It's a confusing transition for
the Islamist activists trying to reposition their organization from
oppressed social group to political strongman. That identity crisis was
on display a few weeks before the official announcement at the grand
opening of the Brotherhood's new headquarters, an unmistakable physical
embodiment of its new status.
At the building's grand coming-out
party, hundreds of Brotherhood elite swaggered around the new
seven-story monstrosity in Moqattam, which looks like an egg-cream
ziggurat on a breezy plateau above Islamic Cairo.
banned anymore," exulted Mohsen Radi, who served a turn in parliament as
a representative of a Delta town called Banha. "By the grace of
freedom, by the grace of the revolution, we have regained our place."
symbols go, the building and its inaugural could not have been more
potent, and served as prelude for this week's rubber-stamp of the
Freedom and Justice Party. For decades, the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide
operated out of a stuffy, dark, low-ceilinged apartment on the isle of
Manial, in Cairo's center. A team of state security men loitered out
front. Entering visitors had to clamber over the pile of shoes in the
hallway, between the elevator and the door. Senior officials would
conduct interviews in the corner of the same room where the rest of the
It was, to say the least, a no-frills
operation, highlighting the Brotherhood's ambiguous status as a legally
prohibited but semi-tolerated organization.
From 2005 through
2009, when the Brothers held 88 parliamentary seats, the organization
opened a slightly more spacious parliamentary office nearby. State
security forbade them from organizing any large public events, however,
and even their annual Ramadan iftaar was cancelled. During functions
there, the power often mysteriously cut out with a frequency that the
Brotherhood accepted as one of the more petty manifestations of state
Now, however, the Brotherhood is freely exercising
its organizational muscle. Since Mubarak was run out of office, the
Muslim Brotherhood has opened offices in every province. It has its own
satellite television network in the works, which reportedly will be
called Egypt 25 and could launch in June. It has entered coalition
talks with other groups. Its new political party claims a Coptic
Christian vice president, though that move has done little to assuage
worries among Egyptian Christians and secularists.
In truth, the
Brotherhood's top leaders are accustomed to operating in secrecy, and
they resent the doubts of their secular political opponents as much as
they do the pushback they face from their own younger members. The
supreme guide of the Brotherhood has drawn criticism in recent months
for his view that women and Christians should not be allowed to serve as
president of Egypt and for backing the incorporation of sharia
punishment into Egyptian criminal law.