The Muslim Brotherhood may not be as popular as everyone thinks

Interesting point by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:

China, Twitter and 20-Year-Olds vs. the Pyramids – NYTimes.com.

The Brotherhoods have had it easy in a way. They had no legitimate secular political opponents. The regimes prevented that so they could tell the world it is either “us or the Islamists.” As a result, I think, the Islamists have gotten intellectually lazy. All they had to say was “Islam is the answer” or “Hosni Mubarak is a Zionist” and they could win 20 percent of the vote. Now, if Egypt and Jordan can build a new politics, the Muslim Brotherhood will, for the first time, have real competition from the moderate center in both countries — and they know it.

This may be true, but I’m not quite as optimistic. The problem is that these alternative secular parties won’t develop overnight – they will need to be grassroots movements representing blocks of citizens (i.e. merchants, ethnic groups, labour movements etc.) and it is not yet clear how Egyptians will choose to divide themselves. Egypt is not quite an ethnic clusterfuck like Lebanon, Iraq or Afghanistan, but there still may be sectarian problems if a transition to some form of democracy is mismanaged.

To foster an environment in which democracy would be possible would require a benign dictatorship making a series of reforms to allow a viable secular opposition to develop. Without this, the Brotherhood has too much power and influence to be allowed free reign.

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