Change has come to Egypt. One can now safely refer to Hosni Mubarak as the former president.
But what comes next? The movement has been pro-democracy, sparked largely by youth movements like the April 6 movement, and Egyptians the world over are celebrating with high hopes for Egypt’s future.
Still, the major political opposition has been and continues to be the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group who — though officially banned — have successfully run as independents in the Egyptian Parliament.
But will the power vacuum caused by the revolution allow the Muslim Brotherhood to ascend to power, and, if it does, what would that mean? Should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood?
“This [fear] has been one of the justifications for the bureaucratic, authoritarian regimes in the Middle East,” said history professor John Calvert of Omaha’s Creighton University.
He said that some Western politicians believe that many authoritarian leaders “are holding the Islamists at bay. [They think] if you get rid of the Mubarak regime then the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over, therefore it’s a good thing to support the Mubarak regime.
“I mean, I think experts in the field have recognized that argument as specious, and just ridiculous.”
Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood arises for a number of reasons. Many political analysts believe that if the Brotherhood rose to power they would institute Sharia law and effectively create a theocracy (though the Brotherhood denies this charge). Despite explicitly eschewing violence since the late ’60s, they have had a history of politically motivated violence before that. Others observe that the Brotherhood holds regressive views on the public role of women. And the Muslim Brotherhood supports Hamas — in fact, Hamas itself is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But these do not represent the whole picture or the level of complexity of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political ideologies.
For one, the Muslim Brotherhood is known for its charitable work and the creation of social programs for the poor. They run labour unions, schools and clinics.
Calvert noted that the Muslim Brotherhood claims they would not rule in a manner anymore theocratic than the ruling AK Party in Turkey — a conservative party with roots in Islamism, which has become more progressive in the last decade.
“There is a conservative faction and there is a more liberal and progressive faction,” said Calvert. “It is very interesting that in the last couple of years the conservatives have”¦ dominated the Muslim Brotherhood in the ruling apparatus.
“The liberals have been talking for some time about how they want to give equal rights to women, and so forth. Some conservatives in the Brotherhood say, ”˜No, women shouldn’t have a place in public life.’ Shorthand, there is a disagreement in the Muslim Brotherhood on this question.”
Like many religious and political organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood is not without its share of internal debate and, perhaps, should not be viewed as an absolutely homogenous political entity.
“The same holds true with the [Muslim Brotherhood’s view of] Christian Copts, the Coptic minority in Egypt. The conservatives say that there is no way that the head of state could be Christian, but some liberals say, ”˜Well, why not?’ There is a disagreement on those points.”
However, Calvert is optimistic that the Brotherhood will have a more limited role in Egypt’s future political processes.
Now that Mubarak is gone, he foresees the creation of new political parties and the institution of free and fair elections, which would force the Muslim Brotherhood to “make concessions to the essentially democratic and secular sensibilities of the Egyptian people.
“I think some Egyptians who support the Muslim Brothers now are going to be attracted to some of the new parties that are formed. So I think the Muslim Brothers are going to lose influence, rather than gain influence.”
Perhaps the most inaccurate depictions of the Muslim Brotherhood in recent times have been those which try to connect it directly with Al Qaeda. Though they share some anti-Western ideological forefathers like Sayyid Qutb, not only is the Brotherhood outspokenly non-violent but, as Calvert explained, “they hate one another. The Muslim Brotherhood does everything it can to prevent Muslims from gravitating to that ideology.
“I mean, I don’t want to sound like an apologist. There are a lot of things about the Muslim Brotherhood that I don’t like. But they are not a huge danger. I just think we shouldn’t fear the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been a couple of columns and articles recently with precisely that title, you know, ”˜don’t fear the Muslim Brotherhood.’ I don’t think we should support dictatorship and autocracy in the Middle East for fear of Islamism, because Islamism isn’t the bogeyman, it isn’t the great threat that some have made it out to be. It has to be taken seriously, as a factor, but not sufficient to support dictatorship.”