July 21, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1993

Egyptian Sociologist Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim Abandons His Support for the Iraqi Resistance, Says: "Even if Islam Is a Solution, the Arab Muslims Are the Problem"

July 21, 2008
Iraq, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 1993

On December 21, 2007, MEMRI reported on a polemic between Iraqi liberal writers and the Egyptian sociologist Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim, a well-known reformer who currently heads the Arab Democracy Foundation in Qatar. The Iraqis were angered by two articles Ibrahim wrote on the war in Iraq, in which he compared the Iraqi resistance to the liberation movements in Vietnam and Algeria.[1] The Iraqis were profoundly disappointed at Ibrahim's position, and claimed that he had abandoned the democratic camp and joined forces with extremist Islam.[2]

On December 29, 2007, Ibrahim published a response to his Iraqi critics in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, titled "The Rebuke from the Iraqi Brothers." In this article he defended his position, arguing that the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is not clear cut, and that a scientific analysis of the situation in Iraq suggests that it is not qualitatively different from the wars in Vietnam and Algeria.

However, in a subsequent article, in Al-Masri Al-Yawm on May 17, 2008, Ibrahim struck a different note, observing that Al-Qaeda in Iraq had killed 10 times more Iraqi Muslims than U.S. troops, and condemning them together with a long list of other armed Islamist groups.

Both the Vietnamese and the Algerians Used Terrorism against Unarmed Civilians

Following are excerpts from the December 29, 2007 article in which Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim answered his Iraqi critics:

"... [I recently wrote] two articles that were published in [the Egyptian daily] Al-Masri Al-Yawm and in a number of other Arab newspapers about my trip to Vietnam in the autumn of 2007... The two articles were also published on a number of websites, [both] Arab – Elaph – and foreign – MEMRI. In addition, the reactions, [which were] abundant, were published on these sites.

"I will limit myself to responding to the reactions of three Iraqi brothers: university professor and Iraqi political activist Dr. 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, well-known journalist Kazem Habib, and Hosheng Broka, a well-known Kurdish author and poet...

"The following is common to all three [articles] by the Iraqi brothers: ...[They all claim] that one cannot compare the struggle of the Vietnamese and of the Algerians – [a struggle] which was, at the time, part of the world liberation movement – to what is currently going on in Iraq, namely, terrorism, indiscriminate slaughter, destruction of infrastructure, including bridges, pipelines, schools and hospitals, and incitement to internecine wars on ethnic grounds by means of blowing up mosques, tombs, and holy sites.

"All this is correct – [the aforementioned actions indeed] give the struggle in Iraq 'an ugly nature'; moreover, the liberation movements of the '50s and the '60s were [seemingly] unfamiliar with [these tactics]...

"However, the reality and the detailed historical investigation of these movements reveal that they [too] resorted to terrorist operations against the noncombatant civilian population, both in Vietnam and in Algeria. Examples include a well-known attack known as 'The Tet Offensive' [in Vietnam] in January 1965, and a series of terrorist attacks in the cafes of Algiers, Oran, and Constantine, frequented by European citizens, carried out during the last two years of the Algerian uprising. These events are documented in the film The Battle of Algiers."

One Person's Terrorist Is Another's Freedom Fighter

"Naturally, one can claim that these terrorist operations are a response to atrocities perpetrated by the occupying forces against unarmed civilians – and such a claim would also be correct. In sum, the differences between Iraq vs. Vietnam and Algeria are differences of degree and not of kind, and such differences are determined for the main part by the historical and cultural context.

"Contemporary readers tend to disregard yet another aspect, namely, that they are reading about liberation movements that have already achieved victory de facto. Usually, when history is written by a victor, he cleanses and sterilizes everything relating to himself, and presents himself as possessor of the truth, who is fighting for it heroically, honorably, and gallantly... [But] those who view the conflict objectively [tend to] conclude that whoever is considered a terrorist by one side may be seen by the other as a fighter who is ready to sacrifice his life...

"Menachem Begin and Anwar Al-Sadat were accused, tried, and convicted as terrorists at some point in their lives; [but] later on, at a different point, they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."

