As the Egyptian popular uprising enters its seventh day on Monday, all eyes are
on the Muslim Brothers, the country’s largest and best-organized opposition
movement, to see how it will try to leverage the crisis to further its goal of
rising to power.
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Founded by Hassan al- Banna in the smoky coffeehouses of
Cairo in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood believes in the establishment of a
fundamentalist state ruled according to the strictest interpretation of Shari’a
As the movement grew, it became the target of an anxious
Egyptian establishment, and in December 1948, one of its members assassinated
prime minister Mahmud Nokrashi. Soon afterwards, Egyptian security forces killed
Banna in retaliation.
In 1954, secular nationalist leader Gamal Abdel
Nasser banned the Brotherhood, and it has remained prohibited in Egypt ever
Thousands of members were imprisoned and routinely tortured in the
second half of the 20th century.
The Brotherhood views secular Arab
regimes as the foremost obstacle to setting up a state it believes has been
ordained by the Koran. These ideas have been expressed most virulently by
Islamist ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in Egypt in 1966.
Brotherhood’s ideology has placed it on a collision path with the Egyptian state
for more than 60 years, forcing it to come up with a pragmatic, slowmoving
tactical road map, that seeks to work within the current political order in
order to undermine it.
The Muslim Brothers share the goal of Islamist
sovereignty with the global jihadi movement, led by al-Qaida, but the Brothers
scorn the tactics of the jihadis, which they view as
As the Brotherhood evolved in Egypt and then spread to
other Arab countries, and beyond, its ideologues came to believe that instant
jihad was useless so long as the masses were not “properly” following
There would be no point in establishing an Islamic state, they
reasoned, if an Islamic nation following their ideology did not first exist to
The Muslim Brothers therefore dedicated themselves to
spreading their ideology and interpretation of Islam throughout society, a
process they call Da’wa, and have used charities, clinics and social aid
networks to spread their ideas and prepare the public for the implementation of
a Koranic state.
Once an Islamic society was formed in Egypt, as well as
in other Muslim states, they reasoned, an Islamic revolution would naturally
erupt, or a government of their choosing would be elected without the need to
fire a single bullet.
Violent jihadis, on the other hand, believe that
their desired state must first be created through armed revolution, and that
Islamizing society is the secondary goal.
Today, the Muslim Brothers in
Egypt are led by Muhammad Badi, elected as head of the organization in 2010, who
is considered too meek and uncharismatic a character to gain the backing of the
multitudes of Egyptians trying to force out their government, according to Prof.
Elie Podeh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Islamic and
Middle Eastern Studies.
“We’ve heard nothing from Badi since the
beginning of this,” he said.
Podeh said that while the exact popularity
of the Brothers cannot be measured due to the lack of democracy in Egypt, 2005’s
parliamentary elections did see 88 Muslim Brotherhood representatives – who ran
as independents to bypass the law – voted into the 454- member
By the time the 2010 parliamentary elections were held in
November, the regime had become alarmed at their influence, and not one Muslim
Brotherhood candidate won a seat.
“That means that 88 out 454 is the
minimum number of seats they could win, and their popularity could be greater,”
Podeh said. “The regime is very afraid of them.”
Podeh said the
Brotherhood could now be deliberately lowering its own profile in the current
crisis as a deception tactic, while supporting the uprising.
elections ever be held in Egypt, the Brothers have a reasonable chance of
winning, he said. “Clearly this is a possibility.
This is the most
organized opposition in Egypt. The rest of the opposition groups are are a
The Brotherhood has worked with liberal parties within Egypt in
recent years, and likely views former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, an
opposition figure calling for democracy in Egypt, as “a tool that can serve
them,” Podeh said.
The movement is probably still biding its time to see
whether the Mubarak regime will fall or not, and fears severe retaliation if it
attempts a coup that fails, he said.
In addition to representing a sea
change within Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood government would obviously spell bad
news for relations with Israel.
In 2009, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
published a draft charter on its website, in which it said that the peace treaty
with Israel would be “reviewed” if it came to power.
“They said review,
not cancel. But that may be because they don’t want to worry people,” Podeh
Still, a Muslim Brotherhood regime may not automatically lead to
confrontation, he added.
“There is a certain pragmatism within the
movement, and it may one day be expressed in its foreign policy,” he
In addition to its national structure, an international Muslim
Brotherhood also exists, led by exiled Egyptian Sheikh Yussuf al-Qaradawi, who
lives in Qatar.