Many Westerners struggle to understand that radical Islam, is in many ways a tool of the Marxist – Leninist left.
While the two philosophies appear completely at odds, they do share a mutual hatred of “capitalism” and the Western values of individual responsibility and limited, constitutional government.
While many would argue the point, I would go so far as to say, that without a Marxist left to enable and manipulate them, there would be only a very minimal radical Islamic problem.
Below are experts from a circa 2008 document by Egyptian Trotskyist Hossam El-Hamalawy, on how his comrades have worked to unite the Egyptian left and to “court” the Muslim Brotherhood in recent years. This has been a worldwide Trotskyist pattern for more than a decade.
Bear in mind that this document is around three years old.
From campus fistfights in the 1990s to joint demonstrations in 2005–2006, relations between the Muslim Brothers and the radical left in Egypt have come a long way. In settings where the two tendencies operate side by side, like student unions and professional syndicates, overt hostility has vanished, and there is even a small amount of coordination around tactics. Still, the cooperation remains symbolic, and leftists and Islamists have yet to join forces to undertake sustained mass actions against their common foe, the regime of President Husni Mubarak.
The improvement of leftist-Islamist relations can largely be traced to two factors. First is the evolution of a new left in Egypt whose two main pillars are the Revolutionary Socialist Organization and a growing left-leaning human rights community. This new left has different attitudes toward Islamism than those held by the previous “communist waves.” Second is the generational change within both the left and the Brotherhood cadres spurred by the revival of Egyptian street politics, thanks to the second Palestinian intifada.
Most independent leftist organizations in the 1980s and 1990s hewed to a line on political Islam similar to that of the Egyptian Communist Party—the dominant faction inside the “legal left” Tagammu‘ Party—equating Islamist organizations, reformist or radical, with fascism…. As might be expected, the Muslim Brothers did not appreciate the “fascist” label, and they regarded the left with great distrust.
Starting in the late 1980s, small circles of Egyptian students, influenced by Trotskyism, gathered to study, eventually evolving in April 1995 into an organization named the Revolutionary Socialists’ Tendency. In contradistinction to the Stalinist left, these activists put forward the slogan “Sometimes with the Islamists, never with the state” in the literature they distributed on university campuses and elsewhere.
In practice, this slogan translated into taking up the cause of Muslim Brotherhood students on campus when it came to “democratic” issues, as when state security banned Islamist candidates from running in student union elections or expelled Islamist students from school. The “galleries” (ma‘arid)—impromptu broadsheets written on cloth or cardboard and laid out in campus squares—of Revolutionary Socialist students at Cairo and ‘Ayn Shams Universities regularly carried denunciations of military tribunals’ sentences handed down to Muslim Brothers.
As a Revolutionary Socialist member who was active in the 1990s recalls: “We were a kind of leftist the Muslim Brothers hadn’t met before. They couldn’t quite figure us out at the beginning. Anyway, we were still too marginal for them to bother with. We were only a few individuals.” This began to change in 1999. On a few occasions in that year, as one socialist remembers, the Muslim Brotherhood students at Cairo University allowed the Revolutionary Socialist students to speak at rallies held on campus against the US airstrikes on Iraq. The socialist students took this unprecedented opportunity as a sign of the Muslim Brothers’ recognition that they were a force that had to be given a place on the political stage. It was a step in a long, slow process of building trust.
From a handful of members in 1995, the Revolutionary Socialists grew to a couple hundred activists on the eve of the second Palestinian intifada. Their ranks then swelled thanks to their role in the Egyptian movement of solidarity with the Palestinians, at a time when the Muslim Brothers largely abstained from street action. The radicalizing influence of the intifada among youth helped to reawaken the Egyptian tradition of street politics, which had been virtually smothered by the Mubarak regime’s fearsome security services…
Despite the opportunities presented by the ferment on the streets, the Muslim Brotherhood pursued the policy of non-confrontation with the regime it had abided by since the 1995 crackdown on its rank and file, culminating in a series of infamous military tribunals. Not only did Brotherhood students refuse to mobilize on the street, but they also sought on several occasions to curb the militancy of demonstrations. In October 2000, for instance, after the socialists clashed with state security and burned police vans at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the Brothers emerged to denounce “socialist sabotage.” At other times, Islamist students tried to physically restrain students from marching outside campus gates.
