The Simple Act of Tying Shoes Reveals Brotherhood's Program

The Muslim Brotherhood's true nature is revealed in the self-abasement of a young man helping supreme leader Mohammed Badie put on his shoes, writes Alaa al-Aswany.

al-monitor Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie speaks during a news conference on proposed changes to the constitution in Cairo, March 16, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah.

Topics covered

muslim brotherhood, mohammed badie, egypt, disobedience

Oct 10, 2012

I have two stories to tell:

In 1948, King Farouk, accompanied by the Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi, went to a celebration aimed at sighting the crescent moon marking the beginning of Ramadan. As protocol dictated, the prime minister was seated next to the king, while the king’s servant took his seat next to the driver. The servant was supposed to jump out of the car as soon as it stopped and open the door for the king. He discovered that the door handle was broken, as he tried in vain to open it. The situation grew awkward as the moments passed. The car was stopped but the king had not gotten out. An officer in the royal guard and a police general stood next to the car. The general yelled at the young officer: “Open the door for his majesty the king.” To which the officer loudly replied: “Open it yourself sir. You’re closer.”

The king put an end to this uncomfortable situation by opening the door himself and joining the celebration. That day, everyone in the palace talked of nothing but the officer from the royal guard who publicly refused to open the door for his majesty the king. Palace staff were certain that the young man’s career was over; he would certainly be discharged from duty or maybe even court-martialed and thrown in military prison for months or even years. The following day, as soon as the young officer entered the palace, he was summoned to the office of the royal guard commander, where the following dialog took place:

The commander: “Why did you disobey the orders of the police general and refused to open his majesty’s car door?”

The officer: “The general was closer to the royal car and so I asked him to open it himself.”

The commander: “And why didn’t you yourself open the door for his majesty?”

The officer: “Sir, I am an officer in the royal guard and not a servant. My task is to protect the king, not open doors.”

The commander looked at the young officer and then escorted him to the office of the grand chamberlain where he left him to wait outside the door. After a while the commander exited the office, approached the young officer and patted him on the back and told him to go back to his duties, without punishing him. The hero of this true story was al-Gharib al-Husseini, King Farouk’s personal guard, who told this story in his memoirs. There are many meanings to this story: Here was a young officer whose dignity did not allow him to behave as a servant even to the king himself. He was ready to die for the king, but refused to open the door for him. And there is the commander of the royal guard and the grand chamberlain, who completely understood the officer’s need to preserve his dignity and thus let him go unpunished.

The second incident took place a few days ago, and I saw a recording of it aired by the eminent journalist Ibrahim Issa. The supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, had just finished giving a sermon in front of a Brotherhood crowd at the mosque. As he exited, a group of Brotherhood supporters crowded around him bowing as he passed, and one of them put the leader’s shoes on for him. Everyone who watched the recording of the incident clearly saw that the leader did not object, and let the man put shoes on his feet, which indicated that he accepted and felt comfortable with such behavior. We also noticed the young man’s skill in putting the shoes on the leader’s feet. He started by unlacing them to allow the foot to slide in, and then squeezed the back of the shoe so that it would not crumple under the leader’s heel, and in one skillful move he inserted the precious foot into the shoe, tying the laces with speed and efficiency. The strange part is that the young man seemed proud and gratified as if to say: “Is there any higher achievement than to touch the noble foot of the leader — even if through his socks — and put it in his shoe and tie the laces with one’s own hands?”

These two incidents portray two contradictory rationales: The young officer who refused to open the door thought that his loyalty to the king does not preclude him from having self-respect, and he insisted on preserving his dignity no matter what. On the other hand, the young man who bowed down to put the supreme guide’s shoes on for him, is subservient and enjoys being such. He does not differentiate between loyalty and degradation, and considers himself a much lesser person than the leader, to the point of not feeling embarrassed when performing tasks that even servants would refuse to perform. The first rationale transforms the young officer into a strong and dignified person, rendering him capable of independent thought and decision making; while the second one transforms the shoe bearer into a debased follower who cannot possess an opinion or formulate a thought independently from his master and leader.

The Muslim Brotherhood is dependent on blind obedience and degrading loyalty to the point where followers put shoes on their leaders’ feet. The Brotherhood is driven by a single mind represented by the Guidance Office led by the supreme guide, while the remaining thousands of young members of the group are relegated, unfortunately, to being mere tools used to implement the leader’s will. They are not entitled to object, criticize or even express ideas that deviate from the leader’s orders. All the members of the Brotherhood express the same opinion on any subject matter, and espouse the same position relative to any affair. If the leader is pleased with you, so are all the Brothers, at once praising your wisdom, patriotism and courage.

