- July 1, 2009
Egypt’s Brotherhood “not to challenge” Mubarak’s succession
Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood will avoid confrontation over attempts to install President Hosni Mubarak”s son as president because it fears a crackdown by the authorities could destroy the Islamic group.
But the group, Egypt”s most powerful opposition force, will stay within ever-narrowing margins of freedom the state allows it, contesting elections and seeking to widen its influence via an active social agenda, analysts say.
The Brotherhood is the only Egyptian opposition group able to muster hundreds of thousands of disciplined backers. It won a fifth of parliament”s seats in a 2005 election marred by reports of rigging, charges denied by the government.
If mobilised, those supporters could potentially disrupt any bid to smoothly transfer power from Mubarak, 81, to his son Gamal, 45, a senior official in the ruling party, a move many expect and which is a persistent topic of speculation in Egypt.
But such opposition would come at a heavy cost for a group that will put its long-term survival first.
“They know that there”s no benefit in challenging the succession,” said Joshua Stacher, assistant professor of political science at Kent State University.
“All it can do is lead to them being repressed, thrown in jail, to the point that it could threaten the viability of the organisation,” he said.
A handover within Mubarak”s family is not a done deal, and is not the only possibility, but analysts see it as a likely scenario and it is frequently mooted in the independent press.
Recent reports, usually poorly sourced, suggest parliament may be dissolved to implement a law adding a new quota of women MPs to the lower house. An election could then be held before 2010 to cut the size of the Brotherhood bloc, reports say.
The parliament speaker, a ruling party member, has denied any plans for a dissolution, but this has not stopped the talk.
The Brotherhood is officially banned but tolerated to the extent that it fields parliamentary candidates as independents, although group activists are often detained in security swoops.
An early vote could squeeze out the Brotherhood well before the 2011 presidential race, although Mubarak”s party already has an overwhelming majority that rules out any significant challenger to the party”s chosen candidate.
“The regime is not prepared to take any risks,” said Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights head Hossam Bahgat. “Every change to the rules of the political game in Egypt now can only be seen in the context of the succession scenario.”
The Brotherhood has said a succession by Gamal, a former investment banker whose associates fill a cabinet that has backed liberal economic reforms, would hurt the poor in Egypt, where a fifth of the 77 million people live in dire poverty.
But Brotherhood deputy leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters in April that the group would not risk open confrontation with large street protests but would continue its battle in elections despite expectations of manipulation.
“If we can motivate citizens … push people to the ballot boxes, that will reduce the (scope) of rigging,” Habib said. “But we cannot turn our backs on the electoral process and say there”s no hope.”
That may ensure the continuation, after any power shift, of reforms praised by foreign investors and that have driven growth rates to 7 percent last year and 4 percent now, although many of the poor say the benefits have not trickled down.
But analysts say long-term stability may only be assured if the grievances of the poor and struggling workers are addressed. It was ordinary workers, not the Brotherhood, behind violent protests last year about price rises and bread shortages.
The Brotherhood usually refrains from large-scale civil disobedience beyond minor scuffles. It has kept its focus on politics, building popular support through social, medical and welfare networks, education and professional syndicates.
The group, which influenced Islamist ideology and groups around the world for 80 years, has survived bouts of repression through their risk aversion and long-term outlook, analysts say.
“They want society, and Egypt and Egyptians, individually and collectively, to change. And they want to create a kind of Islamic society, and part of that would include an Islamic state, but they”re incredibly patient,” said Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.
Talk of an Islamic state sets off alarm bells for some liberal activists, who fear a rise to power by the Brotherhood would also rule out any political pluralism. The Brotherhood dismisses this fear, insisting they have democratic aims.
No other opposition group has the Brotherhood”s weight.
A pro-democracy movement took to the streets in 2005 around Egypt”s first multi-candidate presidential race, but rarely drew more than a few hundred protesters. It has now fizzled.
Ayman Nour, who came a distant second to Mubarak in 2005, polled around 500,000 votes in that race. But he was then thrown in jail on charges he said were politically motivated.
He was released last year, a move widely seen by analysts as a sop to Barack Obama shortly after his U.S. election win.