A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


MB & OD: an apt comparison? UPDATE

This morning reading a short report on the demonstrations in Egypt, I came across this description of the Muslim Brotherhood written by Stephen Cook at Foreign Affairs: "The Brothers, like the Free Officers who came to power in 1952 and produced Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak, are what the Yale anthropologist James Scott calls "high modernists." High modernism, which places a premium on scientific knowledge and elites with special skills, is inherently authoritarian. It might seem a strange designation for the Brotherhood, since most observers think of it as a religious movement. But in reality, the group has used religion to advance a political agenda. To suggest that the organization's leaders are dilettantes when it comes to Islam would be an overstatement, but the majority of them are first and foremost doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers. They think of themselves as a vanguard that is uniquely qualified to rebuild Egypt and realize its seemingly endless quest for modernization...."The description reminded me of Opus Dei under the Franco regime after World War II, that is, professionals and technocrats with strong religious convictions and a mission to modernize Spain.Is this an apt comparison?UPDATE: For those interested in the current situation in Egypt, here is a detailed but relatively brief account of the major players and their strategies. "The Brother and the Others." May sound familiar to students of the French Revolution. No mention of OD!

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

While I'm not qualified to comment on the aptness of the comparison, I just want to note that the description here of the Muslim Brotherhood is quite different form that impression I've absorbed thus far, which is more along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood as Islamists with a tinge (or more than a tinge) of extremism. Educated elites were not part of my mental picture. Sounds like it's time to reset some preconceptions.

Morsi himself has an engineering degree from someplace in the U.S.--Cal Tech??? Wiki: Ph.D in materials science from USC and taught at California State (Northridge) before returning to Egypt where we was chair of the engineering dept. at Zigazag University until 2010. not everyone in the MB has a Ph.D.

There certainly seems to be a high technology type. The Nazis also were totally authoritarians and valued science/technology enormously. Remember their race to develop the a-bomb and their rockets.But I don't think that support for science for its own sake is the same as the appreciation of technology. Einstein was no von Braun, and von Braun was no Einstein, however practical vonBraun's rockets were. I wonder which group the Spanish ODers belonged to -- science or technology lovers. Their new OD universities aren't known for their strength in either, are they?Bit of a detour: take a look at this map of where the hundreds (thousands?) of German rockets hit London during WW II. Makes Tel Aviv look like Disneyland.

Opus Dei, Rockefeller Republicans, and Kiwanis lunch eaters ? FOX News ,please copy this. .

Ed --From what I've read of the ODers, they wouldn't be caught dead at a Kiwanis lunch. Lunch with the Rockefellers themselves, yes. Those guys are interested in real power. Like the Papacy.

Comparing the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and Opus Dei of Franco's Spain seems pretty apt to me, although I wouldn't characterize OD leaders as "dilettantes" when it comes to Catholicism. "Authoritarian," on the other hand, would fit both. Considering the inherent differences between the way Islam and Catholicism are lived these days, I suppose it would be more likely for a leader of political Islam to be less educated religiously than his Catholic counterpart.

Margaret.. I still say ODers are Kiwanis lunch eaters with over blown expectations. I've met both groups.

Does anyone know if Bp. Finn of tainted OD persona was an** habitue of Kiwanis lunches" Lots of good, conservative Catholics love those kinds of groups.** is that correct: "an" habitue? I have always heard it that way.

My idea of OD and Spain, I now remember, comes from Jose Casanova's book, Public Religions in the Modern World. interestingly, he has written about the process of modernization that Islam must face up to and compares it to the Catholic process in the 19th and 20th century, though I don't remember that he makes a specific reference to OD.

Jim McC. =="Habitue'" is a French word, and in French the "h" would not be pronounced. Hence the "an habitue'"..

"From what Ive read of the ODers..."Ann, have you read this, by John L. Allen? may help round out your reading on OD.

Mark P. --No, I haven't read the book. But I've read columns about it by him. Yes, he does admit the virtues of some in the organization, but he also sees the weaknesses. I even wrote to him once about it. It was commonly thought that he was pro-OD because his wife was a member of the organization. I found this very odd, and wrote to ask him about it. He replied in rather a huff that the rumor was totally unfounded, and that it was a particularly silly rumor because his wife is, in fact, Jewish.

Ann--Yes, he touches upon that in the intro to the book. The fact that such a ridiculous, slanderous and, oh, by the way, completely false accusation was once "commonly thought" to be true is just one more example that, in certain quarters, OD brings out the irrational.Heck, I hear some people have even wondered if they are comparable to the Muslim Brotherhood. The mind boggles...

MP: Really!!! The question is whether the MB in its "modernizing" mode bears some resemblance to OD in post-WWII Spain and its efforts to modernize the Spanish economy. Don't let your mind boggle, it's bad for the brain-a bit like shaken baby syndrome.

Ann,I understand John Allen in his book on OD covers the self-flagellation issue as akin to a gym workout. Is that accurate? If memory serves, Paul Baumann alluded once to that in a side reference on dotC. Maybe not, but I have little trust in OD as they once tried secretly to recruit my eighth grade daughter. It was a scary close call. I find it anything but an innocent religious organization.A cult is more like it, with even separate entrances and exits for men and women.

