The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex-Summary

August 12th, 2017

When I was a child, my mother told me that she was reincarnated from an Egyptian. Later, I taught Egyptian history. Then, in 1989, an invitation came to live and work in Egypt as a State Department Envoy—my dream assignment. We lived in the wonderful country from 1989 to 1991, then returned over the next two decades for months at a time. With these experiences, we learned to treasure the country and its people.

From these experiences, the saga and journeys of anthropologist Justine Jenner were born and took form in The Justine Trilogy in the historical novels The Cairo Codex, The Italian Letters and A Rapture of Ravens: Awakening in Taos. These novels begin with the lead up to the revolution and end with the election of President Morsi, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One cannot engage in such research and writing without being fascinated by the compelling story of a group such as the Brotherhood that began in 1928 to resist British colonization, played a violent role during WWII and the 1952 revolution, influenced Middle Eastern radicalism, rose to prominence and the presidency, then suffered a coup and fell into disgrace and terror.
What a roller coaster ride! The future is difficult to divine.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Want to learn more? Read The Justine Trilogy.

The Italian Letters by Linda Lambert

The Italian Letters by Linda Lambert

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 10

August 9th, 2017


So, how has labeling the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization affected Egypt? This is my take, as Fareed Zakaria would say. The Brotherhood response to the coup could have been expected. They fought back; there was violence in the streets. Now labeled as a terrorist organization by El Sisi, they met those expectations, unfortunately including the burning of Christian churches. The traditional leadership lost control.

This loss of control by the Brotherhood’s old guard meant the peeling off and radicalization of younger members. “We tried democracy, the ballot box,” they shouted, “and see where that got us.” Many joined ISIS, thus bringing more random violence to the Sinai, the western desert—and the cities along the Nile as well.

The insistence by President El Sisi and his administration that all Brotherhood members are terrorists has meant a failure to distinguish between those members who would like to return to civility and those who are radicalized. A new form of rapprochement is needed. In the meantime, the current military government uses the threat of terror to keep a tight control on civil rights.

The next essay–# 11—will bring us full circle back to The Justine Trilogy and how these novels unfolded in the light of changes in the Middle East.

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 9

August 7th, 2017

For the moment, let’s journey back to the revolution. From A Rapture of Ravens: Awakening in Taos: “Justine was gripped by deeply unsettling fears for her lover Amir, his leadership role with the youth of Egypt placing him at great risk of being arrested. The turmoil in the Middle East was unprecedented, clearly, so perhaps none of the old rules applied. This is a new game, in a new world bursting from the ground up, a popular revolution quickened by social media. But then what? She knew that if Mubarak were removed, Egyptians would still have the military and the Brotherhood, since no one else was as organized. Perhaps with Amir’s help, those who led the January 25th revolution would form themselves into a focused political movement. Perhaps.
Justine gripped the blanket more firmly around her chilled body and returned to the kitchen for the last dregs of coffee. On the couch, she curled her stocking feet under her and stared at the screen. Tahrir Square was crowded with thousands of Egyptians chanting, “Down with Mubarak,” arms flailing the air, placards in Arabic demanding the president’s resignation. The crowd throbbed, like a singular heart beating in concert.”
Justine had cautioned herself, be careful what you ask for.
The last essay asked “What now?” Now that the military is back in charge—what changes have we seen? El Sisi and his administration have created two areas of deep concern, with tragic long-term consequences, I fear. First is the suspension of significant civil rights: the right to assemble, rule of law, free speech. These measures, so they say, have been taken in response to the radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood and random terror. Labeling the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization has dissembled the previously cohesive group. Is it possible for Egypt to normalize random terror?

Flight into Egypt

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 8

August 1st, 2017

I was naïve and deceived by the 2011 Revolution. I thought it was a genuine upsurge, an emergence of the democratic spirit. And, of course it was for those young peoples involved. But two forces really represented what is being called “the deep state” in the US now. This “deep state” (those forces secretly in control) was represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.

