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Muslim Brotherhood: Radical Islamists Or Reluctant Democrats?

One winner in the recent unrest in Egypt is likely to be the Muslim Brotherhood, but what role will it play?
One winner in the recent unrest in Egypt is likely to be the Muslim Brotherhood, but what role will it play?
By Robert Tait
For more than 30 years, the specter of the Iranian Revolution, with the overthrow of a strategically vital and friendly government by fundamentalist Islamists, has stalked Western policymakers on the Middle East.

Now, the dark fear of a calamitous repetition has been brought resoundingly to life by the turmoil gripping Egypt.

In place of the pro-Khomeini forces that ushered in the rule of the theocratic mullahs in 1979 Iran, in today's Egypt we have the Muslim Brotherhood -- at least in the world view expressed by some Western leaders.

Even The Name Strikes Fear

The very name -- redolent in liberal minds of an intolerant, unbending brand of religious authoritarianism -- seems to strike dread in their hearts.

Amid temporizing calls for an "orderly transition" from the autocratic -- and pro-Western -- regime of President Hosni Mubarak, U.S. officials have indicated that President Barack Obama harbors misgivings that any new government might be dominated by the Brotherhood or other Islamist forces.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague voiced that concern bluntly on January 30 when he said, "Certainly we would not want to see a government based on the Islamic Brotherhood."

Even actor Omar Sharif, Egypt's most famous international celebrity and co-star of David Lean's epic 1962 film "Laurence Of Arabia," displayed disquiet over the future while calling on Mubarak to resign. "I don't want the Muslim Brotherhood. They were trapped and now are starting to come out," Sharif told Reuters. "They have 20 percent of the population," he added, alluding to the Brotherhood's most recent electoral showing, "and it's frightening for me."

Fears have been further fueled by reports that hundreds of jailed Brotherhood members were among thousands of prisoners who escaped during a mass breakout from four Egyptian prisons over the weekend. They included 34 of the organization's leading figures, arrested in a crackdown by the Mubarak regime as it tried to quell last week’s mass protests.

Founded In The 1920s

It is quite a bogeyman status for what is Egypt's oldest and biggest Islamist organization. Founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna initially to spread Islamic morals and good works, the group later became embroiled in the fight to end British colonial control and drive Western influence out of Egypt. Defined by its slogan, "Islam Is The Solution," its expressed aim is to create a state based on Shari'a law.

Yet, says Fawaz Gerges, the director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, the Brotherhood's radical history should not blind Western policymakers to the fact that it has evolved into a pragmatic modern force. He says he believes the group's main objective is to expel Mubarak -- who has exploited international and domestic fears of its goals to brutally suppress membership.

"The Muslim Brotherhood wants to get rid of Mubarak. Also, the Brotherhood wants to play a key role in the political process, no doubt about it," Gerges says. "But the Muslim Brotherhood has made it very clear; they are not equipped; they are not ready to govern Egypt, so the question is not whether [the] Muslim Brotherhood wants to seize power."

Accepting ElBaradei ...

As evidence of the Brotherhood's new realism, commentators point to its acceptance of the Nobel laureate and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, a conspicuously secular individual, as an opposition figurehead to lead negotiations for Mubarak's removal. The Brotherhood's leaders have adopted a deliberately low profile and avoided playing a leadership role in the upheaval, analysts say.

Maha Azzam, an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, says the organization has taken a moderate reformist line both before and during the current protests:

"The stance of the Muslim Brotherhood has been and is at the moment one of a call for political reform and an inclusive political order that includes all political parties," Azzam says. "You need to remember also that when ElBaradei was calling for signatures for his Facebook [page] calling for reforms, the Muslim Brotherhood helped him collect those signatures. So there are common interests and I think at this stage, they are willing to work together to bring down the regime."

That tone of reason and compromise is stressed by Mohamed Habib, a former deputy leader of the Brotherhood, who rejects suggestions that the Brotherhood's aim is to create an Islamic theocracy based on Iran.

"No, of course [not]," Habib says. "We want a democratic government based on genuine political plurality and peaceful circulation of power -- a government which considers the people as the source of power and authority. We believe in separation between, judicial, legislative, and administrative institutions in [the] state."

Relations with the United States, he says, should remain friendly as long as they are "based on mutual respect and equality, which results in the welfare, peace, and security of both nations."

