
One sub-section is dedicated to the issue of “collaboration with the enemy,” saying “Sisi has declared…[that] he protects the security of Israel and considers Hamas, which wages Jihad, his primary enemy.”62 It adds, “and for the sake of the Zionist-American projects [Sisi] forcibly evacuates the people of Sinai and sends our forces to Libya and Iraq, instigates discord in the Moroccan desert [Western Sahara], and declares his willingness to send forces to protect Israel.”63
The book further states that the old Islamic rulers engaged in Jihad and conquest for Islam, whereas “these traitorous tyrants [the regime] have criminalized Jihad in the way of God and have described it as a disaster and terrorism.”64 Adding that among the reasons scholars had accepted the rule of the vanquisher in earlier periods was to protect the borders, something that is no longer applicable because Sisi “does not protect our borders from our Jewish enemies, rather he engages and coordinates with them and serves their interests.”65 The authors further allege that, in the view of Israel and the United States, the coup happened “because Morsi wished to rule by Sharia and establish the Caliphate state.”66
Although the Khawarij are despised in Islamic history, the authors go on to state that calling the putschists Khawarij is an “honor they do not deserve.”67 To them, the Khawarij were good but misguided Muslims. The regime, however, “wants to abolish Sharia and rule by man-made laws, and bring in…Christians, secularists, and all whom hate Sharia.”68
Finally, while accepting the rule of the vanquisher was once considered the lesser of two evils, it has today become the greater evil. To the authors, the current rule must therefore be contested due to the many crimes of the regime. They also mentioned Morsi did not seek rule, which is frowned upon in Islamic jurisprudence, but rather was nominated by the Sharia Committee for Rights and Reformation—a short-lived body comprised of a hodgepodge of Salafi and other scholars with Brotherhood backing. This, they argue, further shows how Morsi was a legitimate Muslim Imam.
The Justifications for Violence
With the knowledge in hand that Sisi and the coup do not satisfy any Islamic conditions for kingship, the authors declare “The rule of the putschists in Egypt is not legitimate, rather it is a violation and oppression that must be resisted by all means possible.”69
The regime is also deemed to possess the characteristics of the Khawarij, seditionists, and aggressors. Therefore, “Sisi, and all whom are with him ranging from ministers, media figures, [judges], and [Sheikhs], all are deemed enemy combatants and the punishment of Hirabah must be implemented [against them].”70 The Quran proscribes the punishment as “[to be] killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land.” [Quran 5:33] The book never mentions exile as an option.
The authors go on to explain how the regime is in the position of aggressor, whom in Islam is permissible to kill, especially in self-defense. After the coup and “the killing of thousands who demanded legitimacy [Morsi’s return to power], they [the new regime] have thus become combatants that must be fought.”71
The book moves on to detail the actions of the new regime, from killings to mass imprisonment of Islamists and the need for retribution, and says that their actions are even worse than the infidels who had fought the early Muslims. It draws on early Islamic examples to qualify the judgement that the regime must be fought in kind. One example is that of the first Caliph Abu Bakr al-Sadiq who had ordered an enemy burned. The authors celebrate this as a “unique Islamic precedent,”72 and as Islamists believe bodies were burned during the clearing of Rabaa by Egyptian authorities, the authors decree, “those [in the regime] deserve to be burned.”73
The next chapter is titled “Resistance is Legitimate: Principles and Regulations,”74 and details the authors’ instruction of how violence can be undertaken in the new Egyptian context. One important principle is that “resisting [the regime] does not mean total war that is open on all fronts…between peacefulness and total confrontation are many stages of attrition.”75 The authors go on to offer a disclaimer that their study is of general rulings, and that a specific fatwa must be sought after from trusted individuals when it comes to actions. They also explain that someone who is not engaged in Jihad cannot issue fatwas for those who are. They specifically single out Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are imprisoned or on the run, understood as old guard leaders, saying that their views on the matter cannot be considered.
