Don’t expect Badie to change the Brotherhood

Don’t expect Badie to change the Brotherhood

A couple of weeks ago I promised to write about Muhammad Badie’s election as the Muslim Brotherhood’s new supreme guide. I never did, mostly because I didn’t have anything interesting to say; Evan has already written about the internal drama that surrounded the vote, and I don’t think the election has much external significance, despite widely-publicized concerns that Badie (a conservative) will push the group to the right.

Why not? Shadi Hamid sums it up well.

Unlike many of its secular counterparts, the Muslim Brotherhood has never depended on individuals and personalities, but rather on strong organizational and institutional structures.

The Brotherhood is also under immense pressure right now from the Mubarak government, which has recently stepped up its campaign of harassments and arrests of Brotherhood members. At the same time, it reportedly offered the group a deal: reduced political participation in exchange for reduced harassment.

Whether or not the Brotherhood accepted the deal — reports are inconclusive — it’s clear that Badie’s organization will not play a large role in the next Egyptian election. Fawas Gerges gets some things wrong in his Brotherhood comment for The Guardian, but I think he largely gets this point right.

What this means is that in the next five years, the Brotherhood will be more preoccupied with increasing its membership, already more than a million strong, than lending a helping hand to the opposition to bring about peaceful change in Egypt. The new leadership will refrain from provoking the Mubarak regime which has recently cracked down hard on the Brotherhood and imprisoned hundreds of its members.

And to that end — if the goal is not to provoke the regime — the Brotherhood is not going to move too far to the right. Mubarak will tolerate the current Brotherhood, which has espoused non-violence for decades and adopted some fairly mainstream views. The government won’t tolerate the group if it becomes significantly more conservative.

That’s in the short term. In the long term, the Brotherhood wants to position itself for a bigger political role in a post-Mubarak world. But it is is already viewed with suspicion by many Copts and some secular/more liberal Egyptians; if it becomes more conservative, that suspicion will deepen.

So expect the Brotherhood’s positions to remain largely unchanged — because of both institutional inertia and self-preservation.

Side note: The Mubarak government, ever wary of the Brotherhood, has already congratulated Badie on his election by imposing a travel ban on him (عربي). State security says he’s tried to conduct "organizational activities" for the Brotherhood overseas.