Egypt, like many other places in the Middle East, is entering a new phase, where the Muslim Brotherhood, just like Mubarak, are increasingly viewed as ugly ghosts of the past.
Egypt stands on the precipice, the world looking on, its people living in fear, uncertain what the future holds; maybe, just maybe, democracy will emerge… Ghaffar Hussain, head of outreach and training at Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, looks at what may result should the most optimistic scenario ensue, focusing on the prospects for the Muslim Brotherhood in any future elections
Whilst most ordinary people around the world have interpreted the protests in Egypt as good news, fears of an Islamist take-over have dampened the mood slightly in western policy circles. After all, Egypt’s largest Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is frequently described as the most popular and best organised opposition.
So, the logic goes, a free and fair election would result in an Islamist takeover of arguably the most important Arab state. But all of this misses certain importance points.
The Brotherhood is an important part of Egyptian political life. They have been around since the 1920s and they can certainly be described as very well organised. Their popularity, however, has wavered through the years but has often been helped by political events. The assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981 by militant Islamists, who were in large part inspired by the Brotherhood, ushered in an era of dictatorship, repression and martial law.
Whilst economic growth, in terms of GDP growth rates, remained impressive, Egypt society stagnated. The chasm between rich and poor widened, unemployment increased and ordinary people didn’t feel they could express their grievances.
In this context, a slightly reformed and modernised Brotherhood began to set up schools, hospitals and other amenities. They sought to fill the void left by the state and they had a degree of success in doing so. This also allowed them to present themselves as the only alternative to the unpopular and repressive dictatorship of Mubarak.
The state crackdown on their activities inevitably attracted more sympathy for the group, while western support for Mubarak fitted their narrative very well, increasing their appeal to ordinary disillusioned Egyptians.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that during the disputed parliamentary elections of 2005, the Brotherhood, running as independents, managed to win 88 seats in a 444 seat parliament. This popularity can in large part be attributed to the unpopularity of Mubarak. Support or votes for Brotherhood members should be interpreted as protest votes, the only means Egyptians had of expressing their frustration.
But things have changed significantly since 2005. The popularity of social networking sites and other technology has encouraged mass mobilisation and communication like never before. The tech-savvy youth of Egypt today, who comprise 60% of the population, are connected to the globalised world. They no longer have to opt for one of the many bad options, they know they deserve better.
If a democratic culture is allowed to flourish in Egypt, we can expect support for the Brotherhood and Islamism in general to dwindle. The youth of Egypt are seeking a radical change with the past, they want to throw out all the old furniture and that includes the Brotherhood. All indications are that the youth are seeking a secular and pluralistic political future, free of religious tensions and repressive state polices. This includes those that are religiously observant.
Egypt, just like many other places in the Middle East, is entering a new phase, where the Brotherhood, just like Mubarak, are increasingly viewed as ugly ghosts of the past.
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