Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has always dealt with Egyptian politics with opportunism and pragmatism. It is obvious when we look back into its relationship with the royal Palace, Egyptian parties (majority or minority), and the Free Officers Movement, and also in their connections with 1952 post-revolution military government, the Sadat regime and eventually during Mubarak’s era.
This chapter seeks to monitor all the Brotherhood’s interactions, starting from its relations with the royal Palace (as vested in the King), passing through the Egyptian revolution of 1952 and the regime of slain President Anwar Sadat, till the post-Mubarak era.
First: The Brotherhood & the Palace
The Royal Palace was part or side of the trio authority representing the executive power that controlled the political life affairs in Egypt before July 23th Revolution. The other two sides of authority were vested in ‘Al-Wafad Party’, the then most popular and influential party in Egypt, and in the British, that is, the colonial power that dominated the entire Egyptian state through its embassy and armed forces.
King Ahmed Fuad of Egypt was keen to consolidate his power over all religious institutions, not out of religiousness, but for his burning desire to make best use of the great popularity and influence of these institutions in order to control the rest of the state institutions in the country. (1)
The King Fuad I’s authority came under growing threats after passing and ratifying the 1923 Constitution which brought about several political reforms and restored the national life force of Al-Azhar in society and politics. Law No. 15 of 1927 regulated education system of Al-Azhar, introduced new scientific section in its curricula, curtailed the Palace’s power to interfere into Al-Azhar affairs, and the appointment of Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam became a decision jointly made by the government and the Palace, and that put an end to the royal control over the position of Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (Sheikdom) which was hallmark of the rulership of Mohamed Ali dynasty in order to rationalize their policies. As a consequence, Sheikh Al-Sherbiny tendered his resignation, as he was backed by Khedive Tewfik Pasha (aka Tawfiq of Egypt, 1852 to 1892) – and was opposing to any reforms in Al-Azhar.
On the other hand, Sheikh Al-Gizawi was Al-Azhar Grand Imam when Law No. 15 of 1927 was put into force. Al-Gizawi went against the wish of King Fuad I to install himself as Caliph [of the Islamic World] following Mustafa Kemal Atatürk abolished the Caliphate. Although Gizawi, at the time, did not have any religious or political say regarding abolition of the Caliphate and that was because at the time Egypt was under imperial British control, and the absence of Al-Azhar’s political role overseas. When Mustafa Al-Maraghi, one of the champions of Muhammad Abduh’s reformist ideals, was made rector of Al-Azhar (or Grand Imam), Al-Azhar started having a role to play in politics (though it was limited).
Al Maraghi called reconciliation of different schools of Islamic law—Sunnis and Shiites—and established a sector for Islamic Missions and Culture that would spread Islam’s message abroad by receiving convoys or sending envoys. When Muhammad al-Zawahiri was appointed as Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, it was deemed as an endorsement to Muhammad Abduh’s reformist views and that was by establishing organizational structures within Al-Azhar, specialized colleges were established in pursuance of Law No. 1949 of 1930. In fact, Abduh aggressively campaigned for the introduction of modern sciences to Al-Azhar’s curriculum. Thus, Abduh was the prime mover of Law No. 1949 of 1930, as well as the formation of the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar.
Hassan El-Banna started his revivalist call while covetously aspiring to the Palace; he tried to associate himself with it on grounds that it was in the Palace’s best interest that Brotherhood would be by its side. (2)
The Brotherhood was very keen to laud King Fuad I and always praised his religious conduct, frequently eulogized his demise, and even dubbed him as “protector of Islam” or “Islam’s flag bearer”. The Brotherhood’s newspaper wistfully elegized the late king in a bid to win sympathy of his successor [King Farouk I]. Several articles were published aiming at encouraging Fuad I’s heir apparent [to the throne] to adhere to Islamic teachings and traditions like his father did. The Brotherhood’s press described Farouk I as “a man of high piety and generous spirit, possesses vim and vigor, and regularly performs his duties towards God and sticks to His prescriptions and avoids His proscriptions”. (3)
In another Issue released by the same newspaper, an article was penned, praising Farouk’s character, describing him as “a teacher, a mentor and a role model”.
In the year 1356 AH, (09/02/1937), Hassan El-Banna penned an article titled “Guardian of the Quran” in which he wrote: “300 million Muslims around the world, their souls aspire to the glorious king who pledged to be a bulwark of the Quran and they pledged to be at his disposal as soldiers defending the holy Quran. It is most likely that God has chosen Farouk I for our communal guidance. By the Grace of God, Your Majesty, those who are behind you are the sincerest soldiers of all times.” (4)
When Farouk I assumed the kingdom of Egypt and the Sudan [succeeding his father, Fuad I in 1936], there were several demands that the coronation should be in a religious ceremony held in the castle of Muhammad Ali. It was suggested that Al-Maraghi, the then Al-Azhar’s rector and one of Farouk’s teachers, would ordain him as king with the sword of his grandfather Mohamed Ali. It was suggested, too, that the swearing-in ceremony would be convened, where the King would lead the people in prayers following the coronation formalities, considering Farouk I as the new Imam of Islam in whose name, Shariah was to be upheld.
Mostafa El-Nahas Pasha, leader of Al-Wafd Party, resisted the idea and considered it not of the religion’s concern, but rather, it is tantamount to creating a special religious authority on a par with the civil authority. El-Nahas argued that holding religious ceremony alongside a swearing-in before the Parliament only would mean that “the King would receive part of his royal prerogatives from other than Parliament.” El-Nahas described the Islamist movement that called for the application of Sharia as the result of a conspiracy that intended to impede the process of the conference on cancelling the foreign concessions.
El-Banna responded that this movement was borne in on an inevitable and obligatory duty that if people did not support it, they would be all committing a grave sin. In fact, this accounts for why the Brotherhood-trained parades of scouts were deployed on the day of inauguration of King Farouk; one of its purposes was to make up for that religious ceremony which brought back the atmosphere of the infighting of 1924 over the establishment of Caliphate and the appointment of King Fuad I as Caliph. (5)
 .Caliphate, the political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its dominion in the centuries following the death (632 CE) of the Prophet Muhammad. (Translator)
 . Muhammad Mustafa al-Maraghi OBE (5 March 1881 – 22 August 1945) was an Egyptian reformer and rector of Al-Azhar.
 . Muḥammad ‘Abduh (1849 – 11 July 1905) was an Egyptian Islamic jurist, religious scholar and liberal reformer.
 .Mostafa El-Nahas Pasha (June 15, 1879 – August 23, 1965) was an Egyptian political figure. He joined Al-Wafd as a representative of the Egyptian National Party.
Egyptian Journalist and Member of Parliament, Dr. Abdel Rehim Ali is an expert on Islamist Movements and political Islam. This essay is adapted from his upcoming book “The Impossible State: Muslim Brotherhood and Polity,” which will be published later this month.