Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Muslim Brotherhood Gains in Egypt

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group has made extensive gains in recent Egyptian elections, picking up 76 parliamentary seats and establishing itself as a formidable opposition group to Hosni Mubarrak’s National Democratic Party. (Al Bawaba: Egyptian authorities continue Muslim Brotherhood crackdown). Reacting to the sudden surge in the Islamic group's popularity, Egypt has begun a systematic roundup of as many as 900 members of the Brotherhood.

The sudden popularity of the fundamentalist group that wants to govern Egypt under strict Muslim law is not as troubling as it would first appear. Egypt has long been one of the most moderate nations in the Middle East and was the first Muslim country to establish a peace treaty with Israel and formally establish diplomatic relations with their embattled neighbor. In contrast, Saudi Arabia, for example, still refers to Israel as "the Zionist entity", refusing even to state the country's name.

According to Muslim Brotherhood's deputy director Mohamed Habib, the Brotherhood does not recognize Israel, however they are willing to allow Egypt to continue to honor all treaties. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood has adopted a more moderate view of non-Muslim's, stating earlier this year that "Islam dignifies Christians and Jews and we hope they treat us the same way. The ignorance of people is what is causing a grudge among them and not their religion." That's a refreshing change of pace in a region where religious intolerance is a way of life.

Another major tenet of the Brotherhood is support for the development of democracy throughout the Middle East, something which could actually align the group with the Bush Administration. On that topic, 'Abd al-Mun'im Abu-l-Futuh told the International Crisis Group, "The absence of democracy is one of the main reasons for the crisis here, in Egypt and the Middle East. The Muslim Brothers believe that the Western governments are one of the main reasons for the lack of democracy in the region because they are supporting dictatorships in the Arab and Islamic region in general, despite the fact that it has been proved that the absence of democracy and freedom is the reason for terrorism and violence."

The Muslim Brotherhood, first established in 1928 in Egypt, has always promoted non-violent change, something that distinguishes them from their more radical cousins. By shedding their earlier religious intolerance and by promoting democracy in the Middle East, they may well become a welcome ally in the overall struggle with Islamic fundamentalism. These developments in Egypt bear watching, however at this point there is cause for cautious optimism.


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