Hussein Ibish

Brotherhood’s attack on women bodes ill

women of the MB

No more illusions. No further evasions. Tolerate not a single additional apologetic explanation. Admit no further concessions to a false moral and cultural relativism. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has now fully exposed itself as what many of us have been trying to explain it is: paranoid, chauvinistic, reactionary, retrograde, and, above all, misogynistic.


The Brotherhood has reminded us, in a bizarre rant against the UN Commission on the Status of Women, that Islamism in practice invariably prioritizesmisogyny (and homophobia). But this is merely the vanguard of a much broader set of intended and inevitable repressions against minorities, individuals and, eventually, all opposition.


Islamism doesn't have the intellectual depth of a systematic political ideology. It has no specific economic theory or program beyond mercantilism, with some (apparently malleable) suspicions about interest. It doesn't have an analysis of class or other key social structures. Its ‘theory’ of the relationship of the individual and society simply empowers those claiming religious authority and ‘authenticity’. It has no distinctive defense strategy, foreign policy, developmental program, or anything like that.


Instead, it boils down to a set of extremely reactionary social attitudes that don't have any real implications for such key issues of governance.


The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in the 1920s in order to exploit and manipulate religious sentiment to seize political power. They seek to use that power to ‘Islamize’ Egypt and other Arab societies along ultraconservative lines that purport to be ‘traditional’ but are often in fact modern innovations or new interpretations of past practices.


Their stock in trade is a paranoid jeremiad that holds that Muslim and Arab societies are under assault by modernity in general and the West in particular. They pose as defenders of an Arab and Islamic ‘moral specificity’ and ‘cultural particularity’ that are supposedly under siege. As a solution to these and all other challenges, they proclaim ‘Islam is the answer’, as interpreted and enforced by them, of course.


In practice that generally means oppressing women and reversing the rights that they have gained even under the highly flawed postcolonial Arab state system. In the crudest patriarchal worldview, protecting the country means defending the home and family, and, especially, ‘protecting’ women. And that, in turn, means men and male-dominated society have to control and repress women, especially when it comes to sexual and domestic rights.


The Brotherhood's statement drips with this trademark paranoid cultural chauvinism and siege mentality, warning that the UN Declaration "would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries."


How? Because, the Brotherhood statement claims, the UN Commission would allow "girls full sexual freedom," allow the reproductive rights of contraception and abortion, grant equal rights to children born outside of marriage, grant equal rights to homosexuals and "protect prostitutes," allow wives to sue husbands for rape, provide equal inheritance for women, make men partners rather than "guardians" of women, provide for equality in marriage legislation, allow judges rather than husbands to decide on divorces, and remove the requirement of a husband's consent for a woman to travel, work or otherwise function normally in society.


The most telling element of this breathtakingly misogynistic rant is the assertion of ‘guardianship’ of men over women, rather than the apparently horrifying notion of equal partnership. The Brotherhood statement time and again asserts male privilege and male primacy. It casts gender equality as a mortal threat to Islamic values and Arab culture.


To this mentality, female sexuality – above and beyond social, political, and economic freedom and equality – is the primary threat to be contained and controlled. This is the howl of a male hysteria in full-blown panic mode, but also a calculated political tool.


So, Egyptians can expect the Brotherhood in the long run to do its utmost to reverse the modest gains that women have made in Egypt over the past century. Even in Saudi Arabia, the trend is towards granting women greater rights, not rolling the clock back.


Although the Brotherhood has the presidency, it still has neither full control of Egypt's politics nor has it transformed Egyptian society. Contrast its statement with that of Egypt's official representative to the Commission.


So much for the notion of the Brotherhood as moderate, open-minded, equitable, or pluralistic, or the idea that power will moderate them, at least as an organization. By releasing this document now, to the surprise, dismay, and astonishment of many, the Brotherhood has proudly reconfirmed its core orientation as authoritarian, intolerant, oppressive, and, above all, viciously misogynistic.


No one in Egypt or abroad will be able to claim "we had no idea" about the Brotherhood's actual ideology, because they just gleefully shoved their unrepentant extremism down our throats. Their rule is not just a threat to Egyptian women, but to everybody.

Late last year, female supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood pray in Cairo. (AFP photo)

“Islamism boils down to a set of extremely reactionary social attitudes that don't have any real implications for key issues of governance.”

  • ChrisLA

    One measure of gender equality is access to employment which provides economic and social independence. The following data show the ratio of women to men in the workforce. Even before the "Arab Spring," women in Egypt ranked quite low in this index. The situation has probably deteriorated since then. Ratio of female to male of the working-age population (ages 15-64) that actively engages in thelabor market in 2011. (Source: UN Development Program) Israel: .841 United States:.820 Germany: .797 Thailand .797 Japan: .689 Turkey: .394 India .359 Egypt .319 Pakistan .273 Saudi Arabia: .239 Palestine .228 Iran: .226 Afghanistan .196

    March 19, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I applaud this rare and much needed auto-critique by a Muslim Arab such as Mr. Ibish. Yet, "progressive" Arab-Muslim pundits like Mr, Ibish, just like the Muslim Brotherhood, continue to blame the West, albeit for different reasons. As he so eloquently states, Mr. Ibish points to the Brotherhood's perception of a western attack on Arab and Islamic traditions. But Mr. Ibish will not refrain (even if in a slight of hand in the last paragraph of his piece) from blaming the same West for not doing enough to stem the Brotherhood, just as he and others continue to blame the West for not doing enough in Syria. We need an auto-critique that targets only the ills of our societies and that cease blaming the West for every little problem we have, some 70 years after the end of colonialism.

    March 19, 2013