Clarifying the Muslim Brotherhood
As Mubarak’s regime starts to topple, there is speculation whether the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate the new Egyptian political landscape. It will undoubtedly play a role in creating a new government, but is adamant in its stance that is does not seek leadership and will not field candidates for presidency. The Brotherhood is the largest, most popular, and most effective opposition group in Egypt.
Those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood usually contrive their arguments against them saying that they represent Islamic tyranny, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood was originally an anti-system group that committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era. However, portraying the Brotherhood as eager to seize power and impose Islamic law on an unwilling nation is ludicrous, as the group has obviously changed and evolved throughout its history and its stances in the current crisis constitute a voice of moderation, insight and determination that can only be applauded, and which has gained the group, and protestors international sympathy and support.
Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is the longest continuous contemporary Islamist group. It was initially established, not as a political party, but as a da’wa (religious outreach) association that aimed to cultivate pious and committed Muslims through preaching, social services, and spreading religious commitment and integrity by example. It called on Egyptians to unite to confront imperialism and pursue economic development and social justice.
In 1984, the Brotherhood started running candidates in elections. The Brotherhood entered the political system to advocate for the people’s will and be the voice of ethics and justice. Leaders who were elected to professional syndicates engaged in sustained dialogue and cooperation with members of other political movements. Through interaction, Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The Brotherhood has been working for years on projects to create a civic charter and a constitution, preparing for the time when a new democratic government came to power. During the past week of protests, members of the cross-partisan groups were able to quickly reactivate their networks and help form a united opposition front. It is likely that these members will play a key role in drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
Over the last 30 years, the Brotherhood has developed expertise in electoral competition and representation, and has developed new professional competencies and skills, forging closer ties with Egyptian activists, researchers, journalists, and politicians outside the Islamist camp. The leadership is more internally diverse today than ever before.
There is a new generation of Islamist democracy activists both inside and outside the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is using discretion in its function in the uprising, aware that the greater its role, the higher the risk of a violent crackdown. There is a historic precedent for this in the harsh wave of repression that followed its strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Its immediate priority is to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak steps down and that the era of corruption and dictatorship associated with his rule comes to an end. The Brotherhood also knows that a smooth transition to a democratic system will require an interim government palatable to the military and the West, so it has indicated that it would not seek positions in the new government itself.
Reformers, like the Brotherhood, will be vital among the other opposition groups when they draft a new constitution and establish the framework for new elections. The Brotherhood has demonstrated that it is capable of evolving over time, and the best way for Egypt to strengthen its democratic commitments is to include it in the political process, making sure there are checks and balances in place to ensure that no group can monopolize state power and that all citizens are guaranteed certain freedoms under the law. This is what the Brotherhood is calling for.
The Brotherhood has a track record of nearly 30 years of responsible behavior and has a strong base of support. It has thereby earned a place at the table in the post-Mubarak era. And indeed, no democratic transition can succeed without it.