Muslim Brotherhood could be new democratic leader in Egypt

Katherine Marcheski

Since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation Feb. 11, the country has been expecting a new democratic government and a citizen-centered society.

Egypt was under Mubarak’s rule for nearly 30 years, and opposition groups were always denied before they could pose a threat to his regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the primary organized opposition group in Egypt. Although the group is in opposition, it is described as less extreme than other political groups, said David Cunningham, assistant professor of political science.

“Because they are organized, they will do well in elections. However, it is very unclear what their position will be if they do come into power,” Cunningham said.

A major concern of a possibly religious-based opposition group taking power is international relations.

“Obviously, everyone is concerned with Israel. Egypt is one of the few [countries] that have a decent relationship [with Israel]. As for governing a country, once again it’s very unclear what could happen,” Cunningham said.

Egypt does have, and has had in the past, some influence over Israel due to pressing factors such as the Gaza Strip. However, the main concern with Egyptian-Israeli relations is another war in the Middle East.

“It is very unlikely a war would break; everyone recognizes that’s a losing opposition,” Cunningham said.

The Muslim Brotherhood was established in the 1920s and was constructed as a social and political group. The group is only a small sector of the population and has had an extremist image presented by Mubarak’s political party for the past few decades. In the beginning, the Muslim Brotherhood was associated with a lot of violence, but since have used peaceful strategies to demonstrate.

“They’ve contributed to the revolution, but announced they will not be running for the upcoming elections. Their main goal is to have a political party in Egypt’s future,” said Anwar Mohamed, graduate in political science and president of the Egyptian Student Association.

However, Egypt is not a theocracy and has other religions aside from Islam.

“Egyptian Christians are afraid they would take over and are uncomfortable with an Islamist regime … the Muslim Brotherhood has an Islamist foundation and reference, but is promoting a civilian government,” Mohamed said.

Turkey is a leading example of a democratic, civilian-based government that is successful and well-liked by the people, but also referenced as Islamic like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Currently, the Muslim Brotherhood is not a legitimate party due to rejection from Mubarak during his presidency. Mubarak saw the group as extremist due to its violent history. The group aims to gain approval from citizens so it can run in future elections.

Mohamed also said Israeli-Egyptian relations are unlikely to change due to the Muslim Brotherhood being in power one day, nor should international relations with the U.S. change.

“No, I don’t think it will lead to a theocracy. The Turkish model is very successful. The people have the final word; the main interest is a strong economy. Nobody wants a war with Israel or to cut relations with the United States. [Egypt] wants to have a strong international role,” Mohamed said.

Hong Qu, assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies, said the Muslim Brotherhood has always had a strong organization and has been key to other Muslim Brotherhood foundations in countries such as Jordan and Syria.

“They are fundamentalists in a sense that they want to go back to original teachings of the Islamic faith,” Qu said. “Some members are moderate and others are extremists. What path they choose to take, should they be elected, is what will determine how the country is governed.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has a social grassroots basis and it promotes personal interpretation of Muslim law along with personal reasoning.

In the past, candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood ran as independents and could not associate themselves with the group, because they were not seen as a political party.

“They will be involved in politics and the government. The Muslim Brotherhood will have a strong influence,” Qu said.

“If the moderate members are in power, they will open a mainstream thought. If it’s the radicals within power within the Muslim Brotherhood, they might assume more power, and that would not be a positive outcome for Egypt.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is also popular for being composed of common men and not religious leaders. The first leaders of the group were teachers and had other civilian-based jobs.

“They want an Islamic state, but do not have specific governing rules concerning the faith,” Qu said.

After 18 days of protesting and civilian uprisings, Mubarak stepped down, leaving Egypt with an opportunity it has been deprived of for more than 30 years: the chance to decide who is truly in charge. The Muslim Brotherhood — supported by more than 60 percent of the Egyptian population, according to a CNN poll — could be a future group leading the country.

“I’m worried more now than when the protests happened,” Qu said. “They got rid of Mubarak, I never doubted that would happen. But what they will do with the country now is what worries me.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood cannot be avoided in Egypt. But in many Muslim countries, dictatorship becomes common. A new democratic party is what is needed to maintain social stability.”