The authors argue that “resistance” is not only natural, but a “Sharia necessity.”76 It is also the lesser of two evils: “If we compare between the harm of staying silent towards the oppression of the oppressors and resisting them—with the possibility of harm and some evil occurring—it is clear that resistance is the lesser of two evils.”77
The book then asks the following rhetorical questions: “Why the change now? Were not these Sharia-[based] reasons available before? Were not the proofs of the obligation of Jihad known?”78 The authors reply that the “freemen,” meaning the Brotherhood, took the path of democracy “to its end.”79 Along the way, it won majorities in parliament and the presidency. However, “when the tyrants moved against them [the Muslim Brotherhood] with the power of arms, with no consideration for the mechanisms of the democracy that even those who called for it abandoned, it was the right for the freemen [Muslim Brothers] to seek change through other mechanisms to force the tyrants to respect [the outcomes].”80
They add that so long as there was hope to achieve their change through “soft means,” it was not permissible at that time to use violence, as it would have led to a greater evil. However, when this non-violent experience was aborted, “it became permissible for peoples to use force as an alternative means for change [as conditions permit].”81 They further claim Quranic precedent in that God at times forbade Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad from fighting and at times made it a duty: “Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you.”82 [Quran 2:216] The authors declare:
“This period of weakness and feebleness the Ummah is living in is a period when only strength is respected. It is a period when the world only deals with you peacefully when you are prepared for war. It needs a new vision and a new beginning.”83
Briefly channeling Sayyid Qutb, the authors discuss “the obligation of overthrowing collaborator states.”84 The significance of this section is its intentional general language to apply for all Muslim states and not just Egypt:
“The visible and hidden powers in the Islamic world are evil powers, brainwashed, whom were groomed by the enemies of Islam for this role a long time ago…these powers cannot be conquered and overtaken without Jihad, a Jihadi movement, and a Jihadi education…These powers have the greenlight from all the enemies of Islam, inside and outside, and chief among the international powers: the Zionist and global Crusader powers...Removing these [Muslim] powers and replacing them with Islam is not an easy or simple matter…achieving this requires a movement that has prepared itself for a long and bitter Jihad.”85
The book then says that enemies of Muslim peoples—meaning Israel and the West—have long harmed the Muslims who were in turn unable to retaliate due to Muslim regimes that protect the West. Retaliating against these aggressors is a “Sharia obligation” which Muslims were unable to carryout due to the treachery of their collaborator regimes.86 Thus, these Muslim regimes must be fought first. The authors go on to further extoll Jihad, say that Muslims have neglected it, and state that martyrdom can be achieved through two primary means: being killed by the infidels or the despotic regimes.87
The next section, which is perhaps the most important, is titled “Special operations are a middle stage between peacefulness and confrontation, or creative non-violence.”88 The authors explain that there can be a middle ground between complete non-violence and total armed confrontation, which may backfire. They indicate that their ruling on the permissibility of these special operations does not mean they must be immediately carried out, and that there is gradualism there too. They then attempt to legitimize said “special operations” by claiming there is precedent with the Prophet Muhammad, who gradually warned, threatened, and then fought his enemies. Another example of a “special operation” is when early Muslims secretly destroyed polytheistic idols. The prophetic example, the authors assert, is that in “engineering a conflict” they must be able to hold out for the long term and be careful not to escalate matters into armed confrontation when not ready.89
The book further argues that “resistance” is a type of Jihad and lament the “mistake of delaying Jihad under the pretext of preparation.”90 The authors emphasize the comprehensive nature of Jihad, but to specifically make the point that ideological and spiritual preparation is important and that this can be done before, during, and after violent work. They also say that waiting for there to be a balance in the strength of Muslims vis-à-vis their enemies is not possible in light of the ruling Muslim regimes. In this, they dismiss one of the biggest arguments made by Islamists who do not prioritize Jihad on the basis that it is a failed endeavor. The authors also argue that the least that can be done is supporting the “popular resistance [in Egypt],” as it is not only “to defend the resistance, but rather Islam itself.”91 Even if “the confrontation led to the complete extermination of those who hold the truth.”92
To the authors, Jihad against infidels and defensive Jihad are not the only permissible types, but also “Jihad against the hypocrites.”93 This Jihad is “obligatory on all whom can against the anti-Islam hypocrites in the media, judiciary, politics, legislative [bodies], and all state institutions.”94
The authors further lament what they see as an absence of Jihadis from the Islamist environment and attribute the “loss of Muslim lands to its enemies” to this absence:95
“Because these [Muslim] territories lacked flexible and conscious Jihadi movements that can appropriately resist…any attempt targeting Islam…Perhaps this is what Imam al-Banna meant with the logo of a Quran guarded by two swords.”96
The authors then offer their regulations and advise for resistance. These include:97
- That Islamist resistance movements should connect defensive Jihad and religious discourse with popular issues. They should not lose sight of this while they are trying to win domestic and international sympathy through their political discourse.
