Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a democratic partner, not Islamist threat
The West's fearful stereotypes of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are based on myth and misunderstanding. Today's Muslim Brotherhood rejects violence and must be a full partner in the process of change – and it will be, if a minimally democratic state can be established in Egypt.
(Page 2 of 3)
Many of its members were forced into exile: some in Saudi Arabia, where they were influenced by the Saudi literalist ideology; others in countries such as Turkey and Indonesia, Muslim-majority societies where a wide variety of communities coexist. Still others settled in the West, where they came into direct contact with the European tradition of democratic freedom.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Today’s Muslim Brotherhood draws these diverse visions together. But the leadership of the movement – those who belong to the founding generation are now very old – no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are much more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform and fascinated by the Turkish example. Behind the unified, hierarchical facade, contradictory influences are at work. No one can tell which way the movement will go.
The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading the upsurge that is bringing down Hosni Mubarak: It is made up of young people, of women and men who have rejected dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamists in general, do not represent the majority. There can be no doubt that they hope to participate in the democratic transition when Mubarak departs, but no one can tell which faction will emerge in a dominant position. That makes it impossible to determine the movement’s priorities. Between the literalists and the partisans of the Turkish way, anything can happen; the Brotherhood’s political thinking has evolved considerably over the past 20 years.
Neither the United States nor Europe, not to mention Israel, will easily allow the Egyptian people to make their dream of democracy and freedom come true. The strategic and geopolitical considerations are such that the reform movement will be, and is already, closely monitored by US agencies in coordination with the Egyptian army, which has played for time and assumed the crucial role of mediator.
By deciding to line up behind Mohamed ElBaradei, who has emerged as the chief figure among the anti-Mubarak protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has signaled that now is not the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West, not to mention the Egyptian people.
Caution is the watchword.
Respect for democratic principles demands that all forces which reject violence, which respect the rule of law (both before and after elections) participate fully in the political process. The Muslim Brotherhood must be a full partner in the process of change – and will be, if a minimally democratic state can be established in Egypt (though no one can define the intentions of foreign powers).
Neither repression nor torture has been able to eliminate the Brotherhood. The opposite is true. It is only democratic debate and the vigorous exchange of ideas that have had an impact on the development of the most problematic Islamist theses – from understanding of sharia to respect for freedom and defense of equality. Only by exchanging ideas, and not by torture and dictatorship, can we find solutions that respect the people’s will. Turkey’s example should be an inspiration to us observers.