What does the Muslim Brotherhood Want?

Posted: January 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

What Does the Muslim Brotherhood Want?

American conservatives have gone so far off the rails about the apocalyptic danger of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over in Egypt that it’s tempting for liberals to go too far in the other direction. So when I read Robert Dreyfuss’s piece about the Brotherhood today, I was all ready to criticize him for whitewashing some of the Brotherhood’s less savory aspects. But he didn’t. After a brief but extremely cogent summary of the Brotherhood’s history, he sums up with this:

By the 1990s, despite the off-again, on-again repression by Mubarak’s regime, the Brotherhood had completed what many observers say was a transformation. Step by step, its leadership renounced its violent past, engaged in politics, and tried to reinvent itself as a collection of community organizers who operated clinics and food banks, building a network of Islamic banks and companies….Nathan Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University and an expert on political Islam, is optimistic that the Brotherhood has evolved from its fundamentalist roots: “Their agenda is to make Egypt better,” he told Salonrecently….”They don’t want to necessarily completely convert Egypt into a traditional Islamic legal system. But if the Parliament’s going to pass a law, they want it to be consistent with Islamic law.”

….But it’s also fair to ask if Brown’s interpretation is too charitable. In 2007, the Brotherhood released a draft political program that included several very troubling proposals, including the idea that Egypt’s government be overseen by an unelected council of Islamic scholars who would measure the country’s laws against the Koran and sharia to make sure governance would “conform to Islamic law.” Since then, various Muslim Brotherhood officials have also made conflicting statements about anything from the role of women to the treatment of non-Muslim minorities.

In the end, there’s no getting around the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is, if not an anachronism, a profoundly reactionary force. Its views on marriage, the family, homosexuality, and the like are distasteful to most Western minds and many Egyptian ones. And it harbors a strong current of overt anti-Semitism, along with a penchant for conspiracy theories. Despite Egypt’s drift toward a more conservative Islamic outlook since the 1970s—which paralleled similar trends across the Muslim world—the Egyptian people, especially the middle class, may in the end not be receptive to the Brotherhood’s message.

The whole piece is really very good, and well worth a few minutes of your time if you want to understand a bit more about the Brotherhood than you get from the headlines — both good and bad. The truth is that it’s hard to say how influential the group is likely to be in post-Mubarak Egypt, and it’s also genuinely hard to know exactly what direction they’ll pursue. But as Dreyfuss says, there are a couple of things we can say: “It is not Al Qaeda or the Taliban. It is a conservative, even ultra-orthodox Islamist group, but it’s irresponsible to compare it to the terrorist groups and armed insurgencies that have preoccupied American foreign policy since 2001….[But] it is certain to infuse the country with a stronger strain of anti-American and anti-Israel politics….It’s also likely to align Egypt more closely with other Islamist groups in the Arab world, especially Hamas.”

But either way, it can hardly be ignored.

  1. Daniel Leal says:

    Does the Muslim Brotherhood exist in the U.S. and throughout Europe? Asia? South America?

    It limiting to think that the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideas are only influential in the Middle East. By the sole fact that they exist, they may inspire their implementation or spin offs elsewhere in the world.

    From what I had heard about the Tea Party, “the American Taliban,” I thought the Muslim Brotherhood may be similar but actually less extreme, in a way, than the Tea Party. Upon research however, this was not the case and the Tea Party proved to be more interested in tax cuts than anything. In a sense though I think the notion of perceiving the Muslim Brotherhood as a present political and conservative movement may lead to a better understanding of it presently, specially in Egypt.

    • I agree with you. What I constantly think about while reading about the Muslims Brotherhood is that it is just another conservative political-party-ish groups that exist in every part of the world, and it only takes the form of a religious group due to the strong prevalence and influence of Islam in Egypt compared to other regions.
      Certainly, it is something that cannot be ignored, but that is also another Western point of view springing from the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-West sentiments.
      Ultimately, I am with Dreyfuss in that it definitely should not be mixed with such radical Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda.

