Apparently the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t so bad

Well, according to Carrie Wickham, some associate professor in political science from Emory University.

The Muslim Brotherhood After Mubarak | Foreign Affairs.

Although the Brotherhood entered the political system in order to change it, it ended up being changed by the system. Leaders who were elected to professional syndicates engaged in sustained dialogue and cooperation with members of other political movements, including secular Arab nationalists. Through such interactions, Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, all of which, they admitted, their movements had neglected in the past

….The factions defy easy categorization, but there seem to be three major groups. The first may be called the da’wa faction. It is ideologically conservative and strongly represented in the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau and local branch offices. Its main source of power is its control over bureaucratic operations and allocation of resources. Because it has also managed to control the socialization of new recruits, it has cultivated loyalty among the youth, particularly in rural areas. The second faction, who we might call pragmatic conservatives, seems to be the group’s mainstream wing. This group combines religious conservatism  with a belief in the value of participation and engagement. Most of the Brotherhood’s members with legislative experience, including such long-time parliamentarians as Saad al-Katatni and Muhammad Mursi, fall into this category. The final faction is the group of reformers who chose to remain with the Brotherhood rather than breaking off. Advocating a progressive interpretation of Islam, this trend is weakly represented in the Guidance Bureau and does not have a large following among the Brotherhood’s rank and file. Yet ‘Abd al-Mun’em Abu Futuh, arguably the Brotherhood’s most important reformist figure, has become an important model and source of inspiration for a new generation of Islamist democracy activists — inside and outside the Muslim Brotherhood. Interestingly, Futuh first suggested that the Brotherhood throw its weight behind a secular reform candidate last February, prefiguring the Brotherhood’s support for Mohamed El Baradei, the opposition’s de facto leader, today.

Sounds great right? Pragmatic conservatives, weakly represented reformers. They are even altruistic apparently – they are more concerned with bringing freedom to Egypt than with gaining power themselves:

The Brotherhood knows from experience that the greater its role, the higher the risk of a violent crackdown — as indicated by the harsh wave of repression that followed its strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Its immediate priority is to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak steps down and that the era of corruption and dictatorship associated with his rule comes to an end. To achieve that, the Brotherhood, along with other opposition groups, is backing El Baradei. The Brotherhood also knows that a smooth transition to a democratic system will require an interim government palatable to the military and the West, so it has indicated that it would not seek positions in the new government itself. The Brotherhood is too savvy, too pragmatic, and too cautious to squander its hard-earned reputation among Egyptians as a responsible political actor or invite the risk of a military coup by attempting to seize power on its own.

Could there be a downside? Well, of course they are a little bit racist sometimes and they have a tiny history of violence before massive crackdowns on their movement, but you can’t just look at the small picture! There’s more to them than violence and hatred, you see:

Those who emphasize the risk of “Islamic tyranny” aptly note that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as an anti-system group dedicated to the establishment of sharia rule; committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era; and continues to use anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. But portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature that exaggerates certain features of the Brotherhood while ignoring others, and underestimates the extent to which the group has changed over time.

Ah wait, it goes deeper than this. Turns out there are a few little…sticking points, shall we say, in the Brotherhood’s ideology:

Still, it is unclear whether the group will continue to exercise pragmatic self-restraint down the road or whether its more progressive leaders will prevail. Such reformers may be most welcome among the other opposition groups when they draft a new constitution and establish the framework for new elections, but they do not necessarily speak for the group’s senior leadership or the majority of its rank and file.

It remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood as an organization — not only individual members — will accept a constitution that does not at least refer to sharia; respect the rights of all Egyptians to express their ideas and form parties; clarify its ambiguous positions on the rights of women and non-Muslims; develop concrete programs to address the nation’s toughest social and economic problems; and apply the same pragmatism it has shown in the domestic arena to issues of foreign policy, including relations with Israel and the West. Over time, other parties — including others with an Islamist orientation — may provide the Brotherhood with some healthy competition and an impetus to further reform itself.

What was that about human rights? So apparently these “reformers” are not all that influential amongst the leadership or the membership (so where exactly are they?) and may not influence the Brotherhood to abandon its own ideology and accept things like women’s rights, freedom of expression and not attacking Israel. In fact, numerous spokesmen (and I use the gendered term purposefully) have said or implied that they will abrogate the peace treaty with Israel and return to a state of war:

Rashad al-Bayoumi said the peace treaty with Israel will be abolished after a provisional government is formed by the movement and other Egypt’s opposition parties.
“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” al-Bayoumi said.

Wickham seems to spend most of this essay clutching at the straws of a minority faction of reformers in the Brotherhood with no real influence in order to gloss over the Brotherhood’s less “savoury” policies and sit there with fingers crossed, hoping somehow that outside influence will change the way the Brotherhood operates. The reality is that while they have been muted by vicious government crackdowns, the Brotherhood is still the Brotherhood – their core ideology is Al-Banna’s literalist Islam which is extremely racist, sexist, violent and intolerant. If they gain power, they wouldn’t just be “less open to US and Western interests”, they would aggressively oppose any and all Western Interests and create a more violent and chaotic Middle-East, while supporting terror groups such as Hamas and helping the Brotherhoods in other countries overthrow the regimes there.

To illustrate my point, I’ll end with a poem that Egyptian Brotherhood luminary Sayed Qutb wrote about America after he spent a few years there:

Its shaky religious convictions. Its harmful social, economic and ethical condition. Its notions of the Trinity, sin and sacrifice, which do not convince the mind nor the conscience. Its capitalism, with its monopolies, its usury and its ugly sombreness. Its selfish individualism, which lacks solidarity except when forced by law. Its materialist, trifling and dry conception of life. Its beastly freedom, which they call ‘the mingling of the sexes.’ Its white slavery, which they refer to as ‘the emancipation of women.’ Its stupid, clumsy, aberrant and unrealistic marriage and divorce laws. Its harsh and evil racial segregation.

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