A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lynch on Whether Western Experts Got the MB Wrong

Yesterday Marc Lynch posted a lengthy piece called "Did We Get the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong? Nope.  But It's Time to Revise Our Assessments," "we" in this case meaning Western experts on Egypt. Certainly many liberal Egyptian critics (and rightwing American critics) have charged that the experts somehow promoted the Brotherhood by overemphasizing its democratic values and commitment to pluralism.

He offers a nuanced response, which  you need to read in full, but here's an excerpt:
When the revolution broke out, then, the Brotherhood had already driven away many of its most politically savvy and ideologically moderate leaders. Its leadership had become dominated by cautious, paranoid, and ideologically rigid conservatives who had little experience at building cross-ideological partnerships or making democratic compromises. One-time reformists such as Essam el-Erian and Mohammed el-Beltagy had made their peace with conservative domination and commanded little influence on the movement's strategy. It is fascinating to imagine how the Brotherhood might have handled the revolution and its aftermath if the dominant personalities on the Guidance Bureau had been Abou el-Fotouh and Habib rather than Shater and Badie -- but we'll never know.

A second part of the answer, I believe, lies in the genuine confusion the revolution produced at every level within the organization. Every part of the Brotherhood's ideology, strategy, and organization had been shaped by the simple reality that victory was not an option.  The Brotherhood wasn't ready when that changed. It has proven unable and unwilling to effectively engage with other trends, and its clumsy rhetoric and behavior has fueled sectarianism, social fragmentation, economic uncertainty, and street violence. The thuggery of some of its cadres reflects either a loss of control at the local level or an inflammatory, reckless strategic choice -- neither of which reflects well. Its decision to seek the presidency after vowing not to do so stands as perhaps its most devastatingly poor decision -- one that shattered confidence in its commitments and made the group responsible for the failed governance it now faces.
Today he's noted the extensive responses his column has received and announced he is planning to put together a response post or roundtable on the subject, which could engage the debate further.

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