Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood
For an outlawed political party, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has had an impressive showing in parliamentary elections. The group significantly bolstered its presence in 454-seat parliament and has established itself as the leading opposition group in Egypt --an ascent that looms worrisomely behind President Bush’s Greater Middle East Initiative.
The Brotherhood’s campaign motto has been "Islam is the solution." In practice, it has much more than a purely religious identity. The group has been pragmatic, politically savvy and adept at establishing grass-root networks that address the terrestrial needs and concerns of Egyptians. The party said it is willing to work with other opposition parties in parliament.
In the first two rounds of voting, the party won 76 seats, five times as many as it held in the outgoing parliament and more than the 65 seats it needed to be able to field a 2011 presidential candidate. In the third and final round on Thursday, which was marred by voter repression, the Brotherhood did not win any seats. Runoff elections will be held on Wednesday for the seats in which no candidate won a majority. The Brotherhood is fielding 35 candidates.
The Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the 1970s, is seeking to create an Islamic state through democratic means. The movement began as an Islamic resistance movement to British occupation in 1928 and was banned in 1954, forcing its candidates to run as independents. It has affiliates in many Arab states. The Islamic state that the Egyptian Brotherhood would like to establish would be significantly more hostile to Washington than the current Egyptian government. President Hosni Mubarak has cooperated with the United States on security and intelligence matters.
In August, this page predicted the Brotherhood would boost its representation in this month’s elections, due to frustration with economic stagnation and a heightened sense of democratic entitlement in view of greater freedoms for Iraqis, Lebanese and Palestinians. The Brotherhood also represents an anti-American political stance which is particularly popular in Egypt right now. Egyptians are overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq and have long been angered by what they perceive as unqualified U.S. support for Israel.
The spread of democracy has been the unifying theme to Mr. Bush’s foreign policy. There has been some confusion about what that policy concretely means and how it will be applied toward autocratic regimes, some of which maintain a working relationship with Washington in a variety of areas. In Egypt and much of the Middle East, democratic reform benefits Islamic parties. In many countries, those parties have been the sole organized opposition force.
The Bush administration has no doubt put such considerations on balance and has not pushed for abrupt reform. U.S. officials should continue to calibrate its push for democracy, since it could have sudden and undesired effects. Mr. Bush is correct in stating that freedom and democracy are the drivers of peace and prosperity -- in the long term. In the short term, chaos or worse can result from an opening, particularly amid the Mideast ferment.