Egypt"s political life is being damaged by a clash – now in its third year – between government forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. A far better option to the confrontation, a new study by the prestigious International Crisis Group shows, is to work toward a long-term goal of integrating the Brothers into the political mainstream.
The latest report from the ICG examines the no-nonsense, hardline stance adopted by the ruling National Democratic Party, and the ambiguous approach the Brotherhood is taking to political participation.
At a time of political uncertainty around Egypt"s presidential succession and serious socio-economic unrest, the study offers an alternative to the current short-term thinking that carries very uncertain long-term returns.
In a way the very same can be said about two other Islamist groups in the Middle East: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Perhaps the countries" interests may better be served if the three groups: the Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza and the Shiite Hezbollah Movement in Lebanon, were invited to join their governments – assuming they haven"t already invited themselves, as sometimes happens – to actively participate in political life.
Better to be battling within the political arena than opposing from beyond, from where they can cause political paralysis at best, and at worst mayhem and military takeover, as we have seen in Gaza.
In Egyptian elections in 2005, the Brotherhood scored stronger than expected by grabbing close to one-fifth if the country"s parliamentary seats, by running as independents – saying that they were prevented from running as a party. That success has emboldened the group to redouble their efforts to contest future political elections, the ICG report says.
However, the Egyptian government has reacted with mass arrests throughout the Brotherhood ranks, a response, the ICG points out, that has only served to discredit Egypt"s electoral democracy and increase political tension in the country.
By presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as the political boogeyman, the Egyptian government"s tactics have largely backfired, and in the process helped the Islamists to consolidate their position.
"By restricting the political field, the regime has assisted a hybrid organization that is uniquely positioned to evade restrictions on recognized political parties and work outside a strict legal framework," states the report.
That being said, the participation of Muslim Brothers, Hezbollah or Hamas in government does not come worry-free. Again, referring to the ICG report, among other preoccupations: "Their program"s distinctly non-democratic and illiberal tone, as well as its ambiguous pronouncements on the role of women and the place of religious minorities, is cause for genuine concern."
"Ultimately, the Muslim Brothers are too powerful and too representative for there to be either stability or genuine democratization without finding a way to incorporate them", says Issandr al-Amrani, ICG"s North Africa analyst.