MS--Got it--in comparing the Opus Dei to the Muslim Brotherhood, you meant it as a compliment to the Opus Dei.

The group sometimes gives "unprecedented access" to various high-profile Catholics who then report on it. Better to do your own research, imho. Lots of material available. Here are some leads from Google. (The third one down, a 1995 article from America by James Martin, S.J., is interesting, imho.) (What is the point of comparing the Muslim group to the Escriva group?)Anyone interested in The Da Vinci Code should take a look at Wordcrime: Solving Crime Through Forensic Linguistics, by John Olsson, Continuum, 2012. See Chapter 4, "Is The Da Vinci Code Plagiarism?"

Point of comparing: Jim Pauwels gave one good reason: "I just want to note that the description here of the Muslim Brotherhood is quite different form that impression Ive absorbed thus far, which is more along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood as Islamists with a tinge (or more than a tinge) of extremism. Educated elites were not part of my mental picture. Sounds like its time to reset some preconceptions."Resetting our preconceptions. Educated elites play important roles in modernizing their societies, whether or not they turn out to be fascists, communists, or liberals. No reason not to be better informed.... Thank you Jim!

Carolyn --I agree with your summary of OD. From what I've read of it, and from what I learned from a former member, it is extremely underhanded, which is enough to put me off it immediately. It is also extremely authoritarian, with the Spanish brand being particularly so. No adult should give up s much self-determination as the ODers do. I think it's sick.However, though it is generally a creepy group, I don't doubt that there are many sincere people in it. Hopefully the reorganization will make it change its loathesome ways, but that remains to be seen.I also particularly dislike its emphasis on having lots of money. Granted, money can be used for great good, but ODers seem to like *using* it too much. That, it seems to me, would be very dangerous to one's spiritual good.

Margaret, I see what you and Jim are saying. (I think.) You regard the Muslim Brotherhood and the Escriva group as having a POSITIVE influence on the countries (and religions) where they achieve the highest offices (Presidency, Supreme Court, Papacy, e.g.). (Even if "they turn out to be fascists," etc.)Have to disagree. (Commonweal's defense/celebration of such groups shocks me.)

Gerelyn, your persistent misreading of what is said here strikes me as truly pathetic for someone who presents him/herself as an educated person.We don't know that it's positive in Egypt. As I suspect Jim P was suggesting (I don't want to put words in his mouth), that the conventional American view of the Muslim Brotherhood is that they are maniac terrorists; they are not alQueda, and as far as I know they are not Salafis. In the context of facist Spain, is it possible that OD was a moderating and modernizing force. Whatever it may have become in more recent times.... Just as I suspect the MB are not the Wahabis of our "ally," Saudi Arabia, who are after all the breeding ground of al Queda.

John Allen has consistently been in denial about his wife's association with OD. He admitted that they were wooing her. She does not have to be Catholic as OD sought to get to Allen through her. There is no other explanation for his favorite treatment of OD. After critics started to call him on this, Allen used the "She is Jewish" language to thwart criticism as if observers would dumbly accept his response. Another factor often overlooked is Ratzinger's wooing of Allen. Which I believe was quite succesfull as Allen began to almost idolize the great enforcer. Ratzinger rewarded Allen with the "scoop" on his selection as pope before anyone else knew it. Tom Fox the NCR publisher gloated over this. I wrote to Fox that this scoop was gotten at the price of journalistic integrity. Allen's shift to the right has enriched him in many ways as he has an immense access to the speaker vault in conservative circles. The lavish praise George Weigel pours on Allen is telling. John Allen, contrary to his earlier professional life, is not regarded well in progressive Catholic circles.

I dont know the makeup of the Muslim Brotherhood, but its slate of candidates could not have achieved the success it did without support from the vast, very tradition-minded Egyptian peasantry. And its hard to imagine it being a modernizing force in the economy, education or culture unless it promotes increased female access to education and careers, emphasizes secular over religious education and promotes freedom of thought. Is it known for any of these things? What exactly are the policies that it advocates that it is hoped will result in modernization? To say it is better than al Qaeda is damning with faint praise, and if it does govern as a fascist political party, I would think thats all we would need to know to conclude its going to be plenty negative for Egypt, even if it makes the trains run on time.

Bill--You seem to know Mrs. Allen better than Mr. Allen knows her.

Mark--I am certainly working with more facts than you are. How are your market forces working for you?

Bill--I'm curious, how would you know, for a fact, that "John Allen has consistently been in denial about his wifes association with OD"?

Gerelyn, your persistent misreading of what is said here strikes me as truly pathetic for someone who presents him/herself as an educated person.Puerile. (Puellarile?)In the context of facist Spain, is it possible that OD was a moderating and modernizing force. I repeat my suggestion that anyone unfamiliar with the organization do his/her own research. (Don't rely on those susceptible to the blandishments of those skilled at blandishment.)

Curious is ok, Mark. But call me when you are serious.

Normally, Bill, dodges are a bit more artful.

The Muslim Brotherhood's grab for power and attempt to enact an Islamist constitution is having adverse consequences on Egypt's economy. Notwithstanding the economy's weakness -- some say it is on the verge of collapse -- Egypt has asked the IMF to postpone a loan of $4.8 billion because all the unrest has prevented it from enacting economic reforms to which it agreed as a condition of the loan.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment