November 29, 2011


The irresistible rise of the Muslim Brothers (Fawas Gerges, 28 November 2011, New Statesman)

In contrast, members of the 1970s generation - such as Essam el-Arian, vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party and a law and medical school graduate, and Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a medical doctor and former member of the Brotherhood's highest executive policy-setting "guidance bureau" - are progressive. They profess commitment to an open society and representative government. Some voiced pointed criticisms of the Old Guard for their autocratic ways and pledged to challenge the status quo once there was an opening in the closed political system under Mubarak.

The balance of power has tipped in favour of the pragmatists and Mubarak's downfall will hasten the transition to the new generation. Abul-Fotouh is a case in point. He has decided to run for the presidency as an independent candidate, against the wishes of the leadership, and submitted his resignation from the organisation. The young Brothers will probably vote for him in defiance of the Old Guard.

During recent years, intergenerational differences within the Brotherhood manifested themselves in an open challenge by young Egyptians to authoritarian practices by the ultra-conservative veterans. Younger Brothers have used new media such as blogs and Facebook to criticise their elders and call for the demo­cratising of the movement as a prerequisite to building a pluralistic civil state in Egypt. Young Brothers are the single largest subgroup in the organisation, and their world-view is closer to that of their liberal and nationalist counterparts than their conservative elders, as shown in the past ten months. Frustrated by the closed leadership, younger members of the Brotherhood established four political parties of their own and were promptly expelled from the organisation for disobedience.

The intergenerational and ideological divisions show that the Brotherhood is not a monolith, frozen in time and space. Far from it: there is increasing evidence that its leaders respond to pressure from within and without and are sensitive to public opinion. In the past decade, they have laboured to reassure critics at home and abroad that they accept the rules of politics and do not wish to establish a theocratic state along the Iranian model. "We'll build a civil state with Islamist references," the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammad Mursi, told the French ambassador in Cairo this month. Exhibiting maturity during the mass protests against Mubarak, the Brothers stayed in the shadows for fear that they would alarm Egyptians and the western powers.

As the electoral campaign intensifies and concerns mount about the Brotherhood's agenda, the two top leaders of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mursi and el-Arian, have stressed that if they win they will form a government of national unity with other parties. Addressing assertions often made by their secular opponents, they insist that the party "would hand over power if we lose" because the public mood will no longer tolerate dictatorship. El-Arian pledged that Freedom and Justice will not add terminology to the Egyptian national constitution to make explicit old demands that all legislation comply with sharia law. Article 2 of the constitution already states that the "principal source of legislation is Islamic jurisprudence".

Posted by at November 29, 2011 6:26 AM

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