As so often happens, the enthusiasm and passion that led the youthful uprising met with a sobering reality soon afterward. There were multiple agenda and multiple leaders. So, the masses couldn’t select and get behind a single candidate. This was not a problem for the Brotherhood. Organized and disciplined, the group was soon legalized and formed the Freedom and Justice Party. Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won the popular vote in the 2012 election. After decades of struggle, the Muslim Brotherhood now led Egypt. Amazing.

However, one year later, with the help of military manipulation, Morsi was removed from office in a military coup. El Sisi was installed as the interim president. (Note that the US didn’t call it a coup—an embarrassing political choice—since identification as a coup would have meant the removal of all US military aid to Egypt.) The Brotherhood fought back with violent means and churches were burned. The organization became an illegal, terrorist organization. Morsi was jailed.

The military—which was supposedly overthrown with the fall of Mubarak—was back in charge. What now?

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 7

July 31st, 2017

In spite of Mubarak’s continued efforts to suppress the Brotherhood, including amending the constitution to ban political parties with a religious foundation, the organization continued to gain power. By 2010, we could detect a mounting “perfect storm,” that is, the increasing agitation of the Brotherhood in response to oppression and frequent imprisonment of members and the plight of Egypt’s youth.

A Rapture of Ravens: Awakening in Taos, the third novel in the Justine Trilogy (The Cairo Codex being the first) was set in 2010-2011 and chronicled the launching and immediate aftermath of the 2011 revolution. By April, 2010, clusters of youth in Cairo were planning the uprising. The trigger came with the tragic incident in Tunisia on December 17:
“. . . Tunisia. This morning Mohamed Bouazizi, a 27-year-old shopkeeper in Tunis, set himself on fire after a squabble with a policewoman, onlookers say. More than a hundred witnesses stood in horror as Bouazizi slowly sat down in the middle of the road and poured gasoline on himself. He paused only briefly, mumbling inaudibly before he lit the match. No one moved. People stood transfixed, unbelieving. A woman ran from the crowd screaming ‘help him, help him.’ She was later identified as his mother. What would motivate a young man to take his life in this horrible way? What will happen now? Across the world . . . ”

“When we get a million hits on Facebook, we go,” claimed the youthful organizers. The Rapture describes that resolve on January 25, 2011:
“They had no idea what lay ahead, but they had had enough. Enough of unemployment and low wages, living at home until the age of thirty, unable to get a place of their own, a place to bring a wife. Postponing a family, watching their friends rounded up and imprisoned without charges, barely recognizing their bruised faces once they returned to their neighborhoods with flat, unexpressive eyes. But not today. Not today. Today, their eyes filled with resolve, bravery.”

Was this a revolution of Egypt’s youth? A general unrest that gave rise to citizens of all ages? A revolution of the Muslim Brotherhood? The answer is “yes” in all three cases. A perfect storm. It was the Brotherhood members who checked for weapons and handed out water at the perimeter of Tahrir Square on that fateful day.

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 6

July 29th, 2017

A review by The Historical Novel Society suggested: “ The author of The Cairo Codex shows a surprisingly in-depth, and even prescient, knowledge of modern Egypt and the conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and other segments of society.”

This was my goal: to chronicle the unexpected surge of the Brotherhood as well as the inherent dangers of its rise. While the organization was participating in the radicalization of other parts of the Middle East and favoring Shariah law, in Egypt their public stance was intended as a more accepted political influence.

The Cairo Codex also details the sources of the Coptic (Egyptian Christianity similar to Greek Orthodoxy)-Islamic tensions arising from history and beliefs. For instance, belief in the trinity, claim Muslims, suggest that Christians are polytheistic. The puzzlement to many is that all Religions of the Book began with Abraham. A common history.

By “prescient,” the Society meant a description of conditions that would lead to revolution. Set in the year 2006, the Codex anticipated the 2011 Revolution, which we will discover in Part 7, was not what it seemed.

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 5

July 27th, 2017

By the time I arrived in Egypt in 1989, the Brotherhood was steadily gaining seats in Parliament as an Independent Party (the Brotherhood label was forbidden under Mubarak also). Each year the numbers increased.

