Shifts Within The Muslim Brotherhood

Two subjects related to the Muslim Brotherhood have been among the most important developments in Arab politics over the past year. These are, first, the progress they achieved in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, and, second, the success of Hamas, which is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), in obtaining the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and the mandate it received to form a new Palestinian government.
Although the electoral victory of the MB in Egypt and Palestine coincided with much talk and analysis dealing with the “hawks” and “doves” dialectic in the Egyptian and Palestinian MB, concluding that the “hawks” control the decision-making process in both groups, the latter’s mere participation in elections, under the existing conditions, confirms that it is the centrist trend within the MB that runs the process of political participation through the gateway of elections. This fact will subsequently imply a moderate political discourse compatible with the visions of other parties participating in Egypt’s People’s Assembly (the Egyptian parliament) and the Palestinian Legislative Council and government. A clear example of that spirit of compromise and moderation can be found in the latest statements by leaders of Hamas, not only in terms of their relations with Palestinian political forces and circles but also as regards their dealings with international and regional parties and with the resolutions and efforts of the international community concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That attitude of Hamas can be summarized in the following phrase: “Let Israel move forward toward peace and we will not be lagging behind”.
The shifts in the Egyptian and Palestinian MB are just an example of the shifts toward moderation and compromise that are taking place in the MB in several Arab countries, as illustrated in the cases of Syria and Jordan.
In Jordan, that shift expressed itself in the results of elections to the post of the MB leader. Its result was the selection of Mr. Salem Falahat, a leader of the centrist trend, which coincided with the elections of the Consultative council last month, in which the centrist trend made gains at the expense of the conservative wing in the council as a result of the failure of some symbols of that wing either to keep their seats in the council or to accede to its membership.
The new shift in Jordan’s MB is expected to bring about an increased attention to the Jordanian domestic politics, as can be seen from the reference by the new MB leader to “the political national fusion in order to confront the threats and dangers that face the country”. He also stated that the MB, in its political relations with the government and political groups, seeks “a positive change with a view to achieving complementarity with them”.
Syrian Muslim Brothers have already made, over a period of several years, fundamental changes in their political setup, whereby they moved their group away from the situation that prevailed in the late 1970s and early 1980s- when it was a secret organization engaged in an armed struggle with the regime- toward engagement in a peaceful and open political activity, recognizing other groups and participating with them in the political life within a democratic framework.
The Syrian MB has pragmatically moved along toward eliminating the traces of that epoch in the history of Syrian violence but without a favorable response from the Syrian regime. It has completed its march by achieving harmony with other Syrian opposition groups in the framework of what is now known as “Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change”, which was announced four months ago and comprised, in addition to the MB, other nationalist, leftist and liberal organizations and personalities both form inside and outside Syria.
In terms of its political implications, the latest step by the Syrian MB may be the most important shift within the MB in Arab countries as a whole, for it reflects the willingness of the Syrian MB to change not only its policies but also the political environment in Syria through its adherence to a comprehensive scheme for change that comprises political parties and personalities against whom Syrian Muslim Brothers had engaged in strong attacks and whom it had considered as its traditional adversaries for several decades.
The importance of the current transformations within the MB groups lies in the fact that they signify a willingness on the part of the bulk of the political Islam groups (a) to move forward and participate effectively and positively in the political life of their countries, (b) to follow an open and peaceful way in that this participation, and (c) to engage in it in consensus with others, be they a government party, as in the case of Egyptian MB, or with opposition groups, as in the case of Syrian MB. The important shift is the reliance by Muslim Brothers on the results of the ballot box, which is widely recognized as a democratic method.
Another most significant shift within the MB groups is their adoption of a peaceful, non violent approach in their relations with the State and society, which will undoubtedly contribute positively to putting an end to the claim that “Muslim Brothers” are the source of inflexible die-hard militants and promoters of violence.