Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 13, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood: a less dire outlook

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Radicalization — by Arnold Bogis on February 13, 2011

The amazing events in Egypt this past week  have, for the most part, been a feel good story. While the future of that country is unclear and will remain so for quite a while, that has not prevented various pundits, experts, talking heads, and journalists from stoking fears of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the vast majority of the commentary has been negative and not exactly nuanced, I thought it might be helpful to point out a few pieces that could inspire if not optimism at least such not dire pessimism.

The first comes from the New York Times that examines the past, present, and future prospects of the Brotherhood.  It also gives voice to the opinions of the mostly secular protesters who took to the streets:

The Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world’s Islamic movements, is of course also a contender to lead a new Egypt. It has long been the most organized and credible opposition to Mr. Mubarak. But is also must prepare to enter the fray of an emerging democratic system, testing its staying power in a system ruled by elections and the law.

“This is not yesterday’s Egypt,” declared Amal Borham, a protester in Tahrir Square.

“It is their right to participate as much as it is mine, as much as it is anyone else’s in this country,” added Ms. Borham, who considers herself secular. “They are part of this society, and they have been made to stay in the shadows for a very long time.”

“The system made them work in the dark and that made them look bigger than they are,” said Ahmed Gowhary, a secular organizer of the protests. “Now it will be a real chance for them to show that they are more Egyptian than they have appeared.”

“Their real power,” he added, “will show.”

The reporter also describes the differences between the events in Iran and Egypt:

Unlike the Shiite Muslim clergy in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood is neither led by clerics nor based on a clerical organization. In many ways, it represents a lay middle class. The very dynamics are different, too: cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches helped drive Iran’s revolution, whose zealots sought to export it. The Internet helped propel the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the medium’s own diffusion helping carry it from the backwater town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Perhaps most importantly, the revolutions occurred a generation apart, a note echoed in the Brotherhood stronghold of Munira, along streets of graceful balustrades of the colonial era and the utilitarian architecture of Mr. Nasser and his successors.

“The people are aware this time,” said Essam Salem, a 50-year-old resident there. “They’re not going to let them seize power. People aren’t going to be deceived again. This is a popular revolution, a revolution of the youth, not an Islamic revolution.”

A scholar provides a dose of reality in regards to the Brotherhood’s ability to deliver results:

“The ability to present a mainstream national reform agenda and mobilize and galvanize Egyptians around this agenda, this is something the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do,” said Emad Shaheen, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “The youth have achieved in 18 days what the Brotherhood failed to achieve in 80 years.”

In a BCSIA Power & Policy blog post, “Religious actors can be democratizers,” Harvard professor Monica Toft provides additional (generally) optimistic analysis:

The evidence is mixed, but on balance I predict the MB will be a force for democratic change. What is my evidence? I have two sorts. The first regards the MB itself and the second is the role of religious actors in politics more generally.

Even were the MB to become more integral of the political process in Egypt, the numbers indicate that its influence is already quite limited; and although the MB continues to include extremist, more fundamentalist elements (however defined), these represent a small fraction within the organization itself, and an even smaller fraction of Egyptian society.

Time will tell whether the MB continues to adopt a representative and more democratic orientation. But, if the history of democratization and the trends over the last four decades are any guide, the chances are that it will represent the interests of Egyptian society more broadly. In other words, the MB is unlikely to dominate Egyptian politics moving forward, but even if it does play a major role, that role is likely to be more democratic and constructive than many who abjure religious political groups fear.

Both pieces are well worth reading in full.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

Good post Arnold but until the military lifts the STATE of EMERGENCY and promotes and holds Free Elections with widescale participation Egypt remains under military rule as it has since 1952 although given that it promoted both Nasser, Sadat and Mubarack as something other than serving military officers.
This revolution ain’t done yet by a long shot. And apparently the concensus is the military is a corrupt one with long tenacles into the civil economy similar to the PLA in CHINA. Or maybe the USA?

Comment by Dan O'Connor

February 14, 2011 @ 10:47 am

Agree with Bill on length of revolution. As the citizenry become more emboldened and empowered, we’ll see how effective and how reticent the Brotherhood will become and/or remain. This has been to date, a mild and relatively non violent event…that is subject to change.

In the Brotherhood’s belief, the Quran and Sunnah constitute a perfect way of life and social and political organization that God has set out for man. Islamic governments must be based on this system and eventually unified in a Caliphate.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal, as stated by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna was to reclaim Islam’s manifest destiny, an empire, stretching from Spain to Indonesia.

So while that mission statement is old it still resonates the idea of xenophobic exclusion.

If they, the Brotherhood are to be legitimized, it could start by halting the attacks on the Coptic Christians. But based on history and activities, it appears unlikely.

Be that as it may and embracing the idea of the original post; The evidence is mixed, but on balance I predict the MB will be a force for democratic change…is that to foster generally democratic principles and human rights for non believers and Christians or simply a tool of leverage to gain some degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the World? It remains to be seen but it is fruitful to hold out hope.

However, several Egyptian Copts whom I know have a different opinion based on their families still living in Egypt.

