February 10, 2011


Who’s afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood? (DOUG SAUNDERS, 2/05/11, Globe and Mail)

When these parties are allowed a role in democratic government, there’s a pattern. Remember, however alarming their ideas about women and Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and its neighbouring parties represent the people who explicitly rejected the violent option (and were shunned and sometimes attacked for this by the jihadists) because they wanted a place in a legitimate government. There’s zero chance of Egypt’s uprising turning into the 1979 Iranian revolution or the terrorist violence of Hamas; there are no parties, and no Egyptian constituency of any size, seeking a theocracy.

“These parties definitely reject the Iranian model,” George Washington University political scientist Nathan Brown told me. “First, the Muslim Brotherhood is against a theocratic state or any role for clerics – it’s led by a university professor of veterinary medicine. And second, they prefer to work within a pluralist system. Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”

In Arab states such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, Islamist movements don’t command the support to gain a majority and would have to share power with secular parties. Would the Muslim Brotherhood participate in a government that recognizes Israel and works with Western governments? Their leaders, and informed observers, say yes.

And the experience of fighting for an electoral share generally has a galvanizing effect on these parties. In Algeria, the Movement of Society for Peace, a Brotherhood offshoot, plays a leading role in condemning violence and helping denounce the region’s jihadist groups. Leading Islamist parties in Morocco, Kuwait and Bahrain have abandoned sharia law as a principle and replaced it with a loose notion of “Islamic policy guidelines.”

The most prominent example is Turkey, whose governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) began as an illegal Islamist movement but then, seeking electoral credibility, purged its sharia faction and won a majority. It has ruled for nearly a decade as an aggressively pro-European government that has co-operated with Israel and has done more for women’s rights than its secularist predecessors. Its leaders tell me they are “Islamic in the same way that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party is Christian.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2011 6:30 AM
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