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Opinion

Why Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood isn't the Islamic bogeyman

Western fears of Islamist takeover in post-Mubarak Egypt are unfounded. During recent protests, the Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated a commitment to peaceful political participation. The US now has an opportunity to support a truly democratic Egypt, including the Brotherhood.

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Brotherhood – myth vs. reality

So why do American policymakers and media analysts continue to be governed by a politics of fear? As the bogeyman of Egyptian politics, the Muslim Brotherhood has been labeled a terrorist organization, murderer of Anwar Sadat, ally of Al Qaeda, and the social equivalent of the Taliban.

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The reality is that the Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago, but the party’s leadership and rank-and-file alike have continued to pay the cost of this now mistaken association, so carefully perpetuated by the Mubarak regime. Mr. Sadat’s assassin came from a splinter organization called Egyptian Islamic Jihad (the group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who would later join forces with Osama Bin Laden). Most of Egypt’s most unreconstructed militants, from Mr. Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad and the larger Islamic Group, remain in prison.

These are not the Brothers. In fact, the tiny cadre of real jihadists in Egypt scorns the Brotherhood as the “court Islamists” of the Mubarak regime, given that Brotherhood members have been repeatedly elected as independents to Egypt’s parliament during Mubarak’s rule. While this may play to committed militants as capitulation to a bankrupt regime, to most Egyptians, the Brotherhood’s participation in parliament – particularly its dogged insistence on questioning ministers and holding the government to account – has helped to make an otherwise ornamental institution at least somewhat relevant.

Undoubtedly, this is why the Mubarak regime worked so hard to make sure that the Brotherhood’s share of seats dropped from 88 to one in last November’s election. When anticipated changes take effect and the Brotherhood is allowed to stand as a political party, it will join a wide range of other Islamist parties in the region (like Morocco’s Justice and Development Party, Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, and Yemen’s Islah Party), whose participation has helped to make often anemic legislatures more significant, against all odds.

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