The West's fearful stereotypes of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are based on myth and misunderstanding. Today's Muslim Brotherhood rejects violence and must be a full partner in the process of change – and it will be, if a minimally democratic state can be established in Egypt.
Even as the mass demonstrations began in Tunisia, who would have thought that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime would have collapsed so quickly? Who could have predicted that Egypt would soon witness such unprecedented popular protest? A barrier has fallen. Nothing will be the same again. It is quite likely that other countries will follow the lead of Egypt, given its central and symbolic significance. But what will be the role of the Islamists after the collapse of the dictatorships?
The Islamist presence has for decades justified the West’s acceptance of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world. And it was these very regimes that demonized their Islamist opponents, particularly Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which historically represents that country’s first well-organized mass movement with the political influence to match. For more than 60 years, the Brotherhood has been illegal but tolerated. It has demonstrated a powerful capacity to mobilize the people in each relatively democratic election – for trade unions, professional associations, municipalities, parliament, and so on – where it has been a participant. So, are the Muslim Brothers the rising power in Egypt and, if so, what can we anticipate of such an organization?
In the West, we have come to expect superficial analyses of political Islam in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. However, not only is Islamism a mosaic of widely differing trends and factions, but its many different facets have emerged over time and in response to historical shifts.
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