The Muslim Brotherhood is no threat to democratic development in Egypt. The Brotherhood is a well organized movement in Egypt, but it was not the spark for the protests that led to the recent change in government.
Now that there is an opening for political activity in Egypt, the Brotherhood gives every indication that it will participate, and participate actively.
At the same time, the Brotherhood does not seem to be aiming at running Egypt’s government. Even though the Brotherhood figured as the main political force in opposition to the government of former President Hosni Mubarak, it does not enjoy anything near majority support in Egypt. Analysts give it a maximum of 20 percent of the electorate.
Significantly, the Brotherhood recently made a decision publicly announced not to put forward a candidate for the presidency of Egypt. The Brotherhood seems content to play a role, but not a leading role.
To be sure, the recent referendum on constitutional amendments plays in favor of the Brotherhood. These constitutional changes will allow parliamentary elections to be held at an early date. Other political elements wanted a longer time lapse before elections, so that they could organize more effectively. So the Brotherhood may come out stronger than its true support would warrant.
The Brotherhood does advocate a state governed on Islamic principles, but that aim does not suggest particular policies.
In Europe, political parties purporting to pursue a Christian agenda call themselves Christian Democrats. But the label “Christian” is hardly a guide to specific policies.
Turkey’s present ruling party calls itself an Islamic, yet Turkey remains pluralist. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood gives little indication that it seeks a state that would be governed in the way, and with the policies, that one sees in Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian public does not seem inclined in that direction.
The Brotherhood is at pains to ensure one and all that it favors a state in which adherents of Islam and all others would participate.
To be sure, the Brotherhood is likely to push the new Egyptian government to extend more active support for the Palestinians in their ongoing confrontation with Israel. But the new Egyptian government is likely to take that approach in any event, since the public at large is restive over Mubarak’s reticence on the Palestine issue. There may well be a change in Mubarak’s closure of the border with Gaza, and a political opening to Hamas in Gaza.
In the longer term, the political fortunes of the Brotherhood may depend on outside circumstances as much as on internal developments. Islam has become a rallying cry to protect countries in that region from being dominated by the West.
Muslim fundamentalism is a reaction against the West. To the extent that the West, and particularly the United States, gives what is perceived as cause, Muslim fundamentalism will grow.
The Brotherhood is more likely to remain moderate if the United States takes what is perceived in Egypt as a reasonable stance on the Israel-Palestine question.
We push the Egyptian public toward fundamentalism with actions like our recent veto in the U.N. Security Council of a draft resolution that would have criticized Israel for its civilian settlements in the Palestinian territory that is to be part of an independent Palestine. We were the only Security Council member to oppose the draft.
A new test will come up in the fall when the Security Council is likely to be presented with a draft resolution to recognize Palestine as a state and perhaps to admit it to membership in the United Nations.
If we block that resolution, we will push Egypt in the wrong direction. To a degree, we hold the keys to the future direction of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Egypt’s politics.
• John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th Street, Columbus, Ohio 43210.