February 2, 2011
A Thought on the Muslim Brotherhood in Post-Mubarak Egypt
I've been utterly unsatisfied by the speculation on Egypt after Dictator Not-Quite-for-Life Hosni Mubarak exits, stage left. Both the jubilant exultations from the Left at the incoming heaven on Earth and the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Right about the looming apocalypse seem simplistic, overblown, and facile; more than anything else, such quotidian quote-mongering bespeaks an appalling lack of imagination.
A train or thought occurs to me. The MB has been at war with the Egyptian government since at least the 1940s, accelerating in the 1950s as Gamal Nasser's "Pan-Arabism" threatened to de-Islamicize Egypt and other Arabian countries. The MB is more Pan-Islamist than Pan-Arabist, even though it mostly focuses on the Arab states; its goals are sharia, and its methods are "dawa" at the very least, sometimes inspiring other groups to engage in actual jihad, and occasionally engaging in jihad itself. The Brotherhood sees all the presidents of Egypt from the coup e'etat of 1952 to the present day as a seamless, anti-Islamist tyranny.
Nasser overthrew Gen. Muhammad Naguib, the public face of the coup, and took control in 1954. Nasser's protégé was Anwar Sadat, who succeeded to the presidency upon Nasser's death; similarly, Hosni Mubarak was Sadat's supporter and vice president, and he too succeeded to the presidency upon Sadat's assassination. Thus there is a clear regime continuity from Gen. Muhammad Naguib, the public face of the coup, to Nasser, to Sadat, to Mubarak today.
I suspect the Egyptian people cannot help but see the Muslim Brotherhood as the chief enemy of the regime that has brutalized and repressed Egyptians for more than half a century, hence the chief ally and/or representative of anybody who hates Mubarak. While that seemingly puts the MB in the driver's seat for seizing power when the Mubarak regime is ousted, there is a contrarian response that should be noted as well: Much of MB support may be solely due to its role as a counterweight to Mubarak; therefore, when that brutal regime dies, that portion of the Muslim Brotherhood's support may diminish as well.
There are three legs of support for the Brotherhood:
- Radical Islamists who fully support the ultimate goals of the MB, including turing Egypt (and all Arab countries) into a caliphate under sharia law;
- Anti-regime activists who see the MB as their best chance of overthrowing Mubarak and his followers;
- And those who have been helped, or whose friends or loved ones have been helped, by the MB's "charity and relief" efforts to Egyptians impoverished by the socialist policies of the regime.
Nothing whatsoever can change (1), unless the Muslim Brotherhood itself changed and became too mainstream, which strikes me as unlikely. But both (2) and (3) will be affected by the fall of the regime:
First, anti-regime activists (some of them pro-democracy) will no longer need the MB to fight the government, and likely will see them as rivals anyway; they won't be required to maintain the alliance of convenience with the Brotherhood after the fall.
And when the regime collapses and is no longer able to hijack and interfere with relief efforts, then for the first time, other groups besides the MB should be able to enter and distribute relief, thus diluting the Brotherhood's current monopoly on smuggling food, medical aid, and other necessities to the poor. (If we're smart, when Mubarak and his regime fall, we'll make a point of smuggling in food and medicine ourselves, clearly identified as coming from America. Of course, we're not smart, "we" (the administration of Barack H. Obama) are ideologically pure and politically correct.)
Regardless, the collapse will bring about an opening not only for the Brotherhood but also for many powerful groups of Egyptians who oppose the MB, either ideologically or more likely due to their own self interest.
My bottom line: The contest between the Muslim Brotherhood and the forces within Egypt that are actually pro-democracy (if not exactly pro-liberty) may not be as one-sided as so many conservatives gloomily predict; the fact that the MB is talking about power-sharing at all indicates they may not be as confident of short-term victory as the Right seems to be on their behalf.
Just a thought.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 2, 2011, at the time of 5:45 PM
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The following hissed in response by: GW
There was power sharing in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Shah. What led to the formation of the Iranian theocracy was the degree of organizaiton of the Khomeinist forces and their willingness, over time, to kill off those with whom they shared power. I do see parallels with the MB and Egypt today.
In the election of 2005, with the Mubarak government reportedly engaged in wide-spread vote fraud, the MB still took 20% of the seats in Parliament, while all other opposition political parties took a sum total of 8%. Bottom line, the MB is far, far more organized than the secular opposition that is, itself, divided among 16 parties. I have little doubt that the MB is potentially every bit as ruthless as the Khomeinists.
I have made the point in my posts on Egypt that Obama's focus needs to be on keeping the MB - and its mouthpiece el-Baradei - out of any transition government, seeking to buy as much time as possible for secular opposition to actually coallesce.
The above hissed in response by: GW at February 3, 2011 9:28 AM
The following hissed in response by: Robert M. Mitchell Jr.
I think most of it on the Right is a sense of history. Russian revolution gave the Russians a democracy, for a very short time. Iranian revolution, the same. I am hard pressed to thing of a revolution that put a democracy in place that didn't quickly get eaten by the sharks. Remembering, of course, that the American Revolution was not a revolution, it was a secession. So the Right (as opposed to the Left, and their addiction to "Year Zero") is anticipating, perhaps prematurely, the car wreck.
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
Ne'ertheless, I maintain that the number of Egyptians who say they support the Muslim Brotherhood today is larger than the number who will say they support them after Mubarak is gone; further, that the drop-off in support for the Ikhwan will be significant, as Egyptians stop focusing on getting rid of the dictator (making any alliances they can in order to pull that off), and focus instead on what life under the Brothers would really be like.
Robert M. Mitchell Jr.:
I am hard pressed to think of a revolution that put a democracy in place that didn't quickly get eaten by the sharks. Remembering, of course, that the American Revolution was not a revolution, it was a secession.
Well technically, giving Mubarak the heave-ho wouldn't be a revolution, either; it would be a restoration of the constitutional monarchy that existed for twenty-eight years before the coup d'état of 1952.
I think you missed one potential parallel to the current tumult in Egypt: Mustafa Kemal's war of independence in Turkey, from 1920-1923.
Kemal went on to become Turkey's first president, eventually received the title "Atatürk" (Father of the Turks), and founded a parliamentary republic that still exists to this day -- even after the election of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2002 and again in 2007, a party that many consider to be Islamist. Yet they still hold relatively free and fair elections and have not turned Turkey into a sharia state.
If the Egyptians can eventually establish (or restore) a parliamentary republic similar to the one in Turkey, ousting Hosni Mubarak will turn out to be a tremendous blessing. But if it goes more like the 1979 revolution in Iran, then it will be a catastrophe.
At the moment, there's no way to tell... though when I asked my Magic 8-Ball whether it will turn out more like Turkey, it answered, "It is decidedly so." So that's one positive data point.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at February 3, 2011 10:57 PM
The following hissed in response by: Robert M. Mitchell Jr.
I'm not hearing anyone calling for a Return of the King, so "Constitutional Monarchy" does not seem to be in the works. As to Turkey, I'm counting Military control as one of the "sharks", and Turkey doesn't have a good track record there. I am seeing parallels to what the Army in Egypt is doing, which I see as a bad thing. Sigh. Perhaps the best in a bad situation. I don't know...
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