  2. farah sinokrot says:

    The writer clearly knows who his audience is. hence, knowing what would he have to tell them in order to make them fear the Muslim brotherhood from the west’s perspective and knowing what would make up their opinion change. it is clearly very biased.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      This is a very biased article and it attempts to create a sense of fear and insecurity across the region. Knowing the audience, as you mentioned above, helps the writer to choose the proper words that would aid in creating the wanted theme and atmosphere. However, they are not wanted by the Arab people so that might help in reducing their power and putting it under control

  3. salehqadi says:

    I don’t think would get anywhere because they are not really wanted by people. In case of Egypt, Mursi was kicked out after only a year of ruling the country when he presented a very bad image. The Muslim brotherhood in the other countries are no difference. In case of Jordan, they are hated by more than 90% of the people, because all what they wanted is to do like what the brotherhood in Egypt did, and at the end it did not work and they ended up being hated. In Egypt, however, they are officially declined now as a ‘terrorist group’.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      I agree with you but what about the other 10% of the people who support them? Imagine if they get to hold great positions in the government, wouldn’t they have an effect? wouldn’t they alter the stability of the country somehow. Underestimating their powers gives them more power.

    • where did you get those statistics? 90% of Jordanians are against the Brotherhood? I would like to get some documentation on that, because from what I see the Brotherhood is quite popular. Have you been to a Friday prayer at any mosque in Amman, Zarqa or Irbid? Salafist Imams fill the country, and it is safe to say the most people sympathize with the Brotherhood because of the immense suffering they have faced at the hands of Nasser and Mubarak. I think it is safe to say that most Jordanians sympathize with the Brotherhood, and due to the growth of fundamentalism in Jordan, I think it is safe to say that its followers have increased in number. There is one more reason why I feel that the brotherhood is more popular than you think in Jordan. The government is guilty of gerrymandering during the previous elections, where they redrew the provincial borders in poor cities and areas like Zarqa and East Amman such that they had half the seats they should have had in comparison to the population density. Those are the most dense areas in Jordan, and they almost always vote for the Islamic Action Front (the Muslim brotherhood in Jordan). Those two areas (East Amman and Zarqa- including Rusayfa) have over 2 million inhabitants. 2 million people are given half the seats they deserved, and those 2 million people almost always vote to Islamists. Maybe they are more popular than you think.
      For evidence on gerrymandering, check Jordan’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 annual reports on Freedom House.

  4. One thing that I noticed about the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology is that a large part of it is “anti-West,” as this article points out towards the end. While many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas take root in biased or extremist interpretations of Islam, some of them have no religious basis whatsoever. For example, in one of the readings we did in class, we came across the idea of avoiding any Western influence in our homes, not even in terms of language. To me, that just seems like an irrational fear of the West, which is amplified even more by Qutob’s travels to the US.

    • I don’t think the problem here is whether the Muslim Brotherhood is anti-West. The real question is, do people support this idea? That is what determines the point where the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-West sentiments become a point of interest to the rest of the world -rather because of the precedents set by other religious, anti-West groups in the region, regardless of the course of events the Muslim Brotherhood plans to take.

      • Oh, I agree. In fact, I was just about to comment on the fact that it is their influence that is more of a problem. I wasn’t saying that their anti-West mindset was the problem, but rather a characteristic of their original constitution. But in terms of what should be feared, I don’t think there’s much. I mean we just talked about how they seem to be moderating their goals, which doesn’t make it very frightening at all. But as I said in the other comment, what could be a fear is the influence of the extremists on the community, how much say do they have, are they put in any sensitive position, etc.

  5. Rashed Abdulhak says:

    This man is writing to American readers who are hearing conflicting good and bad stories about people who they were taught to fear because news agencies like FOX were looking for a cool headline. He is reconfirming their doubts about the brotherhood and making them look deceitful. Highly biased article.

