In both his presidential campaign and inaugural addresses, President Muhammad Mursī has assured the world of Egypt’s commitment to peace. Yet in the run-up to the final election on June 14, the Muslim Brotherhood published an Arabic article calling this commitment into question.
‘How happy would Muslims be if the leaders of the Muslims … would make recovery of al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] their central issue – to cleanse it from the filth of the Zionists and impose Islamic sovereignty over all quarters of Palestine,’ wrote General Guide Muhammad Badī’, the group’s top leader.
Furthermore, he referenced a fatwa given by ‘Muslim scholars’ without further designation, ‘Jihad with life and money for the recovery of al-Aqsa Mosque is an individual duty incumbent on every Muslim.’ The article was published on IkhwanOnline, the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This message is very different from the public statements of Mursī, who emerged from the Brotherhood to win Egypt’s first free democratic presidential election.
‘We will preserve all international treaties and charters,’ said Mursī. ‘We come in peace.’
Though Israel was never mentioned by name, the inference was obvious.
The international community is watching closely as importance lies in what Mursī does, not in what he says. Still, his assurance is understood as one of the necessary guarantees to the Egyptian military as well as the United States to not stand in the way of a Brotherhood presidency.
Yet the principle of action over rhetoric is necessary also concerning domestic Brotherhood politics. As US-MB delegations were in continual contact, Badī’’s article sanctioning jihad betrays little intention to honor a peace treaty. On the other hand, at this point, they are just words, not actions.
Which words should be believed?
According to Sheikh Usāmah al-Qusī, an Egyptian Salafi scholar with no love for the Brotherhood, the word jihad does not necessarily imply fighting. ‘The term with life designates that one must be ready to give his life for the cause of Islam. It may include engaging in battle, but this is not demanded.’
Even so, al-Qusī links ‘jihad with life and money’ to its Qur’anic source, where God instructs the Muslims, ‘Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and are killed.’
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghuzlān makes a different distinction. ‘As a citizen I am different from the state or the presidency,’ he says.
‘Just because we have gained the presidency should we give up on our principles concerning Palestine, including that Jerusalem is for us?’
Ghuzlān then reiterated Mursī’s assurances that Egypt would respect all international treaties. Indeed, the rest of Badī’’s article references non-violent methods to expose Israeli occupation of Palestine, such as the ‘Miles of Smiles’ aid convoys from March 2012 to break the blockade of Gaza.
Dr. Nadia Mustafa, professor of international relations at Cairo University, agrees with this non-violent interpretation. ‘We can make jihad,’ she said, ‘in a different way. ‘It does not mean to make a suicide bomb. Jihad with life means we must offer everything in our life for the just cause, even to the last extent in which I die.’
Badī’’s article, indeed, does not call specifically for jihad. It urges patience on the Palestinian people and a focus on reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
Yet it also urges persistence, that they should make their ‘motto and starting point the confrontation of the Zionists’. That is, perhaps, it is a Palestinian struggle, even if they should be encouraged that ‘every sincere Muslim mujahid in every nation of the world stands with you’.
For Mustafa, Palestine is the issue which will decide the presidency of Mursī. But it must not be allowed to distract from critical domestic issues, including overcoming the secular-Islamist divide. She expects, however, a firm rejection of the Gaza blockade.
‘The Brotherhood will say what they have to say, but we must separate between them and the presidency, and I believe Mursī understands this well.’
Muhammad Mursī formally ended his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood following his official declaration as president.
As president, however, he is not expected to have much love for Israel, no matter his international obligations. Political analyst Sāmih Fawzī expects a zero-tolerance strategy towards Israel.
‘Egyptians have had a very limited margin of normalization with Israel over the last decades,’ Fawzī stated. ‘This margin is expected to be even narrower than before.’
Therefore, while the Muslim Brotherhood may well continue its strident rhetoric, Fawzī believes the Israel file will remain in the hands of the foreign ministry and security apparatus.
While these cabinet positions are still being negotiated, many analysts believe these ministries will remain firmly under military supervision, if not direct control.
This combination is not predisposed to result in war, but the consequence may well be a continuation of the status quo. For Fawzī, the bilateral outlook is bleak.
‘Cold peace is the expected option.’