In Contrast to Vietnam and Algeria, Seven Groups Are Active in Iraq – Each With a Different Agenda

"In Iraq, however the situation is more complex. The conflict involves more than two groups – as was the case, say, in Algeria, where the [National] Liberation Front [FLN] fighters opposed the French occupation forces, rendering the boundaries on the battlefield clear-cut and unambiguous. In Iraq, there is a foreign force, which some call the 'occupier' or 'invader,' while others – e.g. Dr. 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein and the poet Hosheng Broka – call it the 'liberator.'

"Against this [foreign army] stand the rebels, who are divided into at least three groups, each with a different agenda: [the first consisting of] the remnants of the defeated army of the former Ba'th party members – supporters of Saddam Hussein – who rebelled with the aim of regaining power they had lost between March 19 and April 9 [2003]; the second group [includes] those who have discovered the benefits of power after having long been deprived of their rights – led by Muqtada Al-Sadr and others of his ilk, who are supported by Iran; [and] the third group [comprises] the remnants of Al-Qaeda escaping from Afghanistan, who yearn for revenge against America, and who see Iraq as an optimal battlefield for a protracted war of attrition [against the U.S.]

"In addition to these four mutually belligerent sides, there is a fifth side – the Iraqi Kurds, [themselves divided into] two groups: the [Kurdistan] Democratic Party, headed by Mas'oud Barzani, the current president of the Kurdistan province; and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by current Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

"In other words, in today’s Iraq, there are seven forces, which are competing for power and which differ in their positions with regard to the American occupier. The Kurdish forces and part of the Iraqi Shi'ite forces do not perceive the occupation as an enemy and are not fighting against it. Recently, they have been joined by several Iraqi tribes, predominantly Sunni, from southern and western Iraq. These [tribes] have not only declared a ceasefire with the occupying forces but have actually begun assisting them in fighting against the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Ba'th. This has brought about a 60% decline in the number of terrorist attacks in the last quarter of 2007, as compared to the previous year, i.e. winter 2006."

The U.S. Itself Calls Its Presence in Iraq "Occupation"

"In the above three paragraphs, I have stated facts, that is, details which enable us to call a spade a spade. I call the American presence in Iraq 'occupation.' This is what the U.N. calls it, and even the U.S. itself. I have also presented the positions of [various] Iraqi groups vis-à-vis this occupation – which are different and are changing over time. Thus, for example, the Iraqi tribes in the west and south of Iraq, which [initially] allied with the remnants of the Ba'th and Al-Qaeda in the fight against the occupation, later changed their position for various reasons, which are beyond the scope of this article.

"...Whoever reads my articles on Vietnam, or indeed what I write on other issues as well, will not fail to notice that I follow the same pattern throughout: first, [presenting] facts; next, analyzing them; then, interpreting them; and finally, pronouncing a value judgment either in favor of or against [the issue in question]. I used Vietnam as a frame of reference for the purposes of analysis, since I am convinced that societies embroiled in a protracted conflict eventually rise up and leap toward progress faster than their neighbors, as if compensating themselves for all the years of strife. This is what I wish for Iraq when the cannon fall silent.

My Comrades' Criticism Is Excusable – After All, Terrorism is At Their Doorstep

"However, the three Iraqi brothers to whom I referred in the beginning of this article reprimanded [me] harshly for not beginning my article with a value judgment. Perhaps they may be excused for this – for when terrorism is at your doorstep and in your workplace, you have no time to present facts, analyze, or interpret. You have only a moment or two to cry for help or beg to be rescued.

"As a famous proverb states: 'One whose hand is in water is not like one whose hand is in fire'. When I wrote the [two] articles about Vietnam, Algeria and Iraq, my hands were in water, while those of my comrades 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, Kazem Habib, and Hosheng Broka were, and still are, in fire. They are not to be blamed; their rebuke is accepted; and may God stand by the side of Iraq and by their side..."[3]

Islamists Said "Islam Is the Solution" - "But Their Islam Has Become the Problem"

Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim struck a rather different tone in his article "Even if Islam is a Solution, the Arab Muslims Are the Problem," published in Al-Masri Al-Yawm on May 17, 2008. Here, rather than looking at Iraq through the prism of anti-colonial wars of liberation, Ibrahim condemned Al-Qaeda in Iraq as one of many Islamist groups fighting and killing other Muslims in the name of Islam. Following are excerpts:

"In May 2008, the Arab nation witnessed a number of conflagrations – armed conflicts in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. In all these armed conflicts, the fighting factions used Islam as a slogan for mobilization.