  6. eunsoljun15 says:

    I agree with what Ahmed said about their obsession of the “anti-West”. The Muslim Brotherhood was stringent on the fact of avoiding Westernized ideas and intentionally escaping the risk of adapting those ideas. They claim to be “religious” but some of their beliefs are just based on the “fear of the others”.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      and I think their ideology of anti-west and all that crap when it comes to constructing a government has affected other people in other regions. Even though, the Muslim brotherhood seems to be over now and we don’t anything about them, I certainly believe that they come in all forms and times. For me, boko haram is one of the forms that Muslims brotherhood comes in.

  7. I have never really understood, and probably still don’t understand, what exactly it is that the Brotherhood wants. I agree with Eun in regard to whether the question is of their religious beliefs or their beliefs based off of xenophobia that they claim stem from religious principles. So much of what they preach of Islam is inaccurate and contradictory. So, is what they claim to be principles of Islam just a mechanism to veil their “fear of others”? Is all they really want just a disconnect from all things West?

  8. Bridghid Sheffield says:

    The Muslim Brotherhood want everyone to abide by specific Islamic rules that they believe would create an ideal Islamic society.

  9. abbyhungate says:

    I think that this article does a good job of addressing the stereotypes that people have about the Muslim Brotherhood. Many people view it as an extreme group, maybe even violent. This article portrays them as peaceful and that they just want the government to abide by Islamic law and the Koran. In my opinion, I do not believe that including religion in politics is a pragmatic idea. Having a government that is run off of a religious text divides the country/area into the majority, people who follow that religion, and the minority, people who follow a different religion, and it isn’t fair to make people abide by rules that are defined by a religion they don’t follow, and could possibly cause issues within the country/area later.

  10. Ramy El Baghir says:

    I think the author is making an important distinction between the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations it has been associated with by the media. However, he isn’t totally separating their ideas either. Of course, the Muslim Brothers are not the same group as Hamas or Al-Qaeda, but they still share many beliefs about Islam and how it should be implemented in society. If the final point is to view the Muslim Brotherhood as another conservative political party as opposed to a terrorist group, then we should think about this label in the context of the other groups as well and try finding the most accurate description of them.

  11. The Muslim Brotherhood is unpopular among many, and popular among many others. The thing about that, however, is that people like it for MANY different reasons, and people hate it for MANY other reasons. The revolutionaries hate the Brotherhood because they hijacked the Egyptian revolution, sold them out and made a deal with the army. The Egyptian army (irnoically) never liked the brotherhood, they fear their large base of support. Many Christians (though I emphasize it is not ALL Christians) hate and fear the brotherhood because of what some of their members have said about treating minorities. The conservatives hate the Brotherhood because they don’t see the difference between Al Qaeda and the brotherhood- they’re all ‘Islamic terrorists’ lol, or according to Bill O’reilly, Christian hating racists- again, lol. I could go on about who hates the brotherhood and why, but you get the idea.
    Many also love the brotherhood, they see them as a moderate alternative to other fundamentalists. Others love it because its an organization that forms a big family- many Brothers and Sisters in Egypt only marry from within the Brotherhood. Others are given a chance to live a happy life because the Brotherhood gives stipends to many poor and underprivileged people. But more than all that, A LOT of people sympathize with the brotherhood for the great repression and oppression they faced under Egyptian dictators Nasser and Mubarak. Those two had made the mistake of making the brotherhood look like heroes.

    That is how people see the Brotherhood. It is gigantic, and therefore has a lot of people having a lot of different feelings about it, based on their experience, or on what their party/family says to them they should feel. The Brotherhood is too big to be judged as one body. It is like the CCP, it has reformists (google Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who btw is really cool) and hardliners, conservatives and progressives. We need to change the way we look at it, seriously. That is what we have to do if we are ever to understand it fully.

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