The path to power

examines the Muslim Brotherhood’s pursuit of influence

What would happen should the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) take power in Egypt? The MB deputy leader and several MB parliamentarians have declared, then denied, that they will seek to create an Iranian-style Islamic state, so in answering the question perhaps we should overlook what they say and focus instead on their tactics.

How does the MB approach the idea of power?

Their understanding of power is not that it is a collective concept, not in the sense the average politician would use the word. So before answering the question one must take into account a number of facts.

1. The MB has spawned many religious groups, including political Islamist movements across the Arab world. The MB serves as a doctrinal mainstay for such groups.

2. Many Islamist groups splintered from the MB which, by virtue of its lengthy experience and strong organisational structure, its commitment and consistency, remains a template for these splinter groups.

3. Although it has never admitted to having a military wing, the MB has often been suspected of condoning acts of violence.

4. Much of the violence committed so far has been the work of groups that split from the MB. There is little research into how these groups are related to the MB. We do not know whether such groups broke away from the MB because of a real clash of interests or to give the latter an alibi.

5. Since the 1970s, and throughout the 80s and 90s, the MB was in control of the professional syndicates. Yet it still refrained from naming the top official in those syndicates, opting instead to work alongside an outsider, often an individual approved by the government. The MB would then use him for its own purposes.

To the MB power is not the matter of numbers that it is for the National Democratic Party; rather, it views power as an ability to influence, or determine, the decision making-process. The MB has 88 seats in the current parliament, leaving it standing on the threshold of power. Some people have claimed that the MB’s parliamentary presence is the result of a deal between the MB and the government though there is no hard evidence to back such claims.

The next few years will see the NDP, the MB and the US administration vying to change the course of events in three key areas: Palestinian-Israeli peace talks; domestic reform in Egypt and the prospects for an Islamic state. What the MB does in the next few years will impact on US policy as well as on the future of the NDP. The US administration can use the MB in more than one way. It could use the MB to bring down the existing regime should the latter refuse to comply with the demands of the US administration. The group’s growing political participation could also provide a political pretext for bringing up the Coptic issue, deflating the prospects for a Muslim state. The MB may also be used to turn the international community, especially the EU, against the Egyptian regime. A unified US-European policy could lead to sanctions against Egypt or to a call for a separate Coptic state.

A close look at the MB’s statements over the past few months shows that it is aware of the positions of both the NDP and the US administration. How has it reacted, where does it stand and what gains has it made or does it expect to make?

The MB has been receptive to all offers of dialogue by domestic Egyptian political forces, and is favourably inclined towards dialogue with Europe. Some MB leaders have even conferred with senior US officials.

The group has become more tolerant in its approach to current issues, most noticeably those concerning women and pluralism. Indeed, its primary focus has been on domestic issues, its backing of the judges’ struggle being a case in point.

MB leaders have kept their rank and file quiet in the face of the recent security clampdown. MB leaders understand the political dimension of the security offensive and see the clampdown as an attempt by the regime to deflect foreign pressure. They are aware that the regime is shooting itself in the foot.

The MB has become legitimate in all but name. It has full access to the media. Its leader holds regular media interviews at the headquarters of the “banned” group in Manial, Cairo. Many now believe that the MB will use the next four years to prepare for its eventual taking of power. If this is the case how might we expect the group to act?

It is likely to avoid a head-on collision with the NDP so as to deprive the latter of any excuse to dissolve parliament before it completes a full term. And the longer this parliament is in place the more likely it will be that the MB wins a parliamentary majority in the next elections.

The MB will restrict its opposition to peaceful forms. For example, its deputies may walk out of parliamentary debates to show their displeasure with the possible outcome. At the same time, MB parliamentarians are likely to question ministers more aggressively over domestic issues such as public services and local administration.

The group will use the People’s Assembly as a forum to contest the rising power of business in government. The regime probably does not mind this since it, too, wants to curb the growing political aspirations of businessmen. In doing so, the group would be furnishing the US administration with proof that it is a major player in the formulation of domestic policy.

The MB is likely to participate in the next municipal elections as well as the Shura Council elections in the hope of securing the quota needed to field a presidential candidate in 2011 and evade the ban on religious parties.

But what would the group do once it achieves power, controlling a majority in the Assembly, or even the government?

Since being founded the MB has attempted to court public support in order to create an Islamic state, perhaps even a caliphate. The MB is aware of the many obstacles that still stand in the way of such a goal way and once in power is likely to attempt to boost its own popularity.

It will revamp the security services. The MB has a long history of being harassed by the security services and the public support for an overhaul would be enormous. One must also keep in mind that the US media, including the New York Times, have been hinting that security services in the Arab world pose a major obstacle to reform.

Similarly, it would make political capital out of tackling corruption, especially cases involving officials who have no public appeal. Such a move will also play well with the public.

The MB’s winning of power in Egypt would give a morale boost to Islamic groups in Palestine and may slow down the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The MB is unlikely to be pressed to spell out its position regarding the peace process, something that could spare it an early clash with the West and the US administration.

The group would be expected to appoint a handful of Copts to senior positions to avoid charges of sectarianism that could give the group a bad name abroad. To appreciate how crucial such a move is one need only recall the recent statement by the former German ambassador to Cairo to the effect that Germany totally rejected any Islamic government in Egypt.

The MB would take steps toward writing a new constitution and reorganising political life in the country. By the time the MB has introduced such sweeping measures it will have consolidated its power and turned itself into a fixture of political life in the country.

Only after the MB succeeds in overcoming these initial hurdles on its road to power will it have to address questions related to its true identity and ultimate goals. At some stage the MB will move inevitably towards the creation of an Islamic state in Egypt. It is unclear how this can be done, but once it is secular life will end, not only in Egypt but across the region. Anyone who doesn’t want to live in a self-styled caliphate will have to leave.

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MB Today [About Muslim Brotherhood]