"These are all Muslims fighting Muslims. After some of them raised the slogan of 'Islam is the solution', their Islam has become the problem. As soon as any number of them acquire weapons, they raise them against the government – even when the government also rules in the name of Islam.

"We saw this in the last few years with bin Laden's followers and Al-Qaeda on one side and the government of the Saudi Kingdom on the other, as well as with their bomb attacks in Morocco, where a king rules in the name of Islam and bears the title of 'Commander of the Faithful.' In other words, each of them kills fellow Muslims in the name of Islam.

"A quick glance at what the media shows us demonstrates how the word 'Islam' and its derivatives became a plaything in their hands. Here are some [of the names of these organizations]:

"In Egypt: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Jihad, the Islamic Group (al-gama'a al-islamiyya), and the Brigades of the Merciful; in Palestine: the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), the Islamic Jihad; in Lebanon: Hizbullah [lit. 'the party of Allah'] Fath Al-Islam, the Islamic Group; in Yemen: the Zaydi Houthis and the Islamic Congregation for Reform; in Somalia: the Islamic Courts; in Jordan: the Islamic Action Front and Hizb Al-Tahrir Al-Islami; in Sudan: Justice and Equality and the Islamic Front Party; Islamic Al-Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb [sic]; in Morocco: Al-'Adl w'al-Ihsan and the Justice and Development Party; in Algeria: the Islamic Salvation Front and the armed Islamic brigades; in Iraq: Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, the 'Islamic' Da'wa party, the Mahdi Army, and the Badr Army."

"Hasan Nasrallah Told Me... His Followers Would Never Open Fire on Other Lebanese... He Did Not Keep His Word"

"The evidence shows that everyone who tries to use the name of religion to lend himself legitimacy while oppressing and tyrannizing Allah's servants in his country opens the gates of hell on himself, his people, and his country, and he harms Islam. Here are some examples:

"What the late president Anwar Sadat tried to do in the last century, when he called himself 'the believing president' and introduced two amendments to the constitution, making of the 'Islamic shari'a' 'a source of legislation' – and then 'the primary source of legislation.' Yet this did not prevent those who outbid him in Islamicness from felling him with a deadly blow on the anniversary of his victory [in the 1973 war], on October 6, 1981. His murderers belonged to an organization that called itself 'the Jihad';

"What the Sudanese President Ja'far Al-Nimeiri tried to do. He had already conducted a military coup and seized power; then, when protests against his dictatorial behavior increased, he imitated President Sadat and proclaimed his 'Islamicness' and the implementation of the shari'a.

"He found himself an Islamist [Muslim] Brotherhood ideologue, Hasan Al-Turabi, who then declared other Muslim thinkers apostates. Four of them, who were known as the 'Islamic Republican Brothers' [i.e. the followers of Mahmud Muhammad Taha] were sentenced to death because of their peaceful new conclusions in religious and worldly matters.

"Then Al-Nimeiri had a falling out with Al-Turabi and imprisoned him. A popular intifada started that removed Al-Nimeiri from power, and he fled to Egypt.

"Shortly thereafter Al-Turabi plotted with officers in the Sudanese army, in the name of 'Islam,' to once again assail a democratically elected government – [this time] headed by his brother-in-law, Imam Sadiq Al-Mahdi.

"Al-Turabi and the head of the new coup, Colonel, [then] Major General, [then] Lieutenant General Omar Al-Bashir, announced the founding of the Islamic Front and the implementation of the shari'a on all the Sudanese, including the 25% who are non-Muslims, in the South. A grinding civil war broke out once more. And when other Muslims felt oppressed at the hands of the Muslims of the North in Khartoum, they formed their rebel organizations, to which they also gave Islamic names, like the Darfuri 'Justice and Equality' [Movement].

