Engaging The Muslim Brotherhood

Engaging The Muslim Brotherhood

This is cross-posted from my blog. I wanted to get some reaction from readers here on the issue of increased engagement from of the MB on behalf of Western governments.

In keeping with a similar theme to a previous post of mine, I thought this report by Joshua Stacher was worth a small write-up. Some may remember his article published last year in the Boston Globe along with Samer Shahata arguing that in light of the Brotherhood’s electoral successes, a policy of engagement is warranted. The attitudes towards the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the West are beginning to change, and despite some long-held reservations about the group Western governments seem to be opening up to the idea of responsible engagement with a major Islamist force in the region.

While I generally have little problem with the notion of talking to the Muslim Brotherhood, a change from the current prevailing policy of non-engagement would not come without its share of implications. Firstly, as Stacher makes note of in his report, there are many ‘grey areas’ surrounding the MB. These include “political pluralism,the use of violence, the principles of equal citizenship and universal human rights, and the relationship between religion and state.” Yet with this acknowledgement two policy recommendations are made concerning the relationship of Western governments towards the MB. What I find laudable about these recommendations is that they are presented in the context of the Egyptian political landscape as a whole. While I can’t find the paper to link to right now, I have argued in the past that while increased engagement of the countries’ theocrats is warranted, it should not come at the expense of Egypt’s other political factions, no matter how ineffective they have proven to be. In other words, the West should not embolden the theocrats at the expense of the democrats in the country, who equally have not been given a fair playing field to run their political activities. Stacher presents his recommendations in this context, one which I think is missing at times in other analyses of Western policy towards the MB.

The two recommendations are essentially that the West should increase its pressure on the Egyptian government for political reform which would allow for plurality in the system, while increasing efforts to open up channels of communication between the country’s opposition parties, including the MB. According to the executive summary, a future report is in the works which will highlight some of the more critical aspects of these policy recommendations and their implications.

I am no fan of the Brotherhood, and will continue to have my reservations against the group. However a broader policy of communication with both the theocrats and democrats of Egypt’s political opposition, with care taken not to promote any particular group and stimulate the freedom political activity in the country, would be in the interest of the country as a whole.

You can download the entire report here.

Here is a previous post of mine over at MidEastYouth, in which I expressed some of my reservations towards the Muslim Brotherhood’s position as Egypt’s political opposition, with an important quote from Saad Eddin Ibrahim. I was arguing for an empowerment of the ’silent majority’ Ibrahim speaks of through conditional U.S aid to Egypt:

The fact of the matter is Egypt, and the regime ruling it is extremly dependant on U.S support, which they have maintained through the illusion of the Muslim Brotherhood as the main political opposition. Secular parties are banned from forming or even gathering, charged with fabricated accusations of crime and effectively marginalised, yet to much less media fanfare than news of Brotherhood members being arrested. This is not unintentional, and as democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim said in a recent interview (asked about the Brotherhood being the largest opposition group (link):

We could not organize rallies, we could not organize marches or demonstrations because of emergency laws. Emergency laws have been in effect since 1981, since the assassination of President [Anwar] Sadat. So for the last 26 years, these emergency laws have prevented secularists from going out and organizing and mobilizing.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brothers have the mosques, and that is an advantage that is without design probably by the regime, but it has played in their favor. Meanwhile, I do not like to exaggerate their constituency because despite the fact that they have freer space to move in, still their share in the last Egyptian parliamentary election was 20 percent out of the 20 percent [of registered voters who actually voted]. So, 77 percent of the registered voters did not like to vote for them, nor to vote for the regime. And that is a 77 percent that I consider to be the silent majority, the potential constituency for liberal-democratic parties whenever liberal-democratic parties are allowed full freedom to operate.