A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stop Asking Me About the Muslim Brotherhood

I've had a fair number of interviews with media since Egypt erupted, not as many as MEI's Ned Walker, but enough to keep me busy. I don't think there's been a single journalist who hasn't asked about the Muslim Brotherhood, and many commentators seem to see it as the inevitable alternative to Mubarak. I don't agree and tell them to watch the Army instead, a far more potent force.

Some points to make about the Brotherhood:

  1. The idea that it's the only alternative is essentially a theme played upon by Mubarak, who uses it as the bete noire to argue that only authoritarian rule can prevent it from coming to power.
  2. Yet the government has for years refused recognition to the Wasat (Center, Middle) Party, a moderate Islamist Party made up of younger Islamists. In a genuinely open system, such parties could emerge to draw strength from the Brotherhood.
  3. Do you think the young demonstrators are really going to accept replacing a President for Life with a Supreme Guide?
  4. This is not the Brotherhood of Hasan al-Banna or Sayyid Qutb. Yes, that may be a ruse, but even if its lip-service to democracy is fake, mostly it's still a movement led by old men. The younger faces do exist, but I don't think they're what the demonstrators have in mind.
  5. Of course the Brotherhood will try to emerge in a dominant role. So will many other movements from left to right. The Brotherhood's organization may be better, but in a real, open competition I'm not sure they'd get more than 20% or so. I may be wrong, but then we've never had a fair test so long as they've been the only credible alternative. I think the demonstrators have given us a third alternative.
Ask me again when the political system is free. But let's stop seeing the Brotherhood as inevitable.

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