"Something similar happened, and continues to happen, in Yemen. Those vying for rule have found their long-cherished goal in the same use of religious terminology and slogans, [which they employ] so that the oppressive regime won't outdo them in religion.

"When the Yemeni president Colonel 'Ali 'Abdallah Saleh called his party the National Congress, a faction of his opponents founded an opposition party called the Islamic Reform Congress. And when this latter grew stronger, 'Ali 'Abdallah Saleh suggested to one of the tribal leaders, Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, that he form an Islamic movement from followers of the Zaydi school in order to counterbalance the Islamic Reform Congress party, most of whose followers are from the Sunni Shafi'i school and which is supported by Saudi Arabia.

"... [But Al-Houthi] refused to remain in the role of the cat's claw, and he and his tribesmen in northern Yemen began to demand their share of [national] resources and power. In other words, they wanted to be partners to 'Ali 'Abdallah Saleh, and not just his hired men or his agents.

"But 'Ali 'Abdallah Saleh, like the other Arab tyrants, doesn't want any partners, overseers, or anyone who could hold him accountable. He ordered the army to discipline Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, and [as a result] bloody battles broke out, in one of which Badr Al-Din was killed.

"But his brother continued as leader of the tribesmen against the 'Ali 'Abdallah Saleh regime...

"Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah told me in January 2007 that his followers would never raise their weapons against or open fire on other Lebanese – even if other Lebanese opened fire on them. It is clear that he did not keep his word.

"Hizbullah fighters opened fire on other Lebanese when the Lebanese state attempted to establish control over the communications network that Hizbullah set up around the Beirut airport, claiming that it was essential to potential future rounds [of fighting] with Israel.

"In other words, Hizbullah, which had conducted honorable resistance against Israel in the past, wants the Lebanese state to recognize the legitimacy of its being a state within a state. By so doing – and knowingly or not – it behaves like ruling Arab regimes behave, imposing tyrannical rule under the pretext of preparing for the struggle against Israel – despite the fact that they haven't liberated a single inch of Palestine in the past 60 years.

"In other words, what [Hizbullah] is saying is that one should submit to the tyranny of the brothers close to you, in the hope that they will protect you from the tyranny of the enemies far from you."

"Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers Has Killed 10 Times More Iraqi Muslims than Invading Americans"

"In this way, the slogan first raised by the Muslim Brotherhood years ago, 'Islam is the solution,' has been transformed into a reality in which the Muslims who applied [the slogan] have become 'the problem.' Sometimes they use it to fight non-Muslims, but at other times they use it to kill fellow Muslims.

"Thus, Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers has killed 10 times more Iraqi Muslims than invading Americans.

"Are those raising the slogan of 'Islam is the solution' doing so in order to strengthen their position and then rule over and torture other Muslims as well as non-Muslims?

"No doubt there are pious, believing Muslims who believe in this appealing spiritual slogan and are swept away by it, without asking how and when those who constantly repeat the slogan have ever created a society without problems.

"Perhaps they don't understand that a society without problems cannot possibly be a human society. Perhaps a society of angels is the only one that is without problems.

"The evidence shows that it is only the Arabs who play on these religious slogans, and not the rest of the Muslims. Perhaps this is the reason why two-thirds of the world's Muslims live today under democratic, elected regimes, whereas the other third, who live under tyrannical, unelected regimes, is the one that is comprised of the Arab Muslims.

"In other words, even when the Arab Muslims employ the slogan 'Islam is the Solution', [the fact is] that in their hands, it turns into a problem..."[4]


[1] The articles, titled "Vietnam and the Search for Iraq's Future" and "From Vietnam to Algeria to Iraq," were published in the dailies Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt) and Al-Raya (Qatar), on October 27, 2007 and November 3, 2007 respectively.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1790, "Iraqi Liberals Attack Egyptian Reformer Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim for Comparing Iraq to Vietnam and Algeria and for Expressing Sympathy for the Resistance," December 21, 2007, Iraqi Liberals Attack Egyptian Reformer Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim for Comparing Iraq to Vietnam and Algeria and for Expressing Sympathy for the Resistance.

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 29, 2007.

[4] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 17, 2008.

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