The 'Snake and Ladder' of the Muslim Brotherhood

Internal turmoil, loss of Western support are among factors which could hurt party in Egypt.

muslim brotherhood_311 reuters (photo credit: Ali Jarekji / Reuters)
muslim brotherhood_311 reuters
(photo credit: Ali Jarekji / Reuters)
After 80 years, the dream of the Muslim Brotherhood to be in power in Egypt has come true. The group now controls a majority of seats in the Egyptian Parliament and are expected to draft a new constitution in the near future.
The classic board game "Snakes and Ladders" serves as an appropriate metaphor for the Brotherhood's political trajectory. While for now the Brotherhood has been fortunate enough to land on the squares with ladders, will it eventually fall victim to the reptile?
An analysis of factors that helped the Brotherhood achieve power reveals that an impending descent is not unlikely.
The Ladders: Factors that helped the Brotherhood reach power
1- The Hijab
When the Supreme Guide (the Murshid) of the Muslim Brotherhood had the opportunity to meet with former president Gamal Abdel Nasser after the 1952 Revolution, he requested that the president enforce a law stating that all Egyptian women must wear a hijab, the Muslim headscarf.
The Murshid was aware that such a move would mark a fundamental step towards Islamizing the whole society. It would promote the concept of Sharia law and psychologically condition Egypt’s citizens into becoming part of the Islamic Caliphate.
The hijab law did not materialize in Nasser’s time, but under the rule of both former president Anwar Sadat and deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood did succeed in implementing more restrictive dress codes. This changed Egyptian society and paved the way for the Islamists' overwhelming victory in recent elections.
2- Islam as the savior for people’s problems
The Brotherhood used slogans such as “Islam is the Solution” to engender the idea that practicing Islam could solve the people's problems, including economic strife. The group convinced many Egyptians that Sharia was the key to Saudia Arabia's economic prosperity in the late 1970s, and that if Egypt followed suit, it too would enjoy similar success.
3- Support from Arab countries
After Nasser cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, many of its members travelled to Gulf countries where they gained significant financial support by claiming they were part of a charitable Islamic group concerned with preaching. The petrodollars helped the Brotherhood promote its agenda by allowing them to build more mosques, freely distribute Islamic books and organize charitable works to curry public support.   4- Using the word 'democracy' to gain support from the West
The Muslim Brotherhood understood that after Islamizing society all they needed to do to gain power was implement ballot "democracy." They discovered that the best way to achieve this was to use Western pro-democracy groups to demand reforms in the country. They were well aware that the word “democracy” would push the West to increase pressure on the Mubarak regime and the military, leaving an opening for the Brotherhood to fill the vacancy.  
5- Support from the military after the revolution
In the wake of the January 25 revolution, US and liberal organizations placed heavy pressure on the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to deliver power to civilians. This was in fact simply a transfer of power to the Islamists.  Many believe the SCAF arranged a deal with the Brotherhood to receive special privileges in exchange for protecting the “democratic process” and ceding power to the Islamists.
The Snakes: Factors that could bring the Brotherhood down1- An image crisis
Following the elections, Muslim Brotherhood supporters expected the country's problems to improve. Yet the Brotherhood prioritized issues such as outlawing Internet pornography over legislation that might help prevent the collapse of the economy.
2- Internal turmoil
Pressure on the Brotherhood increased as a result of internal rifts.  Following the ousting of former Brotherhood leader Abdul-Menem Abu-Elfutuh, and the subsequent resignation of his successor Mohamed Habib, some of the group’s younger members began questioning the leadership’s control. 
3- Loss of support from the liberal media
During Mubarak's rule, the liberal media often sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood when any of its members were imprisoned. But ultimately, the threat of military control yielded to the threat of Islamic influence in the constitution, and the liberals turned their attention to warning the public about that instead.
4- US green light to the military
Many see the US decision to continue providing aid to the military as a sign that the latter has a carte blance to do whatever it likes in the name of maintaining stability.  The military has subsequently taken a more aggressive stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood and conflicts are beginning to emerge over the new constitution.
5- Diminished support from wealthy Arab states
After the revolution, wealthy Arab countries including Saudi Arabia discontinued their support of Egypt's new political powers. This was due to Egypt’s lack of organization but also because the Gulf states feared that the revolution’s success might prompt uprisings in their own countries.  The end of a decades-long courtship culminated when Dubai's head of security, General Dahi Khlafan, accused the Brotherhood of plotting against the UAE and further stated that any Brotherhood sympathizers would be considered traitors.
The loss of support from wealthy Gulf countries could be the straw that eventually breaks the Brotherhood’s back.
The recent successes of the Muslim Brotherhood are transient. Decay within the group and the presence of many powerful enemies will only to continue to weaken it. While a slip down the snake for the group may be what the country needs, the fear is that it could also provoke an even more aggressive wave of radicalism.
The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of the terrorist organization JI with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the second-in-command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.