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The Uncertain Future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

By Abdulla Tarabishy

As the Muslim Brotherhood are once again banned in Egypt, the future for that nation is now deeply uncertain. There is no question that the Brotherhood in Egypt has had a tough past.  Sometimes tolerated, but more often forced to operate in secrecy, they are perhaps a prime example of success by an illegal organization. 

While they were officially banned under Mubarak’s regime, the Brotherhood became masters at the underground political game.  To circumvent their illegal status, they often fielded candidates as independents to contest parliamentary seats.  This strategy was so successful that in the 2005 election, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats (20%), while legal opposition parties could only muster a combined 14 seats.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political prowess stems largely from their organizational capabilities. Unlike other political organizations, the Brotherhood is also a social institution, and thus has the ability to mobilize support through mosques.  Their support also stems from social welfare programs.  The organization runs many hospitals and clinics, hands out blankets, and distributes extensive amounts of humanitarian aid.

Thus it is not surprising that when Mubarak was overthrown, the Brotherhood, as the most organized, well-funded, and widely-supported political organization in Egypt, stepped in to fill that vacuum.  It quickly experienced success in elections, winning about 45% of parliamentary seats.  What happened next is well known.  With the removal of Morsi, and the decision by an Egyptian court last week to ban “all activities” by the Brotherhood, the organization once again sees itself threatened.

Many of the highest-ranking Brotherhood members have been thrown in prison on charges of “inciting violence,” and clashes between Morsi’s supporters and the military have ensued.  These actions demonstrate, more than anything, that the Egyptian military is not looking to establish a democratic government.

There is no doubt that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood made some mistakes. They catered too much to their supporters, and failed to take into account the large portion of the population that strongly opposed their policies.  But in a democracy, an unpopular government should be challenged at the polls, rather than at gunpoint.  The Muslim Brotherhood should have to answer to the people in elections, not to the military.  Put simply: democracy cannot be rejected simply because you do not like the result.

By banning the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian interim government has destroyed the chances of establishing a functioning democratic government.  Any elections will have no legitimacy if the largest and most popular political party is not allowed to participate.  Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood will return to the status of a banned organization, a position from which they thrive. 

If history is correct, then banning the Brotherhood will do very little to curb its political and social activity.  It will remain a potent political force as it was under Mubarak, and it will not be disappearing anytime soon. Far less certain are Egypt’s prospects for legitimate democracy, which have only grown slimmer.


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