Overestimating the Brotherhood’s Appeal

by Gedalyah Reback

The Muslim Brotherhood has been in rampant decline for several decades. Egypt was once its epicenter, but we now encounter an aging and inhibited international movement. In a piece in Foreign Policy several months ago, the international organization, centered in Egypt, was described as “sluggish and unresponsive.” It has done little to reverberate across the region, particularly because it has focused so much attention on Egypt.

Mohamed Morsi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood

Articles like ” The Accommodationists Speak” (International Journal of Middle East Studies (1995), 27: 321-339) see the movement as trying to work within the system to engineer Islamist change to the Egyptian government. In actuality, it is a lack of power that has kept the movement from being more assertive, if not acquiescing completely to the will of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

One example of how this has played out in a rather dimwitted way for the Brotherhood was its folly two weeks ago to publicly announce it wouldn’t participate in the protests against Mubarak’s police state because it would occur the same day as a national holiday for the police. Egyptian cynics would point to this as a prime example of the Brotherhood’s problems in an electoral system. Its credibility may need several election cycles to recover.

What it has on its side is it might be the best organized political party besides Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). But its lack of total appeal across the Egyptian sociopolitical spectrum could mark the point where not only democracy takes hold in the Middle East, but a movement against the political party structure.

The NDP ran and won every election the state organized, but hardly gained absolute majorities in parliament. The way it organized them was not by making coalitions with other parties, but by inviting the slew of independent candidates in Parliament into the party ex post facto (The Mubarak Leadership and Future of Democracy in Egypt by Alaa Al-Din Arafat). Many of these independents had been affiliated with the NDP beforehand, but may not have successfully gotten onto the party’s electoral lists. As a result, the NDP served in the same way of a coalition would in parliamentary democracies in other countries. The difference here was that the party still functioned like a party in the Soviet sense of the world, or in the same way the Baathist party governed Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

This history of “semi-democratic” rule in Egypt will likely challenge the Muslim Brotherhood as it attempts to foster an electoral base to win the first cycle of parliamentary and presidential elections in a new Egypt. In the same way NDP candidates commonly ran independent to disassociate itself with the party or to circumvent the party’s selection process, Egyptians could see independent candidacy as a viable option to avoid having to either run as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, or to have to vote for it.

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