- That they should beware of opportunists, presumably other Islamists who may seek to benefit from their work, and to never lose their Islamic identity.
- That the resistance should be innovative, in order to attract international attention to its case and breakthrough the media blackout. They should also deny all the rumors spread by the enemy against them and engage in “media Jihad.”
- That not all which is permissible should be done, and to weigh the pros versus the cons in each operation.
- To convince all the allies of the tyrants inside and outside, meaning the West, that it is not in their best interest to support them. Because, “this will cost them a great deal, harm their reputation, credibility, and prestige. And will make their interests a target for the resistance.”98
The authors dedicate an entire section explicitly to the Muslim Brotherhood and reconciling the arguments they lay out with the group’s methodology. They say that carrying out said special operations is not a change in the creed of the Brotherhood, but rather that only the conditions on the ground that have changed. “Peacefulness is not a fundamental of Islam or the group [Muslim Brotherhood], and special operations work does not mean total confrontation.”99 They add:
“Imam al-Banna dedicated a special message to Jihad titled ‘The Message on Jihad.’ He concluded it by saying: the people that excel in the manufacturing of death know how to die an honorable death. God grants [them] a precious life in the [material] world and eternal bless in the hereafter. So, work towards an honorable death to win total happiness. May God grant us and you the honor of martyrdom’…the Jihadi tendency settled as a doctrine in the foundation of Imam al-Banna’s methodology and the acculturation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Until it became a slogan they repeat day and night and on every occasion: ‘God is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Quran is our constitution, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of God is our greatest hope.”100
The authors then offer three examples of Brotherhood jihadism: fighting Jews in the 1948 war, the British in Egypt in 1951, and the “holy naw’y [the same word used for special operations] Jihad,” of Hamas.101
The priority of the so-called “greater Jihad,” that of the heart and mind, is explicitly dismissed by the authors as a weak hadith, or prophetic saying. They quote Hassan al-Banna as saying that people who refer to this distract people from the importance of fighting and preparing for it.
The authors go on to defend the Muslim Brotherhood from “accusations from some [with regards to] shortcomings and slacking in the matter of Jihad.”102 They explain that strength and force have been central in al-Banna’s writings:
“The first level of power is that of creed and faith, after that the power of unity and association, then this is followed by the power of arms and weapons.”103
The authors explain that a group can only be described as having “power”104 if it has all that al-Banna mentioned, and if it escalates by using weapons without it, then it will fall apart. Referring to al-Banna’s message at the 1938 Fifth Conference, they quote him as saying:
“The Muslim Brothers must be powerful…The Muslim Brotherhood will use force when nothing else will work, and only when they are confident that they have completed the preparation of faith and unity. When they use this force, they will be honorable and clear. They will warn first and wait. Then they go forward with honor and dignity and bear all the results of their position with full acceptance and ease.”105
The authors also explain that the Brotherhood’s—and al-Banna’s—traditional reluctance towards revolutionary change was due to their belief that revolutionary change is fundamentally violent. The Muslim Brotherhood only rejected it, however, if it was not built on al-Banna’s requirements for what constitutes power. This meant that there must be preparation for revolution, and especially violent revolution, or else it does not work.106
The book’s concluding section is a sort of FAQ, or Frequently Asked Questions, answering specific questions raised by those “on the path of resistance.”107 The authors justify individual acts of violence deemed as “retribution” without having to go back to authority, a usual requirement in Islam, by arguing that the state is no longer legitimate. They expand the list of accepted targets beyond police to include hired civilian thugs, sometimes used by police or others, and informants.