Brotherhood success, as described in my last installment and in The Cairo Codex, can be primarily attributed to two public factors: 1) Organization and discipline and 2) An important focus on social services.

Near the beginning of my service as a US state department envoy in Egypt, I asked the acclaimed sociologist Andrea Rugh, author of Reveal and Conceal and many other books on women in Egypt, how to reach the local communities directly. By directly, I meant without going through governmental agencies or even NGOs.

Andrea introduced my husband and I to Madam Ansaf (see photo with the three of us), an angel of mercy if there ever was one, who tended directly to the poor and offered micro-loans for everything from weddings to bean pots. It was through Madam Ansaf that we became intimately acquainted with the social services of the Brotherhood.

Next, the lead up to the 2011 revolution which was not as it seemed…

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 4

July 25th, 2017

Meanwhile, in 1948, the Brotherhood was banned because of the 1948 assassination of Egypt’s prime minister, Mohamed Pasha. The assassination by a Brotherhood member was thought to be revenge for crackdowns on the organization. While the Brotherhood supported the revolution, the Junta that took charge immediately afterwards refused to share power. The Brotherhood reaction was a violent upheaval that destroyed massive amounts of property. So, when Nasser assumed the presidency in ’54 and experienced his own assassination attempt at the hands of the Brotherhood, he abolished the organization and imprisoned thousands.

By 1965, another assassination attempt caused yet another crackdown. However, the Egypt Brotherhood then largely rejected a more radical, violence ideology that was taking root in other countries and sought more peaceful strategies. By now, the organization well-organized, disciplined and largely professional.

Yet, radicals in the organization possessed and projected significant influence from the prisons. They were instrumental in training Hamas and Hezbollah in the art of securing mass loyalties. These were the same strategies working at home in Egypt: support the poor and helpless, provide essential medical care, pack warehouses with school uniforms and family necessities. It is not surprising that the Brotherhood was enlarging its following and surging in the polls by the late ‘80’s.

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 3

July 23rd, 2017

When my husband, Morgan, and I were moving to Egypt in 1989, we read the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. The first book is Justine, after which the protagonist of the Justine Trilogy is named. Durrell captured the blend of metaphysics (complex world views) and human psychology so pertinent to this part of the story. It vividly describes Egypt in the late 30’s and 40’s, the time when the Brotherhood is becoming more directly active in politics. Two engagements are of particular interest.

The Brotherhood’s most public venture into politics was involvement in the chasm between Palestine and Zionism. The organization raised money to support the worker revolt in Palestine. Many think of the conflict in Palestine as beginning with the 1948 sanctioning of statehood for Israel (a war to which the Brotherhood sent volunteers). Not so. It began in the 19th century with vast Jewish purchases of Palestinian lands. In The Cairo Codex we learn that Mary of Nazareth came from Palestine and finds pleasure in the freedoms she experiences in Egypt.

It is not surprising that Egyptians harbored strong sympathies for the Nazis during WWII. After all, they were being colonized by the British. And, anti-Semiticism was very strong. Hopeful that the war would bring the end to British colonization, the Brotherhood would have to wait for Nasser and the quiet revolution of 1952….

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The Muslim Brotherhood & The Cairo Codex 2

July 22nd, 2017

In 1928, a young schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna was asked to establish the Society of Muslim Brothers. He was quite a visionary who sought Islamic renewal as well as an overthrow of British colonization. In the last chapter of The Cairo Codex as story of subjugation and humiliation chronicles the lack of respect and dignity rendered to Egyptians and Arabs by the British.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the story…. Between 1928 and 1938, al-Banna sought to link tradition and modernity. Egyptian society was conflicted with extreme traditionalism on one side and corrupted behaviors on the other. A broken sense of identity. With al-Banna’s leadership Egypt became a civil society, understood and delivered welfare support (this has continued to be the case today), land reform, housing and sought an socialist economic system which Nasser would bring about in the mid-50’s.

Then comes the lead up to Palestinian Arab nationalism and World War II….

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