The Muslim Brotherhood is the very reason why democracy in Egypt should be avoided. At least that is the line of far too many western observers who seem to be entirely split on the idea of democracy promotion in the Middle East; democracy is only appropriate when western interests prevail. Thus, the very people who forced democracy onto some are retreating into the trenches when a democratic movement sprouts organically. Of course, and I have mentioned this before, the paranoid warnings concerning the Brotherhood coming from the one-time neo-cons are themselves rather absolutist (imagining a government of only Brotherhood members) and/or extremist (imagining the Brotherhood destroying the peace with Israel and setting up an undemocratic, theocracy based on sharia law).
Charles Krauthammer, for example, who support the democratic push in Iraq on ‘Idealist grounds,’ wrote a column for the Washington Post [4/2/11] in which he simultaneously argues that democracy is the best path in Egypt, and that the Muslim Brotherhood be banned from elections. Making comparisons to Iran in 1979, Krauthammer expertly argues that the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would result in the atrocious possibility of ‘One Man. One Vote. One Time,’ which, of course, is exactly what the US has supported in Egypt for the last 30 years. Moreover, Krauthammer gives no explanation for his hypothesis that the Brotherhood would immediately push Egypt away from the democracy it is currently demanding. At the end of his piece, Krauthammer reveals the ideological schism that is plaguing many neocons today:
The overriding objective is a period of stability during which secularists and other democratic elements of civil society can organize themselves for the coming elections and prevail. ElBaradei is a menace. Mubarak will be gone one way or the other. The key is the military. The United States should say very little in public and do everything behind the scenes to help the military midwife – and then guarantee – what is still something of a long shot: Egyptian democracy.
In other words, the US must support a democratic Egypt without the Muslim Brotherhood or ElBaradei; the US must support a free and democratic Egypt in which only pre-screened applicants, approved by the US can run for office. ElBaradei, for Krauthammer, is a puppet with no support and the Muslim Brotherhood is an evil organization bent on destroying Egyptian democracy.
Yet, the Brotherhood is hardly as popular as many western fear-mongers claim, able to win perhaps 20-30% in open elections – a significant percentage, to be sure, but hardly a political monopoly, ensuring that at best (for the Brotherhood; at worst, perhaps, for American regional hegemony) the Brotherhood is simply part of a unity government including several other moderating parties. Moreover, the political hierarchy within the Brotherhood is fragmented and includes a reformist faction that looks to politically ally itself with secular parties:
The final faction is the group of reformers who chose to remain with the Brotherhood rather than breaking off. Advocating a progressive interpretation of Islam, this trend is weakly represented in the Guidance Bureau and does not have a large following among the Brotherhood’s rank and file. Yet ‘Abd al-Mun’em Abu Futuh, arguably the Brotherhood’s most important reformist figure, has become an important model and source of inspiration for a new generation of Islamist democracy activists — inside and outside the Muslim Brotherhood. Interestingly, Futuh first suggested that the Brotherhood throw its weight behind a secular reform candidate last February, prefiguring the Brotherhood’s support for Mohamed El Baradei, the opposition’s de facto leader, today.
Assuming that free elections are held at some point in the near future (by no means a certainty,) the Brotherhood will almost certainly play a role in the government – although its role will neither be as powerful nor as monolithic as is commonly implied by those warning against Egyptian democracy.
Photo from CBC