The authors also highlight that despite their lengthy justification for the killing of regime officials and their civilian supporters, this does not mean that they are explicitly labeling them as infidels. This is a significant distinction that acts as a bellwether in judging the ideological inclinations of both the authors and those whom rely on their jurisprudential justifications for violence. Had they explicitly called their enemies apostates, then this would indicate a more dominant Qutbist strand re-emerging in Muslim Brotherhood discourse. However, this may change over time, and may also indicate an explicitly Salafi-Jihadi orientation, which is not the case for this book or the terrorist groups suspected of ties to the Brotherhood, such as Hassm and Liwaa al-Thawra.
The authors further support individual violent action and say that if it happens then the Islamist movement cannot be held to blame, as this violence is only natural. They say that “youth operations” that are not claimed can do a great deal of damage and they must be supported secretly and not officially.108
Burning and destroying police cars is also permissible, although with the caveat that ideally, they should not be because they are a “nation’s treasure.”109 If, however, this equipment is used to kill or sow corruption, then it is permissible to destroy it.110 Yet with all of these caveats, the authors instruct that police equipment and cars should be destroyed wherever they are found, even if they are not being used to repress a protest.111 The same goes for public property and even private property that is owned by the “heads of the criminals.”112
Some more questions and answers include:113
Q: What is the ruling on officers who are not involved in killing the revolutionaries?
A: Assaulting police officers that do not assault protesters, like the checkpoint officers and conscripts, border guards, and those who work in passport control, traffic, and others, is not permissible…However, if the checkpoints assault and arrest protesters, and the thugs and aggressors barricade inside them, or if it participated in opening fire, then the ruling against them is that of against the aggressor. Resisting them is done on levels as is clarified in the rulings on aggressors.
Q: What is the ruling on operations that may harm the innocent. Meaning if a car owned by a criminal officer, or an unjust judge, or a police car is set on fire and it spreads to other cars?
A: It is not permissible to destroy [property] without a right…However, if all paths are closed and this is the only way, it is permissible…
Q: What is the ruling on individuals, who are not targets, but try to prevent special operations?
A: If, for example, the garage attendant or a conscript is guarding the building targeted…it is not permissible to kill him. He may be threatened, warned, and beaten. If he pulls out a weapon, he is to be killed.
Q: What is the ruling towards someone who has stripped one of the sisters and tore her clothes, and he is known specifically? And what if he raped her?
A: Tearing clothes in this way is an act of harabah (banditry). For this person, it is permissible to beat them severely even if it leads to him being paralyzed. If his hands and legs are cut off, that is permissible, so is if he was killed. Whomever raped an anti-coup woman, then his punishment is death if he is known, especially right then and there. He may be under protection and could escape, for this case he can be tracked and killed. As you know, an [early] Muslim killed a Jew who stripped a Muslim woman in the market of Banu Qaynuqa.
Q: ‘A police officer from a known station killed someone before us, but we do not know the officer, though he is for sure from that station. Another from this station also raped a girl, but we do not know the specific perpetrator. Can the entire police station be targeted?’
A: It is not permissible in Islam to kill someone [without specificity] …Therefore, whomever seeks retribution should send messages to all the officers inside the station before targeting it, so those who have not killed or raped may leave. Whomever remains is supportive of murder and rape. He is content and contributes through support and assistance, even if he does not participate with action. Just by not turning over the perpetrators to justice, as is the case, then this constitutes their collaboration. It is not a secret that the officer killed relying on his and his colleagues’ weapons, and if he was alone he would not have done this…[Caliph] Umar bin al-Khattab had killed collaborators. The officer’s superiors, who knew what he did and even ordered him, are also [permissible] targets.
Q: What is the ruling on resisting forced relocations in Sinai in relation to the Camp David Accords?
A: It is known that the goal of Egyptian army operations in the Sinai is only to protect Israel’s security, empty Sinai of its people, and to harass the Mujahidin of Hamas in Gaza for the benefit of the Jews. Therefore, we say it is obligatory to resist this forced relocation by all possible means within the limits of what is possible. There is no obedience to anyone who forsakes Muslims…resisting this is a form of the highest degrees of Jihad.
