Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy: Listen to Those Who Know Best

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By Barry Rubin

The Western media continues to portray the Muslim Brotherhood--without citing any actual evidence and ignoring everything said or written by its leaders in Arabic--as moderate and full of diverse factions.

But what does it mean when Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most important Islamist cleric in the world and of the Muslim Brotherhood, says, "The revolution is not over yet." He means that, like the Russian revolution of 1917, Egypt should have a two-stage revolution: first, the overthrow of the dictatorship and the development of democracy; second, the revolution to implant an Islamist state. Between one and two million Egyptians listened to that speech and cheered.

There are three additional points that should be made about this fallacy.

First, why has the Brotherhood been legally banned in Egypt for so many years? The argument used was that no party should be able to "monopolize" religion. In other words, since Islam is such a potent symbol and powerful source of identity no political party should be able to label itself as "Muslim," as if other parties were non- or anti-Muslim.

One might view this as an excuse by the regime but it is still a valid point for the future. Going into an election as the "Muslim" party is a tremendous advantage. The Brotherhood is a disciplined organization with a clear leadership hierarchy. Now that it has real prospects for victory why will people who stuck with it in the hard days of illegality rebel against the leadership?

If anyone in Egypt is going to have quarreling factions it is all the non-Brotherhood forces that have no organization, no discipline, no clear leadership, and no program.

Second, while the Brotherhood is organizing its own party, the first party reportedly registered officially has been the al-Wasat party. This is very significant. Al-Wasat was the party that the relative moderates in the Brotherhood repeatedly tried to organize about a decade ago. The government did not want to register it as legal and the Brotherhood's leadership also opposed it.

What this latest development means is that the real relative moderates in the Brotherhood have despaired that the group will be more moderate and have left it. These are the people who should know best about the Brotherhood's nature. In other words, a moderate Islamic party is going to be organized outside the Brotherhood, not inside of it.

And what is the evaluation of  the former leader of the Brotherhood's moderate wing, Abou Elela Mady (not my preferred transliteration)? Here is a quotation from the interview he gave to Reuters:

"The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression."

So in other words the former leading moderate in the Brotherhood is frightened, predicting  that the Brotherhood might win a parliamentary election. I don't think they are likely to win but they are going to do very well.

I don't think the Brotherhood is going to take power in the next couple of years and make Egypt an Islamist state. I think that either the Brotherhood will be a very powerful and increasingly strong opposition party or will participate in a government coalition and leverage that into growing power.

Having an anti-Brotherhood president would mitigate their power. But if the first government falters--not being able to deliver better living standards--the Brotherhood will be waiting for its opportunity in several years. The liberal blogger Sandmonkey predicts they may well be ruling Egypt in six years.

Third, Middle East Transparent has been the most important international Internet publication for Arab liberals. Now this publication, in an Arabic-language article, is really worried about events in Egypt, particularly the composition of the constitution-writing committee the military has appointed.

According to the article, Tariq al-Bishri is considered not only to be pro-Muslim Brotherhood but also hostile to Christians by Middle East Transparent. Another member is the openly Muslim Brotherhood Subhi Salih. The author wonders whether this indicates that the army is more Islamist-leaning than we think.

So if  the Brotherhood's own moderates believe it is still radical and if Arab liberals believe it is still radical might they know more than the Western media and (allegedly) intelligent intelligence agencies?

By the way, here's a collection of Muslim Brotherhood statements you might find to be useful.

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 books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

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