Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is the mother-ship of Sunni Muslim jihadism.
Founded in 1928 in vehement reaction to Kemal Mustapha Ataturk’s forced secularization of Turkey and dismantling of the pan-Islamic caliphate, the Brotherhood (al-Ikwan al-Muslimi) in recent decades spawned the assassins of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; Egyptian Islamic Jihad, subsequently one of al Qaeda’s constituent groups; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader and now Osama bin Laden’s chief deputy; and Hamas, the Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement.” Its influential ideologue, the anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Jewish writer Sayyid Qutb was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966.
Readers learned virtually none of that in “Turmoil In The Middle East: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood avoids leading role in protests” in The Washington Post’s January 31 edition. Instead, reporter Will Englund, writing from Cairo in the midst of the upheaval challenging the government of President Hosni Mubarak, conveys a number of observations, among them:
* “ … the Muslim Brotherhood insists it is little more than a bit player in the outpouring of resistance to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.”
* “It is not the organization of radical jihadists that it is sometimes made out to be.”
* “ … the 83-year-old group has been weakened by a generational divide and overtaken by the protests that broke out with little warning here last week.”
* “’The Brothers have been effectively sidelined,’” quoting the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
* The Muslim Brotherhood “has at times been propped up as a foil — especially for Western audiences — with periodic crackdowns that have sent many of its members to prison” following its suppression in the 1950s and ‘60s.
* “But Egypt has been changing, more rapidly perhaps than the organization understands.” The Post does refer to the Brothers’ “nationwide reach and reputation” and paraphrases a young lawyer, a former member, saying it is bound to have a resurgence, despite the fact that the anti-Mubarak turmoil has forced it to submerge its identity “while rushing to catch up with the mostly young protesters on the streets.”
Compare this to USA Today’s January 31 page one “Pressure rises on Mubarak,” a two-article package including “In Egypt, The Anger At President Hits Home; ‘A responsible revolution’ with an uncertain path,” by correspondents Jim Michaels and Oren Dorell, and accompanying “U.S. charters flights to get Americans out” by Michaels. USA Today readers learn, among other things, that:
* “ … the crowds of protesters have included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an early mentor to Osama bin Laden and ancestor of Hamas, whose members want a theocracy in Egypt and a return to confrontation with Israel and the West.”
* “Also among the protestors were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to establish an Islamist state. Essam el-Erian, a senior member of the group, said he was heading to Tahrir Square to meet with other opposition leaders. ‘You can call this a revolution,’ he told the Associated Press. ‘You can call this an uprising.’”
* “ … the largest opposition force in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood. As much as 40 percent of the electorate would support the Brotherhood today, Wayne White [former deputy director of intelligence for Near East and South Asia analysis at the State Department under President George W. Bush] says.”
* “Earlier Sunday, gangs of armed men attacked jails across the country, helping free hundreds of Islamist militants and thousands of other inmates.” Some reports said Hamas members were among those freed by relatives and/or Brotherhood supporters.
The Post’s article softened the Brotherhood’s enduring motivation for an Egypt in which the Quran and its complementary teachings are the source of law and social norms; women and minorities like Coptic Christians who comprise an estimated 10 percent of the population, would have second-class status at best; and war against Israel would resume.
The newspaper referred instead to “an organization dedicated to the creation of a more thoroughly Islamic Egyptian state ….” It quoted retired Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef not as breathing fire and brimstone but only desiring “more proper Islamic education and training, so Egyptians would be able to ‘stand up to the American-Zionist project.’” It didn’t mention that as head of the Brothers two years ago Akef called for jihad in Egypt or that he has praised bin Laden and the Brotherhood has supported the killing of Americans in Iraq.
“Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Quran is our law, jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” The Muslim Brotherhood’s motto remains unchanged. USA Today at least gave readers some sense of that. The Washington Post did not.