Many of its members were forced into exile: some in Saudi Arabia, where they were influenced by the Saudi literalist ideology; others in countries such as Turkey and Indonesia, Muslim-majority societies where a wide variety of communities coexist. Still others settled in the West, where they came into direct contact with the European tradition of democratic freedom.
Today’s Muslim Brotherhood draws these diverse visions together. But the leadership of the movement – those who belong to the founding generation are now very old – no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are much more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform and fascinated by the Turkish example. Behind the unified, hierarchical facade, contradictory influences are at work. No one can tell which way the movement will go.
The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading the upsurge that is bringing down Hosni Mubarak: It is made up of young people, of women and men who have rejected dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamists in general, do not represent the majority. There can be no doubt that they hope to participate in the democratic transition when Mubarak departs, but no one can tell which faction will emerge in a dominant position. That makes it impossible to determine the movement’s priorities. Between the literalists and the partisans of the Turkish way, anything can happen; the Brotherhood’s political thinking has evolved considerably over the past 20 years.
Neither the United States nor Europe, not to mention Israel, will easily allow the Egyptian people to make their dream of democracy and freedom come true. The strategic and geopolitical considerations are such that the reform movement will be, and is already, closely monitored by US agencies in coordination with the Egyptian army, which has played for time and assumed the crucial role of mediator.