Islamism, fascism and terrorism (Part 3)
By Marc Erikson, Asia Times
Islamism, or fascism with an Islamic face, was born with and of the Muslim Brotherhood. It proved (and improved) its fascist core convictions and practices through collaboration with the Nazis in the run-up to and during World War II. It proved it during the same period through its collaboration with the overtly fascist "Young Egypt" (Misr al-Fatah) movement, founded in October 1933 by lawyer Ahmed Hussein and modeled directly on the Hitler party, complete with paramilitary Green Shirts aping the Nazi Brown Shirts, Nazi salute and literal translations of Nazi slogans. Among its members, Young Egypt counted two promising youngsters and later presidents, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El-Sadat.
In later years, the Brotherhood had serious fallings-out with Nasser, whom it attempted to assassinate on several different occasions, and with Sadat, whom it did assassinate in 1981. But up until at least the time of Nasser's 1952 coup d'etat, all was sweetness and light between Hassan al-Banna's brethren and Nasser's "free officers". In his personal diary, Sadat wrote in the summer of 1940:
"One day I invited Hassan al-Banna, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the army camp where I served, in the Egyptian Communication Corps, so that he might lecture before my soldiers on various religious topics. A few days before his scheduled appearance it was reported to me from army Intelligence that his coming was forbidden and canceled by the order of General Headquarters, and I myself was summoned for interrogation. After a short while I went secretly to El Bana's office and participated in a few seminars he organized. I like the man and admired him."
Whether al-Banna, who had already been in contact with German agents since the 1936-39 Palestine uprising against the British, or someone else introduced Sadat and his free officer comrades to German military intelligence is not known. But in the summer of 1942, when Rommel's Afrikakorps stood just over 100 kilometers from Alexandria and were poised to march into Cairo, Sadat, Nasser and their buddies were in close touch with the German attacking force and - with Brotherhood help - preparing an anti-British uprising in Egypt's capital. A treaty with Germany including provisions for German recognition of an independent, but pro-Axis Egypt had been drafted by Sadat, guaranteeing that "no British soldier would leave Cairo alive". When Rommel's push east failed at El Alamein in the fall of 1942, Sadat and several of his co-conspirators were arrested by the British and sat out much of the remainder of the war in jail.
Islamist-fascist collaboration did not cease with war's end. King Farouk brought large numbers of German military and intelligence personnel as well as ranking (ex-) Nazis into Egypt as advisors. It was a bad move. Several of the Germans, recognizing Farouk's political weakness, soon began conspiring with Nasser and his free officers (who, in turn, were working closely with the Brotherhood) to overthrow the king. On July 23, 1952, the deed was done and Newsweek marveled that, "The most intriguing aspect [of] the revolt ... was the role played in the coup by the large group of German advisors serving with the Egyptian army ... The young officers who did the actual planning consulted the German advisors as to 'tactics' ... This accounted for the smoothness of the operation."
And yet another player fond of playing all sides against the middle had entered the game prior to Farouk's ouster: In 1951, the CIA's Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of president Teddy, who in 1953 would organize the overthrow of elected Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh and install Reza Pahlavi as Shah) opened secret negotiations with Nasser. Agreement was soon reached that the US, post-coup, would assist in building up Egypt's intelligence and security forces - in the obvious manner, by reinforcing Nasser's existing Germans with additional, "more capable", ones. For that, CIA head Allen Dulles turned to Reinhard Gehlen, one-time head of eastern front German military intelligence and by the early 1950s in charge of developing a new German foreign intelligence service. Gehlen hired the best man he knew for the job - former SS colonel Otto Skorzeny, who at the end of the war had organized the infamous ODESSA network to facilitate the escape of high-ranking Nazis to Latin America (mainly Peron's Argentina) and Egypt. With Skorzeny now on the job of assisting Nasser, Egypt became a safe haven for Nazi war criminals galore. The CIA officer in charge of the Egypt assistance program was Miles Copeland, soon a Nasser intimate.
And then things got truly complicated and messy. Having played a large role in Nasser's power grab, the Muslim Brotherhood, after the 1949 assassination of Hassan al-Banna by government agents [see part 1] under new leadership and (since 1951) under the radical ideological guidance of Sayyid Qutb, demanded its due - imposition of Sharia (Islamic religious) law. When Nasser demurred, he became a Brotherhood assassination target, but with CIA and the German mercenaries' help he prevailed. In February 1954, the Brotherhood was banned. An October 1954 assassination attempt failed. Four thousand brothers were arrested, six were executed, and thousands fled to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon.
