The Muslim Brotherhood: The Future of Egypt?

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As protests in Cairo continue, attention has turned to the Muslim Brotherhood, the 83-year-old Islamist opposition group. Members of the long-suppressed organization have recently been arrested in the protests. The opinions of the Muslim Brotherhood are vast and varied, as beliefs that the group's sole motivation is to oust President Mubarak and bring peace to the country are contradicted by proclamations that the Brotherhood plans to take over Egypt and create an anti-American state. Here is a sampling of the current discussion and the questions everyone is asking.

  • What Is the Brotherhood's Role in the Protests?  Cara Parks at the Huffington Post attempts to break down who exactly the Muslim Brotherhood is and what role it plays in the current protests. Founded in 1928 and suppressed in Egypt since 1952, the Muslim Brotherhood is known both for its support of democracy and its criticism of American foreign policy. In the protests currently ravaging Cairo, Parks writes, the Brotherhood's role is minimal. She cites news reports crediting Egypt's youth for the uprising. Still, members of the group have been arrested during the protests, as "the Egyptian government has warned protestors of the group's 'hidden agenda'." But, Parks points out, Nobel laureate Mohamad ElBaradei insists "the Mubarak government uses its Islamist opposition as an excuse for authoritarian rule."
  • Are They Violent?  "For most of its existence in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has refrained from violence against the state. It is not the organization of radical jihadists that it is sometimes made out to be. But its caution in dealing with Mubarak has made it appear recently that it is more concerned with protecting itself than with improving the nation," writes Will Englund at The Washington Post. Still, "the groups running the demonstrations have organized a committee of 10 to deal with the government; the Muslim Brotherhood is included. When its eight regional directors were arrested last week, it chose not to mobilize in their defense so as not to distract from the main goal--the departure of Mubarak."
  • Are They a Threat to the U.S.?  Think Progress writer Tonya Somanader scoffs at the purported threat of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, calling it the Republican hardliners' "delusion-du-jour." She writes that Representative Thaddeus McCotter and UN Ambassador John Bolton are among many in the U.S. who believe "the result of this pro-democracy movement will be the enfranchisement of the Muslim Brotherhood and other anti-American 'jihadist nutjobs.'" She cites Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei's appearance on Fareek Zakaria's CNN show in which he denounced such assertions as "a myth perpetuated and sold by the Mubarak regime," insisting that the religiously conservative group is a minority in Egypt, but has a lot of credit because they are interested in a secular state. Somanader affirms ElBaradei's comments by writing that the Muslim Brotherhood has moved away from its past violence and, now peaceful, is the largest opposition group to the Egyptian government.
Now allied with legal Egyptian political groups and tied to Egyptian professional unions, university campuses, and social welfare programs, the Brotherhood is a “peaceful” group that “could draw moderate Muslims who identify with [its] ideology to participate in electoral politics, thereby isolating violent jihadis.” Indeed, the Brotherhood denounced a recent terrorist attack in Egypt as a “cowardly act” and is not on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list....Though banned by Mubarak’s regime from participating in parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood has 17 supportive representatives in the Egyptian Parliament and is supporting ElBaradei’s leadership role in forming a new government without Mubarak.
  • What Would a Muslim Brotherhood-Run Egypt Mean for Israel?  The Israeli government fears that an Egypt run by the Muslim Brotherhood will mean "not only a stronger Islamist force in Gaza but also in the West Bank, currently run by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, as well as in Jordan, meaning Israel would feel surrounded in a way it has not in decades," writes the New York Times's Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.
    According to Bronner, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to Hamas, is the "best-organized political force in Egypt." If in charge of the country, the group could be expected to turn Egypt's long held alliance with Israel into a hostile relationship and "quite likely stop in its tracks any further Israeli talk of peace negotiations with the Palestinians."
  • Is the Brotherhood Being Disingenuous? At The Daily Beast, Leslie Gelb warns strongly against believing the Muslim Brotherhood's assertion that they are "misunderstood Islamic democrats" and that having the group in power "would be calamitous for US security." He explains why: 
The MB supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, makes friendly noises to Iranian dictators and torturers, would be uncertain landlords of the critical Suez Canal, and opposes the Egyptian-Israeli agreement of 1979, widely regarded as the foundation of peace in the Mideast. Above all, the MB would endanger counterterrorism efforts in the region and worldwide. That is a very big deal.

It would be delusory to take the MB's democratic protestations at face value. Look at who their friends are—like Hamas.The real danger is that our experts, pundits and professors will talk the Arab and American worlds into believing we can all trust the MB. And that's dangerous because, outside of the government, the MB is the only organized political force, the only group capable of taking power. And if they do gain control, it's going to be almost impossible for the people to take it back. Just look at Iran.
  • Will the Muslim Brotherhood Prove to Be Egypt's Version of Ayatollah Khomeini? reports that the Muslim Brotherhood is working with Mohammed ElBaradei to form a national unity government, excluding President Mubarak's National Democratic Party. To some, like Don Surber, this is evidence that the results of the current uprising in Egypt will look like Iran's 1979 revolution. At his Daily Mail blog, Surber writes that if he were the president, he would bring home all of his ambassadors now. "Revolutions are dangerous, and the post-revolutionary period is often autocratic," he writes. "Pray for Egypt." Many who fear Egypt's revolution will turn out like Irans, envision the Muslim Brotherhood as the post-revolutionary autocratic regime. At The American Spectator, Hal G.P. Colebatch suggests that, "in the endless, dusty, jerry-built tower-blocks ringing Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood is watching and waiting to seize its chance."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.