Egypt's Muslim Brothers: Confrontation or Integration?
18 Jun 2008
The three-year clash between the government and the Muslim Brothers is damaging Egypt's political life. Ending this confrontation and moving towards the long-term goal of integrating the Brothers into the political mainstream is a far better option.
Egypt’s Muslim Brothers: Confrontation or Integration?,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) hard-line stance and the Muslim Brothers' ambiguous approach to political participation. At a time of political uncertainty surrounding the presidential succession and serious socio-economic unrest, it offers an alternative to the current short-term thinking that carries very uncertain longer-term returns.
Since their surprisingly strong electoral performance in 2005, when they won nearly a fifth of parliamentary seats while running as independents, the Muslim Brothers have redoubled efforts to contest elections. The resulting backlash and mass arrests have further discredited Egyptian electoral democracy and increased political tensions. Although the regime has used the Brothers to frighten domestic and foreign audiences into accepting the status quo, this has mainly served to reinforce the Brothers at the expense of other political currents. By restricting the political field, the regime has assisted a hybrid organisation that is uniquely positioned to evade restrictions on recognised political parties and work outside a strict legal framework.
The Muslim Brothers also carry their share of responsibility. While they more explicitly embrace political reform as a main goal and have built alliances with opposition groups, their program’s distinctly non-democratic and illiberal tone, as well as its ambiguous pronouncements on the role of women and the place of religious minorities, is cause for genuine concern.
To break this standstill, the regime should recognise the Muslim Brothers’ ambition to create a legal political party, take the opportunity to set clear standards for integration and end its campaign of mass arrests, made possible by the draconian Emergency Law. For their part, the Muslim Brothers should finalise and clarify their political program in order to reassure their critics.
“Ultimately, the Muslim Brothers are too powerful and too representative for there to be either stability or genuine democratisation without finding a way to incorporate them”, says Issandr El Amrani, Crisis Group’s North Africa Analyst.
The Muslim Brothers’ regularisation and participation in political life should be framed as part of a wider process of reform designed to restore confidence in electoral politics.
“Although this likely will be a gradual process, the regime should take preliminary steps to normalise the Muslim Brothers’ participation in political life”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “Their integration should be pursued not just for its own sake, but as an essential step to a genuine opening of the political sphere that would also benefit secular opposition forces.”