The increasingly radicalized political scene created a space for the left to intervene, but also generated pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership from the organization’s cadre. Leftist activists then at universities recall “naming and shaming” campus Brotherhood activists for their lack of participation in the mass protests. In early April 2002, precisely following the outbreak of the leftist-led, pro-Palestinian riots at Cairo University, members of the Muslim Brothers began turning out for events organized by the Egyptian Popular Committee for the Solidarity with the Palestinian intifada.
On April 5, 2002, a group of young Muslim Brothers published an open letter to Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashhour in the London-based daily al?Hayat, questioning the group’s acquiescence in security crackdowns and demanding more involvement in the Palestinian solidarity movement…
The Muslim Brothers initially approached Revolutionary Socialist members, regarding them as the “least hostile” among the leftist factions, to suggest that Islamists collaborate with the left in the pro-intifada and anti-war movements. The move triggered a debate among leftist circles. Sympathizers of the Egyptian Communist Party, the People’s Socialist Party, members of the Tagammu‘ bureaucracy and a faction from the human rights organizations refused any form of coordination with Islamists, though they made an exception for Magdi Hussein’s Labor Party, whose brand of Islamism is regarded as somehow “left-leaning.”
The anti-war movement, successor of the pro-intifada movement, evolved again by the end of 2004 into an anti-Mubarak movement, composed of two organizations. One was Kifaya (the Egyptian Movement for Change), a coalition made up primarily of members of the breakaway Nasserist faction Karama, individuals from the liberal al?Ghad Party, figures from the Egyptian Communist Party and veterans of the 1970s student movement.
The other wing was the Popular Campaign for Change, which was more Marxist in composition, and included the Revolutionary Socialists, left-wing human rights activists and independent leftists. The two organizations more or less fused together in the months to follow. Kifaya’s sometimes quixotic and theatrical street actions attracted public attention, and helped to break taboos in Egypt’s political life by issuing direct challenges—without euphemisms—to the president and his family.
Shortly after a series of Kifaya demonstrations, a group of Muslim Brotherhood activists, notably ‘Ali ‘Abd al?Fattah of Alexandria, held talks with Revolutionary Socialists and independent leftists, resulting in the launching of the National Alliance for Change in June 2005. The alliance was tactical, and revolved around an anti-Mubarak platform, with emphasis on vigilance against the prospect of vote rigging in that year’s presidential and parliamentary elections…
The rapprochement between Islamists and the left continued when students from the Revolutionary Socialists’ Tendency, Muslim Brothers and some independents formed the Free Student Union (FSU) in November 2005, with the aim of acting as a parallel organization to the government-dominated student unions… Though the FSU is far from achieving the ambition of its organizers—nothing less than a national grassroots student union—the places where the FSU operates have witnessed another great improvement in relations between the Brothers and the radical left…
The backbone of the solidarity actions with the Palestinian intifada has been students in their late teens or early twenties. As political virgins, they do not carry the baggage of the historical fighting between the leftists and Islamists, and among leftist factions.
Today, the majority of factions on the left still stand opposed to (or express caution about) joint actions with the Islamists, most notably the newly evolving Democratic Left (a reformist tendency centered around al?Busla magazine), the Egyptian Communist Party, the People’s Socialist Party and a faction of the human rights community. But the Brothers and those comrades who will work with them remain engaged in mutual confidence building. The Muslim Brothers’ leadership is staunchly gradualist, and always on the lookout for compromises with the Egyptian regime. That stance will likely impede a further rapprochement with the radical left, unless the Brotherhood’s base of youth attains a greater say in when, and how, their powerful organization bestirs itself.
The picture painted by El Hamalawy is one of a Muslim Brotherhood “old guard” quite happy to collaborate with, or at least tolerate the Mubarak regime, versus more radical and secularized youngsters willing to work with the left in order to overthrow the existing power structures.
I believe that the left, more so than the Muslim Brotherhood, is driving this revolution.
If successful, I think that while the new regime may have a Muslim face, it will mask a Marxist brain.