Sect or Mainstream Movement? The Two Faces of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood


Part 2: 'Triviality and Pornography Are Being Broadcast'

"Triviality and pornography are being broadcast in the movie theaters," says Ahmed al-Bahi, the representative of the FJP in Ismailia. "We won't close the theaters here. But we will educate the people so that they can make their own decisions about boycotting things."

That, he believes, is a great concession to tolerance.

Bahi, a pleasant man, is a bridge engineer and speaks fluent English. "The old forces are still in their positions," the engineer says later, as he forces his dilapidated Hyundai through narrow streets. Voters are restless, he says. "We have the political majority in Ismailia, as we do everywhere in the Nile Delta. But we have no governmental power." Not everyone would complain about that fact.

The original mosque of the Brotherhood, which Banna helped to build with his own hands, is a green-and-white building on New Train Station Street. A plaque outside reads: "Dankes Mosque, formerly the Mosque of the Muslim Brothers, built in 1931." The ground floor is rented to a furniture dealer. Lamb halves dangle from hooks in the butcher's shop next door.

The janitor at the mosque is Salim Yahir, who used to work as a pizza chef in the western German city of Aachen. The entire neighborhood voted for the FJP in the parliamentary elections, he says, although he adds that it is hard to predict whom they will vote for in the presidential election. "The Brothers," he says, remembering bits of his German, "are from yesterday. You understand? Now they come and say: We no more smoke and drink." Then he offers the SPIEGEL reporter a cigarette.

Banna may have embarked on his plan to create a new kind of human in Ismailia 84 years ago, but he didn't get very far.

'They Let Us Down'

The Brotherhood had promised political humility before the parliamentary elections in the winter. After their election victory, they tried to take control of the constitutional commission and they eventually put forward a candidate for the presidential election after all, even though that was precisely what they had said they would not do. The movement, says Muslim Brotherhood expert and political scientist Diaa Rashwan, has switched from "patience" to "dominance" mode, out of concern that its voters could feel disappointed and turn their backs on the Brotherhood, because their daily lives have not changed.

An iron desk stands on the sidewalk next to the mosque. Behind it, nibbling on sunflower seeds, is a rotund, melancholy man, the owner of the butcher shop, keeping his eye on the street. Next to him are a toothless man with a packet of sugar on his wrist, sitting on an aluminum chair, and a man with a gloomy, scarred face who looks as if he might have accidentally stuck his head into an exploding oven.

"Hummel, Hummel," the toothless man says, using a colloquial greeting typical of the German city of Hamburg. Tears of emotion well up in the corner of his eyes. He was a sailor and apparently went to sea once with a man from Hamburg. The man with the scarred face embarks on a monologue that the interpreter summarizes as follows: "The Muslim Brothers had their chance. They let us down. We are all Muslims. Germany should help us."

The small group is sitting under a tarp made of an old campaign banner. The melancholy man introduces himself as Ibrahim al-Gaafari, master butcher. Years ago, he was an unsuccessful candidate on an independent list. The banner hanging above him was his own.

Immune to Reeducation

"The Brothers are Muslims like us. They're harmless. What can anyone have against them?" asks Gaafari. But the niqab, the full veil, shouldn't become obligatory, he adds, saying: "I wouldn't even recognize my own daughter." There are also deviants among the Brothers, says Gaafari, and they are responsible for all the chaos, the recent attack on a refinery and the secret campaigns. "We voted for the Brothers because we were hungry for freedom. It's as if you suddenly had a plate of rice and meat in front of you. The first thing you do is eat. But they're liars."

The three old men say they will vote for Khaled Ali, the candidate favored by young people, or perhaps Amr Moussa, the charismatic former foreign minister, who Mubarak sidelined to the position of secretary-general of the Arab League. But they certainly will not support a candidate who has anything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood.

And there they sit, in the shade of a campaign banner that depicts the butcher's head and the words: "One of the devoted sons of Ismailia. Support him with love and esteem."

They sit there, and they'll be sitting there again the next day, chewing sunflower seeds. They are living proof of the tenacity of people, who are the way they have always been -- in other words, largely immune to all attempts to reeducate them.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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