October 16, 2013


Inside the Muslim Brotherhood : The Rantisis, a multigenerational Muslim Brotherhood family in the Gaza Strip, embody the conflicting beliefs within the organization (KARIN LAUB AND MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, October 16, 2013, AP)

Over several months, AP reporters had rare access in Gaza to the Rantisis, a prominent Brotherhood family that reflects both the deep loyalty of followers and the worries and divisions brought on by recent dramatic setbacks.

The Rantisi family is the perhaps the closest thing to a political dynasty in Gaza's Brotherhood.

Rantisi patriarch Ali, a wealthy landowner, fled his home village in the 1948 war over Israel's creation for the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza.

One son, Abdel Aziz, rose in the ranks of the Brotherhood and spent years in and out of Israeli prisons for Hamas activities. In 2004, three weeks after being named Hamas chief in Gaza, Abdel Aziz was assassinated by Israel in a missile strike.

Three other sons, Mohammed, Salah and Nabhan, by then held various positions in the Brotherhood, which formed the core of their lives.

The Brotherhood selected a wife for Mohammed from the movement -- Kifah, a devout woman from a wealthy merchant family. It also gave the orthopedic surgeon $2,000 to set up a clinic. In return, Mohammed, 55, treated patients for free once a week at a mosque, paid 2.5 percent of his salary in monthly dues and once sheltered a Hamas bomb maker at the top of Israel's wanted list in his home.

Now Mohammed's three grown children, including Baraa, have joined the Brotherhood, and the younger three are expected to do so eventually.

The Rantisi family reflects the basic recruitment principles of the Muslim Brotherhood: Family and religion.

The neighborhood mosque is the traditional base, particularly in areas where Brothers cannot operate openly. There they coach football teams, organize day trips and tutor students for free, while scrutinizing potential recruits, said Baraa's uncle Nabhan, 58, a former recruitment chief in Khan Younis. They also recruit at high schools.

Smokers and slackers are disqualified, while the most dedicated mosque regulars are offered Brotherhood "try-outs," said Nabhan, a TV and radio technician.

During observation, applicants are expected to perform the five daily prayers at the mosque, rather than at home, particularly the one at dawn, seen as a test of true commitment. Brothers-in-waiting are assigned religious books for discussion. [...]

The smallest unit of the Brotherhood is a "household" of three to five members who during periods underground -- such as before Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 -- are not told of the existence of others. Households report to captains, who in turn report to supervisors in charge of mosques.

Baraa's uncle Salah, 52, a gynecologist and Austrian-trained infertility specialist, is a supervisor in charge of about 500 Brothers in a neighborhood near Khan Younis. He decides how to spend the monthly membership dues. One Brother recently got 300 shekels ($84) toward his university tuition, and another $200 toward wedding expenses.

As in Egypt, the Brothers in Gaza have built up an extensive network of clinics, kindergartens, schools and welfare programs as a base for their political support.

The Brotherhood extends from North America to Bangladesh. Brothers in Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and other countries offer scholarships to Gaza students such as Salah's son Mohammed, who is studying medicine in Tunisia.

Despite its close-knit nature, the Brotherhood -- along with the Rantisi household -- is now split over direction, amid the crisis in Egypt and its spillover into Gaza.

The biggest question is how tolerant the Brotherhood should be in power.

Ahmed Yousef, 62, who runs a Hamas-affiliated think tank, "The House of Wisdom," thinks the Brothers should emulate more liberal Turkey, ruled by an Islamic-rooted party, though even there protesters complained of an erosion of freedoms and secular values.

"We can't handle the burdens of power alone," said Yousef, who earned an advanced engineering degree on a Brotherhood scholarship. "I think we made a mistake when we thought that we can control the street, and when we thought we can impose our vision on society."

However, hard-liners hold sway in Gaza. They say Hamas can only be strong in power, and must oppose making significant concessions to potential partners, particularly the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In the meantime, the Brotherhood is finding that power has not translated into popularity. An internal Hamas poll in February indicated that 70 percent of Gazans have a negative view of the government's campaign to collect revenues, Baraa said, after years of anarchy without paying bills.

An independent poll conducted in September showed only 21 percent in Gaza had a positive view of their government, down from 36 percent three months ago. More than half of the 1,200 respondents said conditions are bad or very bad.

One reason may be the financial squeeze after the closure of the Egyptian tunnels, along with a sharp loss of money from Iran, a benefactor now upset because Hamas did not support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hamas has only paid partial salaries to government employees for three months, and some ministries have slashed budgets by 80 percent.

In Egypt, the backlash against the Brothers grew in response to their accelerated attempts to entrench Islamic rule. In Gaza, an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim society of 1.7 million often goes along, but has pushed back at times.

Posted by at October 16, 2013 10:47 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus