The election results in Egypt which have favoured the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Freedom and Justice Party” are reflected across the Arab Spring countries; the Islamic movement has come of political age. This has upset the remaining secularists to the extent that a phobia of the Brotherhood has surfaced in Arab politics.
Such a reaction may be understandable in Western countries with Christian majorities and a lot of pro-Israel influence, but it cannot be justified in the Arab world which is “Islamic by passion and identity”. Nevertheless, new terminology designed to insult and demean has appeared: Ikhwanistan, Hamasistan, Kandahar Friday, etc. It has all the appearance of a deliberate effort by Arab intellectuals to distort the public image and opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood, ignoring very conveniently the fact that the corrupt tyrannical regimes and so-called elite secular groups failed miserably to ease the burdens of daily life for citizens across the region; this, despite the abundance of opportunities, resources and abilities at their disposal. Their plans will fail, not least because there are very good reasons why the voters said yes to Islamist parties.
For a start, the vision, programme and policies of the Brotherhood matched the passion and identity of most people in the Middle East, who are religious by instinct, providing for Islamic reference points and a system of Islamic values. This was combined with the positive and corruption-free candidates and, it must be said, the organisation and its branches and associated bodies.
There has be positive interaction between the Brotherhood and the political parties and popular civil groups in order to agree on a package of reforms which can achieve some of the aspirations of the electorates in the region. The document for the Democratic Alliance of Egypt and the position of the Tunisian Al-Nahda Movement post-election provide good examples of this.
All of these developments have to be seen in the context of the failure of decades of empty secular slogans and attempts to create a second generation of the secular movement.
The Islamic movement generally has been successful in the face of repeated moves by the old regimes to destroy it. Misinformation campaigns failed to dislodge the place of the Brotherhood in local communities and society at large. Even Western intelligence agencies had to conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood appears to be immovable at the present time.
The Muslim Brotherhood has also been successful at the strategic level in protecting the Arab and Muslim world from three successive waves of opposition which have challenged the people’s religious ideology, behaviour and doctrine: the moral decline from the 1920s to the sixties, ending with the defeat by Israel in 1967; the wave of extremism, which began in the early seventies as a reaction to that decline – its effects are still being felt; and the violence which appeared out of despair at the lack of progress made by peaceful reform and change, and in reaction to the Zionist-American project in the region. The Brotherhood helped to consolidate an understanding of moderation, turning people away from extremism, and the use of peaceful methods for gradual change rather than short, sharp, violent coup-style change.
To attract voters, the Muslim Brotherhood has developed credible reform programmes free of corruption and based on sincere intentions, implemented in a professional manner. Under the motto, “Islam is the solution”, projects in education, health and social welfare have been put in place along with improvements in working conditions which have garnered the support of the unions. Brotherhood workers are active in local communities solving local problems as well as looking at the bigger, national issues, developing mature policies and practice in local councils and regional parliaments. This has embarrassed existing governments and service providers, reviving the spirit of peaceful resistance against corrupt tyrannies and struggle against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. All in all, it has become clear that the Islamist way is the natural way for this part of the world.
Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood has become the pivotal point of the political process in the Arab and Islamic countries. However, the real test will come with its work on national issues such as good governance and justice. And will the movement be able to have a positive impact on living standards and job creation? The voters have said yes to the Muslim Brotherhood for very good reasons, but its officials have a huge challenge ahead in delivering massive change for the general population.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.