The youth who were made lawful to kill, their houses destroyed, were forced out of their homes and their regimes did not come to their aid, but rather conspires against them; if they carried out operations against the transgressing entity [Israel] then they are not in the wrong per Sharia.
Other answers emphasize the permissibility of killing police and army officers. One deals with civilians such as media figures and politicians, and although the authors say that it is not permissible to kill someone who has not killed, the aforementioned civilians are labeled as collaborators and thus can be targeted. Although it may be permissible to kill them, it is best not to if it will lead to the enemy gaining sympathy as a result. Such civilian collaborators can, however, be injured or their property destroyed.114
One specific answer veers into explicit sectarianism, alleging that Christian thugs are used in “besieging mosques, killing worshipers, arresting freewomen [Islamist women],”115 and thus it is permissible to retaliate against them. The authors then argue that there is precedent for this in how Napoleon had allegedly formed “Christian militias…to kill Muslims.”116 The authors give a moot caveat that “not all Christians are like this,” however, whatever Christian is caught red-handed “removing a niqab [from a Muslim woman’s face], besieging or burning a mosque, then he is to be killed…”117 They conclude on the topic:
“Add to this what the Church commits in terms of sectarian mobilization, storing weapons, and supporting and training militias to fight the revolutionaries [Islamists]…We say to the thugs of the Christians…whomever attacks us among you, there is no protection for him.”118
Impact of the book:
The language and rhetoric used in the book echoes in the discourse of new terrorist groups—such as Hassm and Liwaa al-Thawra—that have emerged in Egypt.119 Furthermore, the arguments made in the book are actively used by those in the new guard to win over supporters in their dispute with the old guard.
A key example was a memo uploaded in the form of a post on the official Facebook page of the Office of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey shortly after the new guard pulled their internal coup in December 2016. The Facebook page had uploaded other statements signed by the Turkey office, including a eulogy for dead Islamic Group leader, and convicted terrorist, Omar Abdel Rahman.120 They also uploaded a video message of one of their executive office officials named Ayman Ali.121 Ali is not only a mid-level Muslim Brotherhood leader, but also served as a member of the Morsi campaign’s official administrative team.122
The memo, titled “Accusations and responses related to the general Shura meeting and elections,” made several points, at times directly copying from the book. Some are translated below:
“Second accusation: This direction takes the organization [Muslim Brotherhood] to militarizing the revolution.
The [regime] does not have the designation of being legitimate to rule Egypt. The Sharia commands us to bring them down because they are Khawarij, Bugha (seditionists), transgressing combatants that qualify for retribution and their crimes are more egregious than the crimes of Abu Jahal (a polytheist enemy of Muhammad).
And what is agreed upon is that resisting them does not mean total war that is open on all fronts, but rather as the situation dictates it should be based on the jurisprudence of balancing [what is preferable, and what is not]. Between non-violence and total confrontation are many levels that the enemy can be worn down through. And “special operations” is a middle stage between non-violence and confrontation, or creative non-violence.
And the alternative to non-violent work does not necessarily need to be total armed resistance and confrontation whose [negative] consequences cannot be appreciated. Between them are levels and stages that we can exercise change through that can prolong the life of the resistance and shakes the criminals and preserves the strength of those resisting tyranny. So that they do not go down the path of militarizing their revolution with a conflict that they have not calculated [its consequences] and have not adequately prepared for.
Third accusation: This way, you all are at odds with the Imam’s [The Supreme Guide’s] words “Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets.”
First: His Excellency the Supreme Guide said these words at a time when everyone thought that millions going out into the streets is sufficient to defeat the coup and gain the sympathy of international world opinion…The crude collusion and blindness towards this thundering mobilization was proven and not only that but also the global conspiracy against the revolution of the Egyptian people.
Second: No one expected that the putschists were going to commit these massacres in such a monstrous way as what happened in the clearing of Rabaa and Nahda and what followed them of arrests, torture, arson, executions, and rape of the freewomen.
Third: Non-violence has many appearances and limiting it to the idea of feigning death and victimhood is not our religion and not of the constants of the Muslim Brotherhood or our religion.
So, we did not change, but the actions of the putschists in this way were not in our calculation and so it became necessary to adjust the movement accordingly.
