Friday, November 13, 2009

Brotherhood Watching

Ibrahim al-Houdaiby's excellent overview of the challenges facing the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood reminds me of this session at this month's MESA meeting:
"It has been forty years since the publication of Richard P. Mitchell’s The Society of the Muslim Brothers, the seminal study of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and a groundbreaking work on modern Islamic movements. While commenting on Mitchell’s contributions to the field, this panel will also explore more recent studies of the Muslim Brotherhood. Panelists will pick up where Mitchell’s study leaves off, examining the movement from the 1950s to the present. Though Mitchell concludes with what appears to be the final blow to the organization in post-revolutionary Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood survived the period of repression in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s prisons. The first paper will describe the means by which the group’s leadership were not only able to communicate within the confines of prison networks, but also refine their message in keeping with the intellectual developments of the 1950s and 1960s. Influenced by the ideas of figures such as Sayyed Qutb and Hasan al-Hudaybi, the Muslim Brotherhood transformed its discourse in the face of new challenges. The second paper will explore the framing mechanisms employed in the Muslim Brotherhood’s literature following their release from prison and reconstitution in the 1970s. This period saw a reimagining of the recent past and a fresh outlook toward the future of Islamic activism. The third paper will focus on the concepts of 'auto-critique' and 'auto-reform' within the Muslim Brotherhood, dating back to the mid-1990s. Among the many questions to which these practices relate is the contemporary understanding of the early Muslim Brotherhood and the legacy of its founder, Hasan al-Banna. An interesting contrast emerges between Mitchell’s documentation of this figure and recent framings by the organization’s leaders. Finally, the fourth paper will examine the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections, where it made surprising gains and its subsequent release of a party platform, sparking widespread debates over the future of the movement. From the organization examined by Mitchell, which attempted to negotiate a prominent role for itself in the age of liberal Egyptian politics, to the most recent election of the largest Brotherhood contingent in the movement’s history, the discussion comes full circle. In addition to owing much of their insights to Mitchell’s contribution four decades earlier, all of these papers have advanced the study of the Islamic movements generally and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in particular."

The presenters of the papers, in order, are Barbara H.E. Zollner, Abdullah al-Arian, and Carrie Rosefsky Wickham. Unfortunately the fourth paper, on the 2005 elections, seems to have been withdrawn. This session is high on the list of those I'm interested in attending, as the lack of a current history of the Arab world's most influential Islamist organization is a travesty.



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