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Global Viewpoint

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.

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The West continues to use “the Islamist threat” to justify its passivity and outright support for dictatorships. As resistance to Mubarak mounted, the Israeli government repeatedly called on Washington to back his junta against the popular will. Europe adopted a wait-and-see stance. Both attitudes are revealing: At the end of the day, lip service to democratic principle carries little weight against the defense of political and economic interests. The US prefers dictatorships that guarantee access to oil, and allow the Israelis to continue their slow colonization, to credible representatives of the people who could not allow these things to continue.

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An illogical approach

Citing the voices of dangerous Islamists to justify not listening to the voices of the people is short-termist as well as illogical. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the US has suffered heavy losses of credibility in the Middle East; the same is true for Europe. If the Americans and Europeans do not reexamine their policies, other powers in Asia and South America may begin to interfere soon with their elaborate structure of strategic alliances. As for Israel, which has now positioned itself as friend and protector of the Arab dictatorships, its government may well come to realize that those dictatorships are committed only to its policy of blind colonization.

The regional impact of Mubarak stepping down will be huge, yet the exact consequences are unpredictable. After both the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the political message is clear: With nonviolent mass protest, anything is possible and no autocratic government is safe and secure any longer.

Presidents and kings are feeling the pressure of this historical turning point. The unrest has reached Algeria, Yemen, and Mauritania. One should also look at Jordan, Syria, and even Saudi Arabia: preventive reforms have been announced, as if there were a common feeling of fear and vulnerability. The rulers of all these countries know that if the Egyptian is collapsing, they run the risk of the same destiny. This state of instability is worrying and at the same time very promising. The Arab world is awakening with dignity and hope. The changes spell hope for true democrats, and trouble for those who would sacrifice democratic principle to their economic and geostrategic calculations. The liberation of Egypt seems to be just the start. Who will be next? If Jordan and Yemen follow, so will Saudi Arabia – the heart of the Muslim world – and Riyadh would be in a critical position, with no choice but to evolve towards a more open political system.

Around the world, among Muslims, there is a critical mass that would support this move, the necessary revolution at the center. In the end, only democracies that embrace all nonviolent political forces can bring about peace in the Middle East, a peace that must also respect the dignity of the Palestinians.

© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

Tariq Ramadan is professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford. His latest book is “The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism.” Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928.


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