...But Not Yet As The Face Of New Egypt

Yet, just as principles can be open to compromise, so too does pragmatism have its limits. While the Brotherhood is happy to recognize the liberal ElBaradei as a de facto opposition leader, it is much less certain about him as the long-term face of the new Egypt.

Asked by RFE/RL if the group is supporting ElBaradei as Egypt's next president, Habib pointedly stops short.

"No. We are of course against the personalization of the issue that way," he says. "There must be a transition government, a government of salvation. There is no observation against ElBaradei being a member of that government. But as the demonstrators demand, before establishing such a government, the president should resign."

Other Brotherhood figures have dismissed Western fears of an Islamic state. Kamel el-Helbawy, another of the group's senior figures, told Reuters that Egypt was entering a "new era of freedom and democracy." "That's more important than declaring that a 'new Islamist era is dawning,' because I know Islamists would not be able to rule Egypt alone," he said. "We should and would cooperate -- Muslims, leftists, communists, socialists, secularists."

Whither Camp David?

The elephant in the room for Western leaders is the Brotherhood's stance on the 1979 Camp David peace accords with Israel, the issue that cost Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, his life to an Islamist assassin. The movement has said it would put the matter to a referendum if it took power.

Habib, perhaps reflecting the Brotherhood's acceptance that it is unlikely to be governing alone, suggested the matter should be decided by a freely elected parliament:

"This is an issue in which any government should return to the legislative institutions that elected by people in free, fair, and transparent elections," he said.

So far, so democratic. Yet inexact as the parallels between Egypt today and Iran of the 1970s may be, Western politicians will be mindful that the Iranian Islamic republic was heralded by democratic means -- in the form of a popular referendum vote. Moderate words alone are unlikely to exorcize the ghosts haunting the West.

Radio Free Afghanistan's Sultan Sarwar contributed to this report
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by: J from: US
February 01, 2011 01:41
Good article- alerting about possible consequences of these 'revolutions'. That and the looting of the museum doesn't promise anything good.
In Response

by: Sergey from: Chicago area, US
February 02, 2011 02:59
J, here is an excellent analysis of "Muslim Brotherhood" at World Net Daily. Essentially, Muslim Brotherhood is 20th/21st century reincarnation of millenarian goal of the world wide Islamic caliphate. Muslim Brotherhood is believed to have spawned the organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah and other similar Islamic Terror groups. So for RFE/RL even to ask the question about Muslim Brotherhod being "Reluctant Democrats" is ridiculous. They are Islamic Bolsheviks--nothing more nothing less. They may hide behind a rhetoric of Democracy, Human Rights and so on to fool gullible Western Liberals, but their ultimate goal is the WORLDWIDE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION, Iranian Style and Sharia Law all over the world.

"Muslim Brotherhood 'declares war' on U.S."

http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=214245

"The Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badi, who was elected only months ago, has "endorsed anti-American Jihad and pretty much every element in the al-Qaida ideology book," writes Barry Rubin, author and director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal."

"The Brotherhood – the dominant Islamic organization in the West that has spawned most of the major Muslim terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, along with the largest "mainstream" organizations – is giving the signal that it is "ready to move from the era of propaganda and base-building to one of revolutionary action," says Rubin."
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
February 05, 2011 18:48
Sergey, the protests in Egypt is not organized by the Muslim Brotherhood nor any other religious organization.

The engine behind the protest is the youth demanding more freedom and better living standards.

Do you really think that those young boys and girls are fighting to live in a country such oppressive as Iran?

Certainly not.

In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
February 05, 2011 18:52
Of course in a democratic Egypt Islamist parties will be represented in the parliament.

But they do not represent the majority of Egyptian population.

Democracy is about to respect the view of others. That means we should accept if Egyptians choose Islamic political forces in a free election.

Just like in Turkey where the current government is formed by the Islamic AKP party. And still Turkey is not like Iran...

