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.
(Page 3 of 3)
The Brotherhood probably commands the loyalty of more Egyptians than any other organized social or political force. But it is far from the only source of organized political opposition. Just how many parliamentary seats the Brotherhood would command in free and fair elections is unknowable, since Mubarak’s regime has spent decades making sure that there are no organized political forces that might challenge state power.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the organization has pledged publicly not to run a candidate in the coming presidential election, and it is not clear that they would pursue or be able to win a clear parliamentary majority. And yet the specter of an Islamist “takeover” has for too long been deployed against on-the-ground realities to justify continuing suppression of the democratic aspirations of all Egyptians – Muslim and Christian, Islamist, leftist, or liberal.
US can form new relationship
Any post-Mubarak Egyptian future that is not built on coercion is going to include the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak’s regime long used fear of this alternative as a two-pronged strategy to divide the opposition, and convince the West that Mubarak and his allies were the only things standing between Egypt and an Iranian-style form of tyranny. Deliberately lumping all Islamist groups together in the popular imagination ensured that, in times of uncertainty, Washington sided with the status quo.
The Obama administration’s refusal to openly side with the protesters early in the crisis proved that fears of the Brotherhood still trump America’s ostensible commitment to liberty. While the regime’s decision to unleash violence on the protesters convinced Obama’s splintered foreign policy team to work toward Mubarak’s departure, more is needed to undo the damage of the administration’s early wavering.
Under Mubarak, Egypt’s authoritarian state has included an estimated 1.3 million internal security agents, collectively responsible for a level of brutality that is a far greater threat to Egyptian liberty than any paranoid fantasy about a Brotherhood takeover. With the US sending well over $1 billion in military aid to Cairo every year, the boots on the throats of Egypt’s citizens for so long belonged as much to us as they did to Mubarak. This oppression, not the dollars, was the real cost of supporting the Egyptian regime.
The United States now has the opportunity to form a relationship with a new Egypt, built on mutual dignity and respect. Even with Mubarak’s reign over, Egyptians deserve a clearer message of support from the US as they work to sweep away the remnants of his regime. The US must make a clean break with its politics of fear by supporting the Brotherhood’s participation in the swift and genuine transition to democratic rule promised by the Egyptian Armed Forces. The Egyptian people ask for nothing more, and our ideals demand nothing less.
David M. Faris is an assistant professor of political science at Roosevelt University and a strategy group adviser at the Meta-Activism Project. Working in Cairo from 2006 to 2009, his work examines the role of digital media in regime-opposition dynamics. Stacey Philbrick Yadav is an assistant professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She lived in Cairo from 2003 to 2006, and studies the role of Islamists in building cross-ideological opposition alliances.