It is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the main forces within the political opposition behind the people’s revolution against the Egyptian regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Ever since the Nasser era, the military-backed regime has worked hard to suffocate and kill-off the popular – revivalist Islamist movement, which calls for an egalitarian society, social justice and a form of Islamic democracy.
During Anwar Sadat’s presidency, relations between the Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and the regime witnessed a brief thaw as the government intended to play the Brotherhood off against its secular opponents, including leftist and Nasserite forces. However, this divide-and-rule policy came to an abrupt end when the Ikhwan voiced its firm opposition to Sadat’s “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause which culminated in the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel.
Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, adopted a much more hostile attitude towards the Brotherhood, especially after the Iranian revolution in 1978. Some political experts would say that “hostility to the Ikhwan” has always been a personal obsession with Mubarak. This would explain why he never refrained from brandishing the sword of the authority and depriving Ikhwan members of their basic human rights and civil liberties.
Even today, one of the main arguments made by Mubarak to justify his refusal to quit, as demanded by millions of Egyptians, is that he fears a Muslim Brothers takeover of the Cairo government. However, it is more likely that the 83-year-old tyrant is indulging in scaremongering and using the Brotherhood as a bogey to justify clinging to power. This also explains the venomous propaganda campaigns the government-run media has been waging against the Ikhwan.
Ironically, the more hateful and vindictive the Mubarak regime’s approach gets toward the Muslim Brotherhood, the more the Egyptian masses rally around the movement. Clearly, the hostile tactics used by the regime against the Ikhwan, including fixing elections, waves of arrests and mendacious and venomous propaganda campaigns, have failed to damage the movement’s popularity.
The Mubarak regime wants us to believe that a future government with the Muslim Brotherhood playing a leading or significant role would be a disastrous development, tantamount to a rerun of the Iranian Revolution and a replication of the Iranian regime. This, however, is yet more scaremongering instead of a rational and objective assessment of an Islamist movement that is considered far and wide to be moderate, mature, wise and above all prone to resolving differences through reconciliation rather than confrontation.
Nevertheless, Mubarak’s government seems to have accepted the futility of ignoring the largest and by far the strongest opposition political group in Egypt. According to reports from Cairo, the Brotherhood has been invited to take part in the planned “consultations” between the government and opposition groups. The newly-appointed Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik, told Egyptian TV that he is looking forward to the day when the Brotherhood becomes a mainstream political party “like any other party”. Even so, many doubts still hang over the sincerity of the regime as it makes a real departure from the erstwhile policy of ruling out any rapprochement with the Ikhwan.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest and most widespread Islamic movement in the Arab world. Along with its derivatives, it constitutes the main opposition group not only in Egypt but also in Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Even in Shiite-dominated Iraq, the Brotherhood is the dominant force in the country’s Sunni community, among both Arabs and Kurds. In occupied Palestine, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, is the legitimate offspring of the Brotherhood and won parliamentary elections in 2006, defeating the secular and western-backed PLO.
It is important to point out that the often spasmodic western attitude toward the Brotherhood seems to have a conspicuous element of a mass-phobia, as illustrated by the determined efforts to exclude the Egyptian Islamists from any post-Mubarak government. Such an attitude is racist and exudes an imperialist mentality; this is rejected totally by sincere Muslims. Moreover, the west has no right to tell Arabs and Muslims which movements or political parties they should include or exclude from their political landscape. As such, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot and must not be excluded from the political process in Egypt, otherwise turmoil and instability will persist.
Some hypocritical voices argue that the inclusion of the Brotherhood would undermine the cause of human rights and democracy in the “new Egypt”, as if Egypt under Mubarak has been an oasis where such values have thrived. It appears, therefore, that those who oppose the brotherhood’s inclusion in the democratic process harbour less than sincere objectives which have little to do with democracy or human rights. External interference should have no role to play in any democratic process for deciding governments in Egypt or anywhere else; that right belongs to the citizens of the country in question. If the Egyptians opt for the Ikhwan in government or an official opposition, then so be it. All political groups and movements in Egypt should be responsible and answerable to the Egyptian masses, not to pro-Israel circles which think they have a mandate to decide on behalf of millions of Arabs which government or regime they should be ruled by.
It is, at this moment in time, valid to ask why it is perfectly acceptable to have Christian democratic parties and even utterly anti-democratic evangelical groups, as is the case in the US, which are determined to reshape the political map in their respective countries, while it is an international taboo to tolerate political parties based on Islam in the Arab Middle East. Must Muslims convert to another religion in order to have their faith involved in the political process?
Western hypocrisy is nowhere exposed more starkly than in the American and European position on Israel, where far-right – bordering on fascist – Jewish religious parties are effectively in control of the government coalition and force it to adopt policies based on racism and territorial expansion. Some of these parties actually view the rest of mankind, including those morally blind Christian democrats in the west, as mere beasts of burden by virtue of being non-Jews. And still they turn a blind eye to the illegal excesses of the Israeli government.
Muslim Brotherhood participation in the post-Mubarak elections, and even government, must be allowed to happen, with or without the consent of the west. This is the legitimate right of the Egyptian people, earned through many years of persecution and struggle, during which tears were shed, blood was spilled and a lot of suffering was endured.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.