Egyptian people have their undeniable right for democracy!
In Response

by: Sergey from: Chicago area, USA
February 02, 2011 03:33
Another fresh article from Jerusalem Post where Muslim Brotherhood calls for War with Israel. Need we say anything else what this Muslim Brotherhood is about ? And heaven forbid if they get power in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. Than World War III is just around the corner.

http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=206130

by: Sergey from: Chicago area, USA
February 01, 2011 04:22
Read the following analysis of Dr. Robert Spencer from jihadwatch.org

"Middle East Intifada"

http://frontpagemag.com/2011/01/31/the-middle-easts-intifida/


"Whether or not the majority of demonstrators were pro-Sharia, the Brotherhood was the sole entity in Egypt capable of constituting an organized and energized vanguard that could put an ideological cast on the rapidly unfolding revolt. And so Egypt now stands on the brink of installing in power a group that wants to see it become an Islamic state."

by: Humanist
February 01, 2011 09:23
This is going to be inevitably the consequence if the US and its Western allies support corrupt dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere for the sake of buying Mubarak ( $2 bln annually) for maintaining good relations with Israel, at the same time turning a blind eye to the democratic aspirations of the Muslim people. The people demand justice and guess who can promise a fundamental change from that misery? The Muslim radicals. It is time for a radical change in US policy.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 01, 2011 10:55
It looks like Americans are about to accomplish all their policy goals in the Middle East and Central Asia:
(a) Arms of mass destruction have been found in Iraq and the oil has also become cheaper;
(b) The war against Taliban has been won in Afghanistan;
(c) Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been removed from power by corageous pro-democracy demonstrators last year;
(d) Hamas has been kicked out of the Gaza strip;
(e) Hezbollah has not managed to grab power in Lebanon;
(f) And now the pro-American dictator who has been in power in Egypt for the last three decades is successfully managing to keep his power.
When one looks at this sequence of impressive sucesses of the US diplomacy in the region, one is really getting curious as to what the next "mission" that Americans will "accomplish" will be :-))))))

by: Orhan Ertugruloglu from: the Netherlands
February 01, 2011 12:05
With outmost caution the fundamentalist parties in Tunisia and Egypt are coming forward among the wave of secular protest against the governing autocratic dictators. President Bin Ali has fled from Tunisia. Now it is a matter of time for Mubarek in Cairo to flee from Egypt.After years of underground activities parties with Islamic roots are coming to the surface. Raşit El Gannuci's arrival to Tunisia was kept in low profile. After 22 years of exile, the leader of the Ennahda Party returned to his homeland. His political movement was banned by President Bin Ali as terroristic movement. Now he can participate in the general elections. Whether Europe will have a neighbor with a fundamentalist Islamic party in power is a unknown . The same is relevant for Egypt where theMoslim Brotherhood is prohibited but to a limited extent represented, with 20% of the seats in the Parliament. If Mubarek dissapears from the scene, the Muslim Brothers might come to the power in Egypt as well.Because of this fear of political Islam, the US has always supported the autocratic regimes şn the middle East and North Africa. Because they made the life difficult for the Islamic fundamentalists. Islamic parties were not wiped out. They became stronger and more careful than the past. They waited and at the last moment joined the street demonstrations in Egypt and for the moment they seem to support Muhammet El Baradei. Furthermore they are not right away threatening the Peace process with Israel. At the ballot box how many votes will they get is not yet known. It might to a certain extent depend on the persuasiveness of the secular parties during the election campaign.The problem in North Africa and in the Middle East is the diversity of the Islamic parties. All of them are the offshoots of the same ancestor Hasan el- Banna. He set up in the colonial Egypt in 1928 the Moslem Brother Party -İhvan- with the purpose of introducing Sharia . Banna's movement is a tree with many branches which cast its shadows over the all Sunni Middle Eastern countries. İn Tunisia Ennahda,, in the Palestine Hamas, In Algeria FIS are all coming from the same root- Muslim Brotherhood. Also in Morocco and in Libia there are Muslim Brotherhood movements. If one day they come to power no one can imagine how moderate or how radical they will be. Whichever political agenda they might have, it is certain that in the Middle East and in Nort Africa the future is theirs.
Just after the free elections the world will see to which direction the Arab revolution will set its course.

