Make no mistake: the Muslim Brothers’ vision for Egypt is a frightening one
Hosni Mubarak should be given credit for at least one achievement in his three decades in power: his deft exploitation of Washington’s fears about the Muslim Brotherhood. There is, in fact, no evidence that the Brotherhood has ever been able to count on the support of more than a small minority. For its part, the Brotherhood has used Mubarak’s persecution of its rank-and-file membership with equal cleverness to elevate its status within Egypt and, perhaps more importantly, among the champions of ‘moderate Islam’ in the West.
The Brotherhood was formed as a fundamentalist group in 1928 with the aim of Islamising Egyptian society from below and thus purging the country of decadent Western influence and customs. From an Egyptian population of 80 million, it has today perhaps two million supporters and half a million members. Many of these supporters are ordinary people who do not wish to live in an Islamist state, but who would be willing to vote for the devil himself if it meant ridding the country of its hated Last Pharaoh.
None of this is understood by Washington, which has happily propped up Mubarak and his regime just as it once did the Shah of Iran. The tragedy is that this combined effort to thwart an Islamic Egyptian revolution will probably hasten Washington’s own worst-case scenario — with devastating consequences for Egypt’s historically tolerant and pluralistic culture and America’s influence in the region.
Anti-Mubarak anger on the streets of Cairo will increasingly be redirected in the coming weeks and months at Washington and Tel Aviv. As a result, more and more ordinary Egyptians will heed the call of the Brotherhood. For all the optimistic Western analogies to the collapse of communism, Egypt in 2011 is looking more like an action replay of Iran in 1979.
In the chaos of post-revolutionary Egypt, as in Iran three decades ago, Islamist forces are certain to emerge as the strongest, most disciplined and best-organised opposition — thanks to Mubarak’s repression, this is not a hotly contested category. This is precisely what Khomeini’s Islamists did in Iran. Regardless of their lack of popular support, they are poised to fill the vacuum — and to impose their agenda on the majority.
The pressing question, then, as Mubarak clings to power by his fingertips, is what kind of Egypt the Brotherhood wants to create after the tyrant departs. Of some things we can be sure: it will be more anti-Western, more Islamic and fervently anti-Zionist. The Brotherhood’s main foreign policy aim (apart from tearing up the country’s peace treaty with Israel and opening up the Rafah border crossing to Gaza) is to reassess Egypt’s military and financial dependence on America. In the distant future, they envisage the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
Documents published by the group make it clear that they believe in Islamic democracy, not the kind that exists in the West. To put it simply: the Brotherhood will make political participation of individuals in society subject to the principles of sharia. In the West, the legislative and judicial branches of government monitor state actions to ensure they conform to democratic rules. The three branches of government keep each other in check. In the Islamist set-up the Brotherhood aims to establish, actions of the state would be monitored by, well, the Muslim Brotherhood, ensuring they conform to Islamic law. In other words, the Islamists would monitor themselves.
And what of the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has mellowed of late? This perhaps has more to do with its recruitment of media-savvy spokesmen (they are always men) who spout to gullible Western ‘experts’ the virtues of its pro-democracy platform. The general Western ignorance about Egypt presents the Brotherhood with a tremendous opportunity for media manipulation. Scratch deeper, and you can find its detailed political platform which was published four years ago. The president cannot be a woman because the post’s religious and military duties ‘conflict with her nature, social and other humanitarian roles’. A board of Muslim clerics would oversee the government.
Freedom of association enjoyed by civil organisations in the West would, in an Islamist Egypt, also be conditional, once again on their adherence to the strictures of sharia. Egypt would have a shurah (consultative assembly) system, veneration of the leader and the investiture of a Supreme Guide. It would be terrifyingly similar to Iran’s Islamic state.