And it is not hidden that responding to aggression and legitimate resistance and the right to self-defense does not violate non-violence.
Fourth accusation: The Muslim Brotherhood must have strength of faith and brotherhood, before the strength of weapons.
The condition of having total preparedness of faith does not mean compromising on owning and using weapons. But in fact, it is prudent to push back with what is within means….
The aggressive attack from the infidels and hypocrites against Islam and its fundamentals in the lands of Islam make it prudent upon the people of Islam to call for Jihad to defend the sacred principles of Islam. This type of jihad is to be with what one is capable of, even if the methods and means differed based on the type of aggression.”123
The stark discourse of The Jurisprudence of the Popular Resistance to the Coup is the result of an ongoing fundamental reorientation in Egyptian Islamism and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the consequence of the Muslim Brotherhood witnessing significant and dizzying changes, extreme repression, and both internal and outside pressure to articulate an Islamist methodology that can be relevant to its base.
It is, however, not a discourse that was created out of thin air. As the authors of the book meticulously outline, their arguments are based on a long history of Islamist and Brotherhood discourse. One that does not even require explicitly citing the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, but can sufficiently accomplish its mission by relying on the writings of Hassan al-Banna. Thus, although the Brotherhood has shown itself to be largely non-violent in action over the last four decades, the arguments laid out in this book should not come as a surprise, considering that the movement never underwent any serious ideological reforms on the permissibility of violence and meaning of Jihad beyond al-Banna and Qutb.
Yet, as explained, not every Brother is completely on board with the new vision laid out by the new guard of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although they may agree with the premises of some of the arguments, they fundamentally disagree on the utility of violence in the current Egyptian context. Others who do so on personal and religious grounds may find some acts of violence allowed, but murder to be strictly prohibited unless in cases such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Although it is important to highlight that the views expressed in the book, and other radical documents,124 are not representative of the entire Muslim Brotherhood. It is also important not to dismiss that they are representative of at least one major legitimate faction of the group. This faction, to a considerable extent, is represented in the Muslim Brotherhood’s new guard, which as of December 2016, has claimed total leadership over the organization. The detractors of this wing dismiss these arguments, the book, the Sharia Committee, and deny any relationship to violence. Despite this, violence has nonetheless been committed by actors who appear to be clearly inspired by this Brotherhood faction and it remains to be seen which faction has more supporters inside Egypt.
The book and the ideological revisions by the new guard are arguably representative of the wider body of the Muslim Brotherhood as Kamal oversaw the Muslim Brotherhood’s affairs after the coup. These ongoing revisions should be studied closely as they offer a critical corrective to analysis of the organization. It demonstrates how a great deal of the scholarship on the group produced in recent decades is increasingly becoming less useful and is in serious need of updating.
Moreover, as the book’s own language shows, the radical arguments made within it are not confined to Egypt. There is today a new generation of Muslim Brothers, both young and old, who see the utility in violence, support it, and even engage in it. The Egyptians among them are scattered outside Egypt in Turkey, Sudan, and beyond. Other Brothers and fellow travelers in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Gulf, have also been involved in either supporting or carrying out violence in recent years—even if this takes the form of rebel militias. The risk to Egypt is further radicalization and adoption of violence in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood that could prove destabilizing if it is not checked by authorities. The risk to the region, and perhaps beyond, is that Salafi-Jihadi groups may no longer be the only Islamists with a monopoly over the use of violence to bring about the sought-after Islamist change.
As to the question of whether an ideological revision has indeed taken place and that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed, Shalash explained:
“The Muslim Brotherhood inside [Egypt] has revised itself since the beginning of 2014. It is a reformist organization that believes in the constitutional approach, gradualist reform, and participated in many elections, and so on. Then after that, the Muslim Brotherhood changed to [adopt] revolutionary thought. This change did not come overnight. This is a change that [is based] on much literature [produced] inside the group, meetings, and workshops. The revolutionary transformation is now in every Muslim Brotherhood household, in every Brotherhood Shu’ba (local branch), and no can, whomever they may be, extinguish this revolutionary thought. This is the transformation. The Muslim Brothers have indeed changed.”125