by: Abdulmajid
February 01, 2011 18:45
Wow - the wave that 's sweeping across the Arab world, it's like 1989 all over again!
And to all those who say that the revolutions in the Arab countries will end up in Ahmadinejad-style clerical-fascist dictatorships so teh corrupt, tyranncial cleptocracies must be enforced with military (even with nuclear force...!) I can only say that tehy are cowardly fascist and bigots. So us ragheads don't have a right to liberty? So we are all evil fundamentalists and jihadists and must be suppressed...? These stooopid rabid anticommunists (and at the same time antidemocratic) are so mired in their 19th century ideas and think all Mooslims are liek Mao's Chinese, all the same, all ants. They should know that Mooslims may be pooor but are not stupid nor uninformed. They can see and they can think. They have seen what teh regime in Iran has broughtto the people. They'd be more than stupid if they allowed such goons to rule them. Have you already forgotten the protests in Iran? Do you think the people are blind? Ah, but to someracist fascist bigots we ragheads are just vermin to be stamped out and if someone talked about teh Jews in the same wa tehy talk about the Arabs everybody would call them Nazis and some would wind up in jail. I wish to all those Islamophobes and anti-Muslims that the fate they so desire for us will come down over their own heads and those of their descendants. Besides that, 1.) the Arab countries, let alone the Muslim countries - are Not united and their military potential alone nowhere near matches that of the USA. Those who cry "Waaahh, the Mooslims are coming!" are at heart COWARDS of the worst sort. They're stupid, they're evil, they're foul. God help us all if they should ever gain power. Here we have the new Nazis, just as bad as the old. Or even worse.

by: Jackson from: Saint Clair
February 01, 2011 20:49
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBCKaVwNYHQ

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix AZ
February 01, 2011 23:20
Whatever comes about in Egypt it's clear Mubarak is on his way out. From all the pictures of the demonstrations females are conspicuously absent, except for a couple grieving widows. Most of the protesters are young males and they're all screaming something. Nobody in their right mind would want to live under Sharia law. Just look at the conditions under the Taliban in Afghanistan. In most Western countries women are a highly visible powerful force that drives the economy. Are muslim women just surrendering to their status as second class citizens that must stay at home in their cages and cater to the men? When there is an election I can see what kind of a government is going to emerge. I sure glad I don't have to live there.

by: Ben
February 02, 2011 17:37
Let`s remember the past of the"reluctant democrats". In thirtieths they actively collaborated with German nazies and worked out the strategy of jihad and extermination of Jews. Head of Moslim Brothers in Palestine was the mufti of Jerusalem- the big friend of Hitler. (See K. McQuillan.American Thinker and others)
In Response

by: Turgai
February 05, 2011 13:05
Excuseer mij, beste vriend, it's Mubarak's party that has a pedigree going back to fascistoid Arab nationalism.

by: Joseph from: Pennsylvania, ISA
February 03, 2011 22:52
"The elephant in the room for Western leaders is the Brotherhood's stance on the 1979 Camp David peace accords with Israel, the issue that cost Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, his life to an Islamist assassin. The movement has said it would put the matter to a referendum if it took power."

It is misleading to dismiss the murder of Sadat as nothing more than historical background by stating only that he was the victim of "an Islamist assassin". I will suggest that research would establish that the assassination was in fact planned and carried out by a cadre of members or affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, pursuant to a Fatwah issued by one or more of its religious leaders.

Those same individuals remain as either the leaders or mentors of the current leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. In assessing the public statements being made by the organization, it is essential to evaluate the character of the source objectively, based on the history of its actions rather than its current rhetoric.

Iranian "democracy" is certainly transparent enough. Everyone knows that the mullahs hand pick the candidates then dictate their policies. What no one seems to remember is that Hitler's party came to power through free elections. The Nazis then annexed Austria on the basis of a referendum.

The point is that the mere existence of the superficial trappings of either pure or representative democracy proves nothing. When voters are under duress of any kind or are duped by demagogues, whether secular or "religious", the political process will inevitably be adulterated and its results distorted.

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood might claim as little as a twenty percent minority of potential voters and modestly deems itself unready to govern is irrelevant. There can be no doubt that it intends to set the agenda and control the outcome of every issue, to whatever extent it can, while assuming none of the inconvenient responsibilities that come with the actual running of a government..

Whatever its altruistic origins, any organization that has historically either used, condoned or even tolerated murder as a political strategy cannot be viewed as merely another minority party. The premise for this entire dialogue is false.
In Response

by: Turgai
February 05, 2011 15:28
"Whatever its altruistic origins, any organization that has historically either used, condoned or even tolerated murder as a political strategy "

Does that include the CIA and the Mossad as well?
In Response

by: Joseph from: Pennsylvania, USA
February 06, 2011 18:39
"Whatever its altruistic origins, any organization that has historically either used, condoned or even tolerated murder as a political strategy "

Does that include the CIA and the Mossad as well?

It might, at the point where such intelligence organizations hold themselves out as something other than what everyone knows they are.

By the way, the quoted language omits an essential part of the sentence in question. It is therefore a quote out of its proper context.
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