With Egypt’s nearly 60-year-old order seemingly collapsing, many are asking whether the world’s single-largest Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), is on the verge of benefiting from demands for democracy in Egypt, the most pivotal Arab state. Western fears to the contrary, the MB is probably incapable of dominating Egypt
. At best, it can realistically hope to be the largest political force in a future government, one in which the military would have a huge say.
The MB and the Egyptian State
The fear of Islamism for years allowed the single-party state to prevent the emergence of a secular opposition. Many secular forces were aligned with the state to prevent an Islamist takeover. Those that did not remained marginalized by the authoritarian system. As a result, the MB over the years has evolved into the country’s single-largest organized socio-political opposition force. Even though there is no coherent secular group that can rival the MB’s organizational prowess, Egypt’s main Islamist movement hardly has a monopoly over public support. A great many Egyptians are either secular liberals or religious conservatives who do not subscribe to Islamist tenets. Certainly, the bulk of the people out on the streets in the recent unrest are not demanding that the secular autocracy be replaced with an Islamist democracy.
Still, as Egypt’s biggest political movement, the MB has raised Western and Israeli fears of an Egypt going the way of Islamism, particularly if the military is not able to manage the transition. To understand the MB today — and thus to evaluate these international fears — we must first consider the group’s origins and evolution.
Origins and Evolution of the MB
Founded in the town of Ismailia in 1928 by a schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna,.....
Because Egypt has never had free and fair elections, the MB’s popularity and its commitment to democracy both remain untested. In Egypt’s 2005 election, which was less rigged than any previous Egyptian vote, given the Bush administration’s push for greater democratization in the Middle East, MB members running as independents managed to increase their share of the legislature fivefold. It won 88 seats, making it the biggest opposition bloc in parliament.
But the MB is internally divided. It faces a generational struggle, with an old guard trying to prevent its ideals from being diluted while a younger generation (the 35-55 age bracket) looks to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a role model.
The MB also lacks a monopoly over religious discourse in Egypt. A great many religious conservatives do not support the MB. Egypt also has a significant apolitical Salafist trend. Most of the very large class of theologians centered around Al-Azhar University has not come out in support of the MB or any other Islamist group.
There are also Islamist forces both more pragmatic and more militant than the MB. For example, Hizb al-Wasat, which has not gotten a license to operate as an official opposition party, is a small offshoot of the MB that is much more pragmatic than the parent entity. What remains of Tandheem al-Jihad and Gamaa al-Islamiyah, which renounced violence and condemned al Qaeda, are examples of radical Islamist groups. And small jihadist cells inspired by or linked to al Qaeda also complicate this picture....
Read more: Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood: A Special Report | STRATFOR