Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Egypt's Muslim Brothers

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Egypt's Muslim Brothers

Article excerpt

"The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers" by Mona El-Ghobashy, in International Journal of Middle East Studies (Aug. 2005), Box 571236, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C. 20057-1236.

Egypt's first-ever multicandidate presidential election on September 7 was not a sterling moment in the march of democracy. President Hosni Mubarak ensured a continuation of his 24-year reign by barring most opposition groups from the competition, including Egypt's largest, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. That puts off to another day a test of whether the Islamist group's professed commitment to democracy is real. El-Ghobashy, a political science instructor at Columbia University, believes that it is.

"Over the past quarter-century," she writes, "the Society of Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) has morphed from a highly secretive, hierarchical, anti-democratic organization led by anointed elders" into something resembling a modern political party. The key forces in its transformation have been generational change and the imperatives of political survival under authoritarian rule.

Founded in 1928 by the charismatic Hasan al-Banna (1906-49), the anticolonial Society of Muslim Brothers embraced political violence in its early decades and called for the establishment of an Islamic state, even as it toiled to establish a grassroots social welfare network. It all but disappeared between 1954 and 1970, when most of its leaders were jailed by Gamal Abdel Nasser. After their release by President Anwar Sadat, the Society was tolerated but still formally outlawed. The periodic jailings have continued into recent years.

In the 1980s, long after it had abandoned violence at home as a political tool, the Society "began to develop the sedulous electioneering strategy that would become a centerpiece of [its] self-preservation" as it sought wider political support from the Egyptian public. …

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