They are made aware of the Qur’an containing detailed instructions and examples of how to dell with non believers. The first instruction is that they should be called to Islam; in fact, the Qur’an says you cannot wage war against unbelievers until you have preached to them. The second instruction is that if they do not convert to Islam, then, they must be fought. The third instruction is that if they surrender, or convert, then you must stop waging war. The final instruction is that if they do not convert or surrender, then they must be killed. This is the optimum route for Islamist expansion: A tidal wave of war, subjugation and conversion.

Rather extreme, but that’s from those currently in Egypt, not others looking on from great distance.

And completely Islamic states; Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and the like do not strike me as enablers of democratic thought and/or beacons of freedom of religion and/or tolerance for anything other than Islam. In fact, they have something else in common; cauldrons of extremism.

So the people of Egypt and to a lesser degree Algeria, Tunisia and rumblings in Jordan and even Syria means there is opportunity to further the dialogue of human rights and democracy. If the Brotherhood is to be an effective catalyst of hope and change, they’ll have to overcome 80+ years of rhetoric and infighting and demonstrate not by word but by deed that they hold others ideas, beliefs, faiths, and differences as equal and not inferior.

A very tough idealistic road to hoe.

Comment by The Continuance of Pursuit For Jerusalem!

February 14, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

Thanks for sharing the post, however I differ greatly in my assessment — I, too wish to share only a few brief comments….

It is not “dire pessimism” but reality —

What has transpired in the Tunisa, Egypt, soon Ethiopia and always the “Brutes of Tehran” w/their hands in the pot, is history evolving and reminding us of A.D. 622 when the Catholics were so defeated in a crusade against the Persians and the Jews. Yes, the Jews. Some 60,000 Catholics were killed and 35,000 others enslaved. In fact much of today’s anti-Semitism began —

It was the fall of Jerusalem which left the Catholics to “never forget” and since Pope Urban II unleashed a savage army! The “righteous” army marched 3,000 miles to conquer the Holy Land.

Today’s revolution will result in an Egypt controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. It will cause much further radical Islamic control and not this freedom ringing in the air! It cannt be the result for we see in Revelation 12:9 where the whole world is to be deceived and with the “Brutes of Tehran” focused far more than most understand on the prize — Jerusalem — and the Vatican and its support of the German-led EU armies, while we would all relish in the fact that those in the Middle East would finally enjloy independence and opportunity, it is not the revolution that some of us are watching with amazement taking place throughout the Middle East, but revolutionary papacy under the cross which will be the shock and awe as the every powerful Vatican believes violent and righteous crusades need no repentence!

Do not be fooled….it is not only the “Brutes of Tehran we need to be vigilant of…but the Vatican and those seeking the prize – Jerusalem – much despair lies ahead and must I remind those of us who are Christian that Jesus described the Christian walk as proceeding through a narrow gate into a long, difficult and bumpy road. nly a feww, He said, would be willing to finish the jlourney (Matthew 7:14)

God Bless those of us whether Christian, Muslim or other for we are all the children of the Lord and we share far much more than many choose to admit!

God Bless our beloved Republic!

God Bless us all!

Christopher Tingus

Comment by Dan O'Connor

February 14, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

Hence, one could make the argument that this is not about God at all or theological intrepretation at all but the use of his name to consolidate power over the masses.

So we will see what motive is stronger; freedom or tribalism…the desire to be free to choose ones lot in life or the desire to belong and consolidate.

The strength of the wolf lies with the pack and the strength of the pack lies with the wolf. Kipling

Comment by Dan O'Connor

February 14, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

Good article on our topic of today:

“It’s impossible to fully understand the importance of the Brotherhood’s position today without referring to its violent past and its efforts since the 1970s to position itself as a mainstream religious and political movement in Egypt”.


Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 15, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

This is an interesting discussion. I would just like to argue a few points from my original point of view again.

The conclusion from that same CNN article you provided:
“One of the lessons I’ve taken from my interviews with the Brotherhood rank-and-file over the past decade is that the movement has matured and learned from its mistakes. The Muslim Brothers are traveling a similar journey to that of their Turkish co-religionists, but they still have a long way to go to fully embrace democracy.”

I certainly do not mean to suggest that Egyptian society (and this is at its core an Egyptian issue) should not be wary of Brotherhood ideology. Yet I find it troubling to extrapolate future behavior from 80-year old documents crafted in a vastly different world.

It should also be pointed out that extremist groups and not the Brotherhood was deemed responsible for the most recent attacks on the Coptic community. In fact, Al Qaeda abhors the Brotherhood, not in small part for their willingness to engage in electoral politics. Not all Islamist groups are alike and should be put into the same category.

Also, I’m also not sure how a “completely Islamic state” is defined or why Egypt, even under Brotherhood rule, would qualify. The behavior of the states you identified is shaped not only by the religion observed by the majority of the population but also by the nature and structure of the ruling regimes.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 16, 2011 @ 6:48 am

This is a situation where full-fledged experts are in dramatic disagreement. While I am not an expert on Egypt or the Muslim Brotherhood, based on what I do know the evidence seems very mixed. Besides, whatever the prior reality, intent, or capacity of the Muslim Brotherhood — and its principal competitors — the context has been suddenly transformed. All prior bets are off. Time for new bets. Glad I am not the one who has to place the bets.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 16, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

Respectfully disagree PHIL. Egypt is going to require WE (US) all place our bets.

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