Within short order, things got more tangled still: As Nasser in his brewing fight with Britain and France over control of the Suez Canal turned to the Soviet Union for assistance and arms purchases, the CIA approached and began collaboration with the Brotherhood against their ex-ally, the now pro-Soviet Nasser.
We leave that twisted tale at this stage. A leading Brotherhood member arrested in 1954 was Sayyid Qutb. He spent the next 10 years in Jarah prison near Cairo and there wrote the tracts that subsequently became (and till this day remain) must-reading and guidance for Islamists everywhere. (The main translations into Farsi were made by the Rahbar of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.) But while brother number one went to jail, other leading members who had escaped were given jobs in Saudi universities and provided with royal funding. They included Sayyid's brother Muhammad and Abdullah al-Azzam, the radical Palestinian preacher (the "Emir of Jihad") who later in Peshawar, Pakistan, founded the Maktab al-Khidamat, or Office of Services, which became the core of the al-Qaeda network. As a student at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Osama bin Laden, son of Muhammad bin Laden, the kingdom's wealthiest contractor and close friend of King Faisal, became a disciple of Muhammad Qutb and al-Azzam.
Sayyid Qutb was born in 1906 in a small village in Upper Egypt, was educated at a secular college, and subsequently worked as an inspector of schools for the ministry of education. In the 1930s and 1940s, nothing pointed to his later role. He wrote literary criticism, hung out in coffee houses, and published a novel which flopped. His conversion to radical Islam came during two-and-a-half years of graduate studies in education in the United States (1948-51). He came to hate everything American, described churches as "entertainment centers and sexual playgrounds", was shocked by the freedom allowed to women, and immediately upon his return to Egypt joined the Muslim Brotherhood and assumed the position of editor-in-chief of the organization's newspaper.
While in jail, Qutb wrote a 30-volume (!) commentary on the Koran; but his most influential book, published in 1965 after his 1964 release from prison for health reasons, was Ma'alim fi'l-tariq ("Signposts on the Road", also translated as "Milestones"). In it, he revised Hassan al-Banna's concept of establishing an Islamic state in Egypt after the nation was thoroughly Islamized, advocating instead - fascist or Bolshevik-style - that a revolutionary vanguard should first seize state power and then impose Islamization from above. Trouble is, this recipe went against the unambiguous Muslim prohibition against overthrowing a Muslim ruler.
Qutb found his clue to resolving the dilemma in the writings of his Pakistani contemporary, Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79), founder in 1941 of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who had denounced the existing political order in Muslim societies as partial jahiliyyah - resembling the state of unenlightened savagery, ignorance and idolatry of pre-Islamic Arab societies. There was nothing "partial" about the jahiliyyah of the existing order, nothing that could be redeemed, pronounced Qutb: "... a society whose legislation does not rest on divine law ... is not Muslim, however ardently its individuals may proclaim themselves Muslim, even if they pray, fast and make the pilgrimage ... jahiliyyah ... takes the form of claiming the right to create values, to legislate rules of collective behavior and to choose any way of life that rests with me, without regard to what God has prescribed."
Only uncompromising restoration of the ideal of the union of religion and state as evidenced during the 7th century reign of the "righteous caliphs" would do. Islam was a complete system of life not in need of man-made additions. Any ruler, Muslim or otherwise, standing in the way could be justifiably removed - by any means.
This, naturally, applied to Nasser, and another attempt on his life was made in 1965. Qutb was rearrested, tortured and tried for treason. On August 29, 1966, he was hanged. The charge against him of plotting to establish a Marxist regime in Egypt was ludicrous. Nasser and his minions knew full well that the real danger to the regime stemmed from Qutb's denunciation of it as jahiliyyah, and not from those clauses of his Ma'alim fi'l-tariq which speak of a classless society in which the "selfish individual" and the "exploitation of man by man" would be abolished, which the prosecution cited as evidence against him.
The martyred Qutb's writings rapidly acquired wide acceptance in the Arab world, especially after the ignominious defeat of the Arabs in the June 1967 "Six Day War" with Israel, taken as proof of the depth of depravity to which the regimes in the Muslim realm had sunk.