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Da’wa & the Democratic Politics

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Samer Shehata, a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and, also, of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington (D.C.), came to U.C. Berkeley late in April to discuss his research on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s democratic tendencies for which he is preparing a projected new book.   Although Shehata visited the Northern California almost a month a one-half ago, your reporter is bringing his comments up at this time as a background to (U.S.) President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking speech to the Arab world in Cairo on the date of the release of this issue (the 4th).

As George Galloway accused most of the leaders of the Arab world last week of electoral corruption, the ruling party in Egypt is one of the most blatant.   In authoritarian regimes, elections are limited in transparency.  In fact, they even have a special connotation for the marred federations themselves.  Then, why does the Brotherhood participate if the terms are so stacked against them? 

Samer, an Egyptian-American himself, has become fascinated with the Muslim Brotherhood extremely sophisticated polity within their history of electoral participation.  In general, there has been a growing Islamist participation and success in the democratic process in the Middle East as a whole.  On the other hand, “Egyptian elections “have become “tragic and farcical.”  Succinctly, there are structural problems contained inside the electoral process itself.  The State has too often viciously brutalized its opposition, and the Muslim Brothers have borne the brunt of this violent oppression. 

Curiously, it can be argued that the Brotherhood’s participation can legitimize the Regime.  There are other risks, too, “Have they received any benefit” for their efforts?  Voting is on a patron-client or service basis.  Elections within a rigid rule offer an opportunity for the opposition to engage the establishment.  Elections, also, are often periods of political repression for the Brotherhood.  The Brotherhood is, thus, perceived as engaging in Da’wa (in Arabic) which could be roughly equated to a missionary (religious “preaching”) through politics.  They are presenting their ideas and making themselves noticeable.  They are spreading their (political) message inside the polls they have decided to contest and, further, in Parliamentary seats they have obtained spreading their politico-religious statement to an ever larger public.

Furthermore, for every seat they acquire, they can offer governmental positions to their clients.  Shehata estimates there are several hundred Brothers now serving in the Nile State’s bureaucracy.  These officials have been able to converse to greater group of citizens.  They have discouraged the arbitrary administrative arrests of the past, as well.  Further still, this influence within the legislative branch has opened up the right to travel both domestically and internally for many – especially for members of Parliament, or as our speaker jokingly said, “Membership has its advantages!”

They are, moreover, demonstrating that they are moderates and not the radicals they have been portrayed to be.  Additionally, surprisingly, they are not menacing power elites through the ballot box.  Their strategy is not to challenge the system — although in an absolutely free and fair election — there is no doubt that they would win as their ideological siblings, Hamas, have done in Gaza.

The candidates originally ran as a rejection of the ban that forbade them to do so.  They did so; so, they could contend for political Da’wa.  By their presence, the Brotherhood exposes the deceitfulness of the regimen.  They are confronting the dominate stratagem of peripheralization for them, in that they are “…not in competition to rule… [or to realize]…power.”

Samer Sheheta concluded his comments by declaring that the Brotherhood will outlive the Regime, (and, your author brings this article to closure by asserting, if the United States does not recognize the aspirations of the people, but only engages those unpopular structures who hold their domestic hegemonies, Washington will fail to establish a new order between the West and the Arab World)!


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