Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Muslim Brotherhood’s New Leader Shows There’s No Hope of Moderation

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By Barry Rubin

Muhammad Badie, a 66-year-old professor of veterinary medicine is the new head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, barring any serious ill health he will probably run the Islamist group for the next ten to twenty years, foreclosing the possibility of any real moderation from that group.

Yet since Badie doesn’t want to make any changes in the Brotherhood, he is likely not to make it any more revolutionary either. Clearly, the Brotherhood fears confrontation with the Egyptian government because it knows who would lose. Already, about 1000 members have gone to jail each year and technically the Brotherhood is an illegal organization. If President Husni Mubarak is going to make his own son Egypt’s next president, the Brotherhood will have to shut up and take it.

But if Gamal Mubarak, or whoever else is selected, stumbles and the regime runs into an internal crisis, the Brotherhood could take advantage of it to become more militant. The scope of its popularity was indicated when Brotherhood candidates, though they couldn't run under its banner, took 20 percent of the parliament seats in 2005 despite the election being rigged against them. They also took over the previously moderate pro-democracy movement and coopted a number of liberals who fear the Brotherhood less than they hate the regime.

For the present though, like it or not, the Brotherhood is kept from being more radical by the pressure of the Egyptian regime, but its more public relations’ oriented figures want to convince the West that it is precisely this pressure that has held it back from being more reformist. For example, Abd al-Galil al-Shernouby, 35-year-old editor of the Brotherhoods Internet site told a credulous Western reporter, “We are always under a security guillotine which prevents internal dialogue and dries up our street base through which we operate."

In other words, the regime’s pressure makes it harder for the Brotherhood to build a base. Note that the three most successful revolutionary Islamist movements—Hamas, Hizballah, and the Iraqi insurgents—have been radicalized and heavily terrorist in a situation where the government was too weak to keep them in check.

A key characteristic of the contemporary Brotherhood is that while moderate statements are often made in English to reporters and on the group’s English-language website (which has even published and politely disputed my articles), this has nothing to do with the fire-breathing extremism of its Arabic-language proclamations and positions. Observers often mention that the Brotherhood does not carry out violence within Egypt. That’s true enough but it advocates such behavior abroad, including against American forces in Iraq as well as, of course, against Israel.

Recently, a U.S. official responded to my remarks about the Brotherhood being an extremist and anti-American group with which the United States should not engage by saying that this is the kind of thing that’s been said for a long time. Correct. There have been warnings that the Brotherhood, in Egypt and elsewhere (especially in Europe and North America where it has many front groups and often seizes control of mosques and Muslim groups) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Those should continue because they are quite accurate.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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