Brotherhood Prepares for Power in Egypt

Does Islamist Movement's Ascent Spell Trouble for Israel?

Prepared for Power? Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has scant experience governing. How will it deal with the pressures of power in a vast and complicated country like Egypt? And what does it all mean for relations with Israel?
getty images
Prepared for Power? Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has scant experience governing. How will it deal with the pressures of power in a vast and complicated country like Egypt? And what does it all mean for relations with Israel?

By Nathan J. Brown

Published January 25, 2012, issue of February 03, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It used to be easy to meet those leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who were not behind bars. They could be found in a dusty office on a Cairo side street; they had time for all visitors. Today, however, the movement has an imposing new headquarters in a suburb overlooking the city. One has to nag or pull strings to secure a meeting, and even then the visitor finds himself or herself shuffled between waiting rooms, lucky to be granted a quick interview as leaders rush from one meeting to the next, taking time out only (of course) to pray in the foyer. Shortly before Mubarak’s fall, one-third of the Brotherhood’s top leadership was imprisoned. Now, one Brotherhood member is about to become the parliamentary speaker; by the end of the year, several ministries (and perhaps even the premiership) should lie in the Brotherhood’s hands. Egypt will quite likely have a president who owes his election to its support.

This is a heady moment for the Brotherhood, and it is one for which nothing in the group’s history prepares it. On one occasion in the early 1950s, the Brotherhood was offered a Cabinet ministry. That was as close as it came to political power. But the Brotherhood prides itself on thinking of generations, not electoral cycles. Can the Brothers sustain their sudden success?

In the country at large, the problems of Egypt’s transition are almost too numerous to mention: the crumbling economy, the cascade of conflicting statements from military rulers, an idiosyncratic electoral process and strangely drafted constitutional framework all continue to cause confusion. Most eyes are currently — and will remain for the next few months — on the big political questions: How will Egypt’s parliamentary blocs work together (if at all)? Will the military really surrender power, and if so, on what terms? How will the country’s constitution be written — and who will write it?

All these questions do occupy the attention of Brotherhood leaders. But in conversations with them over the past few months, I am convinced that three longer-term issues loom just as large for them as the day-to-day maneuverings that make all the headlines.

First, they know that other Islamist movements have come close to power in the region before, only to be pushed aside rudely by their domestic or international opponents. Therefore, they need to mollify liberals, avoid frightening the military and present a businesslike face to Europe and the United States — all without forgetting what they like to call their “fixed positions.” Or at least they must be seen as doing so in front of their followers. That requires not just simply carefully tailoring statements, but also learning how to speak those statements in one voice, something that has been difficult in the rush of recent events.

Nowhere is this problem more acute for the Brotherhood than in the area of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Support for the Palestinian cause is hardwired into the Brotherhood’s origins; its emotional ties with Hamas are real. But the Brotherhood-sponsored Freedom and Justice Party is preparing to take up positions in political authority in a state that has treaty obligations and seeks the support of a society that, while hardly sympathetic to Israel in any way, has no appetite for war.

LISTEN TO NATHAN BROWN ON THE REPORTERS ROUNDTABLE PODCAST


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.