Days or even hours after showering you with praise, the Brothers would bombard you, your family and supporters with curses if you disagreed with, or angered the leader. They would suddenly discover that you were a lascivious agent of the west, an enemy of Islam and a hater of God’s word. Disagreeing with the leader means that your opinion is definitely wrong, for the leader’s opinion is always the correct one, and no other opinion can be true. At the same time it is every Brother’s sacred duty to defend the leader’s views. We notice that all those who broke away from the Brotherhood possessed strong leadership personalities and could not tolerate this degrading subservience. We also notice that those who defected, once they exited the group, were subjected to vicious attacks by Brothers who failed to give the slightest consideration to their past camaraderie and shared history, despite the fact that the Brotherhood owed a real debt of gratitude to some of these defectors, such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

The Brotherhood’s concept of absolute loyalty, undoubtedly impedes people’s capacity for creative independent thought, and transforms them into serfs, as opposed to them being members of a group or party. If we chose one of the closest companions of Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabahi or Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and proposed that they put shoes on their party leader’s feet, they would undoubtedly refuse and be angered at the proposal’s insolence. In fact, none of these great men would ever allow someone else to put their shoes on for them. Some might say: It is the Muslim Brothers’ right to kiss their spiritual leader’s hand and put shoes on his feet, if they so please. Isn’t this their own business?

The answer to that is that it was their own business in the past, but now they rule Egypt, and it has become the business of all Egyptians. Millions of Egyptians were compelled to elect a president belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, not because they liked him or were convinced of his leadership abilities, nor because they were impressed with his intellect or espoused his ideas; they did so only to keep the revolution from failing and to prevent the return of the old regime through Ahmed Shafik. This elected president spent all of his life in the Muslim Brotherhood, is it not our right to ask the Egyptian president whether he approved of a young man putting shoes on the spiritual leader’s feet, whether he considered that custom humiliating and degrading to the shoe bearer, or simply viewed it as a normal occurrence? And if he did consider it normal, what then is the meaning of dignity in the president’s opinion?

Three facts have come to light one hundred days into President Morsi’s reign:

First: The president is a man who doesn’t keep his promises. He promised the Egyptian people that he would change the composition of the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting a new constitution, so that its membership becomes more balanced and representative of all factions of society, instead of it being dominated by the Brotherhood. He also promised to care for all those who were wounded in the revolution, avenge the death of martyrs, and pardon all the arrested revolutionaries, in addition to many other promises, none of which he kept. The strange part is that the president does not seem in the least bothered or ashamed by his failure to keep the promises he freely made.

Second: President Morsi does not possess a political vision that goes beyond that of Hosni Mubarak. He has not made an effort to make any real changes to the established structure of Mubarak’s regime. He chose ministers who are remnants of the old regime, and failed to fire Interior Ministry generals responsible for killing and torturing thousands of Egyptians. Just like Mubarak, he sides with the rich against the poor. He has negotiated to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund without divulging its terms to the people, just like Mubarak used to do. He appointed a member of the Brotherhood as Minister of Information in order to quell any opposition, and has taken control of the state-owned press through the Shura Council that appointed chief-editors who supported the Brotherhood. Morsi has allowed Egyptians to be tried and imprisoned on the charge of insulting the president, which is a fictitious and perverse charge that does not exist in any other self-respecting nation. He allowed the Egyptian people to be humiliated inside and outside Egypt, just like Mubarak did before him. It would seem now that, after the revolution, we have replaced President Mubarak with President Morsi without effecting any changes to the ideals or policies [espoused by the regime].

Third: President Morsi is a member of the Muslim brotherhood, which is an illegal and mysterious organization whose funding sources are unknown, as are its agenda and internal organization. It is our right to ask whether President Morsi takes state decisions independently from the will of the spiritual guide, or merely carries out the latter’s orders in administering the state?  There are many signs that warrant concern: One Muslim Brotherhood leader, Khairat El-Shater, is meeting with officials from foreign countries to discuss joint ventures with Egypt. This is done without anyone asking him in what capacity he is negotiating on Egypt’s behalf, since he does not hold any official post that permits him to do so. And when President Morsi decided to remove Field Marshall Tantawi and General Anan (his only accomplishment until now), another Brotherhood leader, Essam el-Erian, issued the following statement: “The president took the decision to remove them without the spiritual guide’s approval because the latter had started his end of Ramadan retreat.”

This clearly means that the spiritual guide, had he not been in retreat, would have had an opinion to give in such a major political decision as this. He would have endorsed or possibly rejected it. In that eventuality, would the president have been able to go against the spiritual guide’s orders? President Morsi’s duty compels him to force the Muslim Brotherhood to rectify its legal status and divulge the sources of its funding.

After paying with their blood and sacrificing thousands of martyrs in the name of their glorious revolution, the Egyptian people will not allow their human rights to be compromised under the Brotherhood’s rule as they were under Mubarak’s. The revolution will continue until all of its goals are accomplished.

Democracy is the solution.

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