I wrote this originally in 2007 and, again, it seems terribly naive and dated, but I’m keeping it as is.
The Muslim Brotherhood (lets call it MB from here on out) is a massive organization, the biggest opposition group by far in Egypt, and everyone I have asked here had an opinion about it.
Here’s some of the basic things I have learned since I got here about MB and opposition groups in Egypt in general, take it for what it is worth. Remember that my impressions of this place are deeply colored by the fact that almost everyone I associate with is very well off and extremely well educated by Egyptian standards.
The way people talk about the Muslim Brotherhood here is similar to the way I have heard people from Ireland and Palestine talk about the IRA and Hamas. Like Hamas, it provides much needed social services to the poor, but also like Hamas, its religious and political views are more hardline than the views of many of the people who take its services. Though it banks on the reputation (again like Hamas) of incorruptibility and efficenciecy*, from what I have heard, it is beginning to behave, at least on the local level in some neighborhoods, more like a street gang asking for payouts and bribes than like a pious organization. That same stink of corruption was prevalent on the local level in the IRA by the 1980s.
Officially, MB swore off violence in Egypt years ago.** There are those who will argue that that is a cover to allow it to engage in more mainstream politics and that in fact MB has a hand in violence that flares up in the Sinai and elsewhere every now and then. I have no way to judge how true this is, but most Egyptian I have talked to doubt the MB has an active hand in violence in Egypt.
MB technically can’t run candidates in elections here, since its still a banned organization***, but many of its members have run, and won as independents, or as members of the Wafd party. There also among people I know whispered rumors of MB members in high positions in the state bureaucracy.
For better or worse, though, MB is the main, serious, opposition to the Mubarak government and even from people who don’t agree with them on anything, they get grudging respect for this. If and when the Mubarak machine crumbles, MB will definitely be in the best position to control the future of Egypt.
Personally, I don’t like that idea very much, and neither do most of the well off, well educated Egyptians I have met here. Most of them aren’t really down for Sharia, and view MB’s recent liberalizing of some of its rhetoric (accepting Copts into the org, toning down the anti-Semitism, etc) with distrust.
But there is little in the way of other viable opposition groups happening here. Kifaya, a student/liberal intelligencia group lead umbrella group of pro democracy advocates that had a bit of a following two years ago, seems to have fallen on hard times with internal power struggles causing it to lose its way. ****Tomorrow Party, the party of imprisoned reformed Ayman Nour, is also easting itself up in fights about whether or not Nour should be expelled from the party or not. Until the progressive movement gets its shit together MB will remain the main game in town, and that is a shame, and a condemnation of leftist and progressive organizing in this country.
* Multiple times I have been told that they have the best demonstrations, and their campus recruiters are the most polished and articulate of the opposition groups.
**MB still supports suicide bombings in Israel, however.
*** Though they publish a public newspaper, and hold public events… I know, doesn’t sound like a banned organization to me either, but the state does crack down, and hard on MB at various times jailing leaders and breaking up offices when it thinks things are getting out of hand with recruitment. Seems like the idea of Mubarak is to keep a lid on things as opposed to trying to squash things.
****Imagine! Progressive movements derailed by internal strife! Thank good that doesn’t happen in the U.S.