The comments that immediately follow below are from sundry experts and pundits on the Muslim Brotherhood (Jam`iyyat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) collected during what is often termed the Arab Spring in Egypt beginning in January of last year. I’d like them to serve, together with with the subsequent material by yours truly on “Islam and democracy,” as a propaedeutic of sorts—or simply a backdrop—to a forthcoming post on Hamas. Of course Hamas emerged out of the Ikhwan, in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and later from the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, but is today a wholly independent social movement and political organization. I assume throughout, with Nader Hashemi in Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies (2009), that
“Normatively, secularism should not be imposed by the state on society [as in, say, Kemalist ideology or in some measure with French secularism (laïcité)] but should emerge bottom-up, from within civil society, based on democratic negotiation and bargaining over the proper role of religion in politics. In other words, in developing societies where religion is a key marker of identity, in order for religious groups to reconcile themselves with secularism, a religious-based theory of secularism is required.”
We might better appreciate this model of secularism if we recall that, historically, as Hashemi also points out, such “[d]emocractic negotiation and bargaining…was an inherent part of the transition to, and consolidation of, liberal democracy.”
(Please note: some of this material appeared previously in a slightly different version at the Ratio Juris blog, and if my stint here at the Lounge finishes before I get to the post on Hamas, it will eventually show up at Ratio Juris. I then hope to have a post or two on the role of nonviolence in the Palestinian struggle for collective self-detemination and full recognition of their rights under international law.)
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt:
“Yet it has been the very iron fist of the Mubarak regime that has helped make the Muslim Brotherhood the dominant opposition party in Egypt today. Like it or not, at this point in history Islamist parties do well all over the Muslim world; they have become the default opposition. Get used to it. They vary tremendously across a wide spectrum, from moderates to radicals, and include a small sliver of violent killers. These movements are constantly evolving. We must learn to work with the more moderate ones; that includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. They are not prone to love America, especially in view of our past policies, but the Brotherhood has eschewed violence for half a century and moves cautiously. If they occupy a major place in any new Egyptian government, they could well do with our help. And they will have to meet the political, economic and social demands of the people once in power: Anti-Americanism doesn’t feed bellies or reform the social order.”—Graham E. Fuller
“A final note to some American, and maybe Israeli, politicians: The Egyptian rallies are not about you. There has been no burning of American, Israeli or effigies of US Presidents because the Egyptians in the streets are not interested in politics per se. They do not fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will create an Islamic republic either. The Egyptians want change. Washington and other world capitals want ‘measured change’ that can fit their interests, something that Egyptians are not thinking of right now.”—Hussain Abdul Hussain
“Longtime scholars of the Brotherhood have cast doubts on exaggerated claims that the movement will be swept into power in a post-Mubarak/post-authoritarian Egypt. In fact, many doubt that the movement has the power to take over the entire country even if it wanted to. The Brotherhood, though the oldest and arguably best organized opposition group in the country, currently suffers from a number of ills. First, it is beset with a generation gap between the older generation of leaders, such as the current general guide Muhammad Badi‘a, and a younger generation that has sought to change the movement’s policies on a host of issues including the role of women in leadership positions and Coptic Christians. The Brotherhood is in fact no longer the dominant force that it was in the past. As a movement it has lost a lot of credibility in recent years after allowing itself to be co-opted by the Mubarak government says Khalid Medani, a professor of political science and Islamic studies at McGill University who has conducted extensive field work in Egypt including interviews with the movement’s members representing various veins of thought within it. Despite remaining the country’s largest formally organized opposition group the Brotherhood is failing to attract many new members, he says.
Although it eventually decided to participate in the January 25 demonstrations in Egypt the Brotherhood only announced its decision two days before. Its endorsement was also far from enthusiastic. Following the unprecedented size and staying power of the mass popular demonstrations against the Mubarak’s authoritarian government, the Brotherhood took a much more proactive approach in supporting the demonstrators. To date it has released eight official statements, including three signed by Badi‘a. In them the movement has been careful to not claim leadership of the demonstrations and instead says that it is simply one party among many that make up the opposition. Observers on the ground have noted that the Brotherhood is not the most visible or powerful voice represented among the hundreds of thousands to millions of demonstrators who have defied government curfews and violence to continue calling for their civil and human rights.
The Brotherhood has joined other opposition groups and demonstrators in calling for the resignation of Mubarak, the abolition of the ‘emergency law’ that has been in place since 1981 when Mubarak came to power, the holding of new elections that are actually free and fair, the release of all political prisoners, substantial amendment of the constitution, and the prosecution of government officials who have ordered the use of violence against the demonstrators. The movement has also been careful to explain its decision to enter into cautious talks with the government, which is increasingly under the public direction of Vice President Suleiman. Thus far, the Brotherhood remains unconvinced by the government’s claims that it is trying to address the popular will of the Egyptian people.
Although it is far from being a force for social or political liberalism, certainly of the kind that is desired by progressives in the U.S. and Europe, the Brotherhood is also not the all-powerful Islamist bogeyman and twin sister of al-Qaeda that it is often portrayed as. Facing its own internal divisions and problems of legitimacy among the Egyptian public, the Brotherhood is unlikely to be able to ‘seize control’ of the country even if it wanted to. Its internal problems are recognized by no one more clearly than by the Brotherhood itself, which has been careful not to further alienate the Egyptian people who have collectively led the popular uprising against authoritarianism that continues to defy an aging autocrat’s decrees even in the face of extreme state violence.”—Christopher Anzalone