Flame-Out of the Muslim Brotherhood: Options for the Future
by Robert D. Crane
The intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s old guard, and the systematic assassination of its more enlightened youth leaders by the military and police last month, may further polarize society. The two major options now being discussed are, first, the utopian but essentially pessimistic hope that the economy will deteriorate so badly that another revolt will begin within a year, and second, the thoroughly fatalistic and pessimistic prediction that another chance for institutional reform within a civil government based on a civil (rather than an overtly religious) constitution, as in Tunisia under Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi may not come for another decade or two.
The Muslim Brotherhood has failed over a period now of almost a century (since 1928) to achieve meaningful justice, in part because the entire Arab world has been close to the status of a failed state, so the question is whether those concerned with justice should rebrand the Muslim Brotherhood in pursuit of Tariq Ramadan’s and Ghannouchi’s call for a civil state based on global ethics, or whether the long-range strategists should start all over with a specific platform centered on Abraham Lincoln’s and Ronald Reagan’s “homesteading” concept for empowering the poor, while not disenfranchising the rich.
The key challenge is how to design policies for both the short and long run so that they do not detract from each other. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood had no policies of any kind other than buying the support of the corrupt military by protecting its monopoly ownership of Egypt’s productive wealth. At a minimum for political purposes the MB should have adopted capital homesteading as a popular strategy to address the growing wealth gap, while introducing emergency programs to sustain human dignity until institutional reforms could begin to make a real difference.
The three keys to economic justice are the right to produce wealth by contributing one’s own labor and capital, and the right to the distribution of profits accruing from this contribution, as well as governmental supervision to assure the transparency of this input-output principle. Contributive, distributive, and harmonic justice should be the key to all economics, especially in Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.
Equal opportunity to acquire and democratize capital ownership does not and should not aim at equal results. All the world religions recognize that there will always be a minority of rich in society, but they teach that there is no need for anyone ever to be poor, and that charity by the rich to the poor is commendable but will never be enough to assure justice. Justice requires that at a minimum the opportunities to gain access to property ownership should be equal for everyone, but that those who have worked hard and invest wisely deserve more than those who don’t.
The key distinction is between distributing or broadening capital ownership from the bottom up and re-distributing such ownership from the rich to the poor. Such re-distribution violates the fundamental Islamic principle of haqq al mal, which is respect for private ownership in the means of production within a free-market economy. This distinction has a long history in America, highlighted by William Jennings Bryan’s and Senator Huey Long’s populism, respectively in the 1890s and 1930s, and Louis Kelso’s “binary economics” in the 1960s. Former Secretary of State Bryan was chosen three times as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate but lost the presidency every time. Senator Huey Long’s “share the wealth” platform back in America’s Great Depression seventy-five years ago relied on redistributing the wealth from the rich to the poor by limiting personal incomes to what today would be about $50,000,000 and giving the surplus to the poor for food, housing, and education.
In his speech inserted in The Congressional Record on March 7, 1935, Senator Long noted the deplorable wealth gap in 1916, when a committee appointed by Congress found that two percent of the people owned twice as much as all the remainder of the people put together and that 65 percent of the people owned practically nothing. Fourteen years later in 1930 a study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one percent of the people owned 59 percent of the wealth, which was twice as bad as in 1916. In recent years the concentration of capital ownership has become even worse.
Long’s solution was designed to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor in order to address the urgent problems of the wealth gap during an interim period of a few years. Louis Kelso, on the other hand, was more politically sophisticated, because his strategy was designed to broaden capital ownership by government sponsored pure credit available to every person based on future profits rather than on past wealth accumulation, which does not involve taking any property away from anyone, though it might take a decade or more to produce a just society.
What is now known as Kelsonian capital homesteading, modeled after Abraham Lincoln’s land homesteading in the 1860s and called industrial homesteading by President Ronald Reagan, gradually expands the relative share of national wealth owned by the formerly propertyless but does not reduce by theft the absolute wealth of those who already own the wealth of society. This approach, today known as The Just Third Way and developed in many books by Norman Kurland’s Center for Economic and Social Justice, provides an alternative to authoritarian socialism and monopoly capitalism, as first proposed at a theoretical level by Tunisia’s Grand Mufti Ibn Ashur in his classic book published in 1946.
Socialism and monopoly capitalism have produced a vicious cycle of oppression and chaos, so a Just Third Way is essential. This has never been tried at a macro level, but it may be all that is left after all the other strategies to promote peace, prosperity, and freedom have failed. This option for the future after the flame-out of the Muslim Brotherhood could be an effective means to pursue the vision and mission of Shaykha Moza, who heads the world’s largest think-tank, the Qatar Foundation, and is trying to bring together the best of all civilizations and religions to universalize their spiritual awareness and plurality of wisdom by interfaith cooperation in pursuing the vision of peace, prosperity, and freedom through the interfaith harmony of transcendent and compassionate justice for everyone.