Back on July 1, just a few days before the military ousting of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, I wrote a politically incorrect post about the pre-modern character of much of the Muslim Brotherhood cadre. I did so because it was directly relevant to the fact that a very large number of Egyptians were in the street protesting the Morsi administration’s arrogance and incompetence. And indeed, a few people wrote in politically unhappy with what I borrowed from another writer, called the IBM syndrome. Here is in part what I wrote:
Years ago a clever and truth-telling fellow named David Lamb devised what he called the IBM syndrome to describe political culture in Egypt and the Arab world. The “I” stands for “inshallah“, may God will it: in other words, fatalism. The “B” stands for “bokr“—tomorrow morning, or just tomorrow: suggestive of an extremely elastic, pre-modern perception of time, vaguely akin to some uses of the Spanish word mañana. The “M” stands for “malesh“, which is untranslatable, but which kind of means “whatever”, “never mind” or “fagetaboutit”. . . . Now, it is very politically incorrect to say this, but I will say it anyway: A typical Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood rank-and-file type now saddled up on the gyrating entrails of the Egyptian state bureaucracy not only is afflicted with the IBM syndrome, but he does not accept or understand causality as we use the word. . . . He also does not accept the existence of an objective fact separate from how he feels about it, and if he should feel negatively disposed toward the fact, whatever it is, the fact can be made simply to disappear. . . . In short, we are talking about mostly culturally pre-modern people who . . . cannot run a centralized modern state. Obviously, this does not apply to all MB types, and certainly it does not apply to all Egyptians; but it applies to enough of them currently in the state administrative sector to matter.
Now, every once in a while an example of some point I have tried to make comes along that is simply too good to pass over. The following excerpt from yesterday’s Washington Post coverage of the impending street clashes in Cairo is one of those examples. In its own wondrous way, it exemplifies all three parts of the IBM syndrome and the subtle nature of how MB cadre understand causality. I have italicized the line that illustrates the fatalism-predestination connection.
Um Roqiya said she will remain camped out with her five children, despite concerns for their safety.
“We are here to defend legitimacy. If I die defending that, we are martyrs,” she said while patting her 7-year-old son on the head. “My son tells me, ‘I won’t return until uncle Morsi comes back.’”
Her husband, longtime Brotherhood member Abdel-Latif Omran, said he can do nothing to protect his children from death because their fate has already been decided by God.
Organizations like UNICEF have condemned what it calls the deliberate use of children in Egypt who are “put at risk as potential witnesses to or victims of violence.” The Brotherhood says it cannot control families that choose to camp out.
Actually, MB leadership figures can control this if they wished to, but, you know…..inshallah, bokr, malesh.