Earlier this week, a former prime minister of Qatar claimed that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was not qualified to run the state during the short-lived government of the first freely-elected Egyptian President, Dr Mohamed Morsi.
Speaking to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani said that his country hosted a meeting between Morsi's assistants and representatives of the administration of the then US President, Barack Obama, to discuss the economic policies and plans of the Islamists in government. He explained that the Americans wanted to explore Morsi's options and plans in order to pave the way for possible cooperation. The Qataris official and his American guests were, however, shocked.
"I left the meeting with a negative impression," said Sheikh Hamad. "Morsi's aides were disappointing and did not match expectations. Morsi's team was not fit for being at the head of a small shop, let alone the presidency of Egypt. Poor people."
I do not know why Sheikh Hamad made such comments because he has held no official post in Qatar for a long time. What seems certain, though, is that he was trying to downplay the capabilities of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been going through a very difficult set of circumstances since Morsi was the victim of a military coup in 2013.
Although Sheikh Hamad's comments raise a number of questions about the qualifications, skills and careers of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and officials within and beyond Egypt, the movement's history suggests that it was the largest and most effective Islamic group governed by a decentralised system. Despite everything that has happened, it remains the most organised political organisation in the Arab and Islamic world. Objective observers believe that it is also the most popular and that it would win any free and fair elections at any time, even in the face of fierce campaigns to discredit it.
If that really is the case, then why did the Muslim Brotherhood fail in Egypt, as well as in Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco? The truth is that it did not fail; the movement itself was failed by the liberals, who were very critical of the dictatorships in their countries and called for democratic elections, but then did not respect the results. The Brotherhood was also failed by the hypocritical international community, which also refused to support the election winners and gave the Islamists no space or leeway to actually govern their countries. It was very clear that Israel and its Western allies, especially the US, propped up the remnants of the ousted tyrannies and recruited a compliant media to destabilise countries with Islamist governments.
I am sure that Sheikh Hamad is aware of the Brotherhood's achievements around the world, not only in Egypt and the Arab countries. I am sure that he knows very well that the Muslim Brotherhood laid down the foundations of all the Gulf States, including Qatar. It was Brotherhood officials and members such as Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi, Abdul Badei Saqr and Qasim Darwish who developed the curriculums used in Qatar's schools and universities. Egyptian-born Sheikh Qaradawi is still the most effective Muslim scholar in Qatar. He and his colleagues gentrified the Qataris and taught them the moderate guidance and concepts of Islam. Sheikh Hamad must know this.
Mohamed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood during Morsi's presidency in Egypt, was ranked among the 100 greatest Arab scientists by the Arab Scientific Encyclopaedia issued by the Egyptian Information Service in 1999. Morsi himself was rated as the best parliamentarian in 2005 when he was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc and stood with great courage against government corruption and fake bills passing through the Egyptian parliament.
Morsi was the second associate professor in world history to become an elected head of state. The first was US President Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 to 1921. As president, Morsi planned to increase spending on research and development to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product, to link research institutes to industry, and to promote the protection of intellectual property. I don't think that such plans will ever be on the agenda of any other president in the Arab world.
During the Morsi presidency, Egypt had, for the first time, a professor as Speaker of the People's Assembly; Saad El-Katatny is a professor of microbiology. The Shura Council was also headed by a professor, Ahmed Fahmy, a professor of pharmacology at Zagazig University. The list of such eminent appointees is long, and Sheikh Hamad knows this very well, but chose to ignore it.
Away from politics, the Muslim Brotherhood runs large social and medical charitable networks which have served millions of Egyptians who could not enjoy free public services due to the mismanagement and corruption that has plagued successive Egyptian governments over many years.
I think that Sheikh Hamad's comments were intended to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood, because he and those like him in regimes all across the Middle East know that the movement is indeed capable of winning elections and displacing the corrupt and incompetent people in positions of power. It is reasonable to suggest that he was removed from decision-making circles in Qatar before the transition of power to Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani because of his hatred of the Brotherhood. Emir Tamim, however, appreciates the movement's contribution to the development of his country.
People in the region know that if the Muslim Brotherhood was in government — and, importantly, was allowed to govern properly — then life would take a turn for the better. That is what has happened in Turkey where moderate Islamists close to the movement have been in government for two decades. They turned the country from a debtor to a creditor state and raised the GDP from $680.20 in 2000 to $2,471.70 in 2020.
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, the country's flour exports have increased under the Islamists from around 355,000 tonnes in 2000 to 3.5 million tonnes in 2017. Turkey became the world's largest flour exporter in 2021. Egypt, meanwhile, remains unable to feed its citizens without huge imports and international aid.
All of this tells me that Islamists are indeed capable of running a state if they are given the opportunity to do so free of external interference. Sheikh Hamad and his ilk need to understand that if the Arabs and Muslims want to be counted among the world powers, then a good start would be to have an Islamist government, otherwise they will remain enslaved by the power-hungry who steal national resources and throw the crumbs to their citizens.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.