Many of the supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are likely to turn to the extreme ideology of Al-Qaeda as inspiration for their continued struggle for an Islamic State. As far as the leaders and supporters of the Brotherhood are concerned the previous attempts to build such a state by gradually turning society towards a more Islamic way of life have proven to be a failure. Even after gaining power in a democratic election, a result of tens of years of institution building, they were pushed out of power by the army to the acclaim of most of the Western world and the vast majority of Egypt’s neighbors. Building an Islamic State through democratic means has failed.
The adherents of Al-Qaeda have consistently claimed that trying to pursue gradual change would fail. Al-Qaeda strategy is to use revolutionary terrorism to weaken the institutions that allow non-Islamic regimes to exist and to terrorize the West out of the Middle East. Removing the regimes and terrorizing their Western backers creates the potential for building Islamic States from the ground up. The results of such a strategy can be seen in Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other lawless places where al-Qaeda and its branches have managed to establish enclaves where Islamic law is the only law that operates.
The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Al Qaeda have always been the same – to establish an Islamic State. In fact, the ideology of Al-Qaeda has its sources in the extreme wings of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was born during the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s by the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Al Qaeda’s ideology can be seen as a result of a loss of faith in the capacity of the Muslim Brotherhood to gradually change the institutions of Egypt and the resulting need to overturn and destroy all the institutions of the state in order to allow the creation of a pure Islamic State.
Years of suppression in Egypt pushed the Muslim Brotherhood gradually into the margins of society where it maintained a network of social services. Most of its leadership spent time in prison including Mursi who was only busted out of prison on the eve of the revolution against Mubarak. Such oppression of the Brotherhood gradually pushed its political objectives into the background and forced it to become a more pragmatic organization praying for the day when it could take advantage of its massive organization in the day after the existing regime collapsed. As such, the initial protests against Mubarak contained very few Muslim Brotherhood activists. They were hesitant to join since they very vividly remembered the results of previous forays into public politics. After it became apparent that Mubarak’s days were numbered the Brotherhood sent its activists out to join the protesters so that it could reap the rewards after the revolution. After the presidential and parliamentary elections the Brotherhood finally achieved its objective of seizing power in Egypt. Years of gradual planning and institution building paid off and the Brothers were eager to change Egypt to be a true Islamic State.
Almost exactly one year later all of their accomplishments have been overturned. Institution building, participating in the democratic process, winning elections, writing a constitution did not help them bring an Islamic State closer. Now they are again facing oppression, prison and torture at the hands of the military and secret police. Having come so close to their objectives, the sense of disappointment and disillusionment in their previous path must be overwhelming. In ideological magnitude this likely vastly overshadows the initial events that caused Sayyid Qutb to create the ideology on which Al-Qaeda is based. As far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned, the ideology of Al-Qaeda has been proven correct. The coming mass suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and all its institutions is likely to push many of its activists into Al-Qaeda’s open arms.