Threat or Promise: The Role of the Muslim Brotherhood

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Fawaz Gerges, professor in Middle East and International Affairs at the London School of Economics discussed the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and its relationship to the ongoing protests in Egypt.

While there exists some concern that the Muslim Brotherhood represents the possibility of hard-line Muslim extremism in government, the Brotherhood itself is trying to advance their image as a legitimate moderate political movement. Is the Muslim Brotherhood, in fact, Egypt’s equivalent of the Ayatollah in Iran or Al Qaeda in Pakistan? Or do they represent a more centrist group standing in opposition to a repressive leader and in favor of a moderate brand of Islamist politics? 

Fawaz Gerges said the group has moved away from the subversive activities of the 1940s through the 1960s, yet remains immensley influential. 

In a way, the Muslim Brotherhood has influenced the Islamist universe throughout the world — mainstream, centrist, radical and militant. It’s very correct to say so, because there are many faces of political Islam... and most have been shaped and influenced by the ideology and the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Gerges believes that the Brotherhood has become much more a part of the mainstream centrist movement in the last thirty years after it renounced the use of force and violence. He said since the late 1960s, the organization has been trying to shed its previous image of radicalism and subversion.

The Muslim Brothers have really traveled a long way. It’s been a long journey, and they still have a longer journey to travel, not only be accepted by Egyptian public opinion, but also to [gain] the trust and confidence of the Egyptian people… I would argue that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is traveling the same road as the Turkish Islamists, that is, they now accept the rules of the political game, they have shown maturity, they are playing a moderating role within the opposition force, and their behavior and conduct.. since the parliamentary elections in Egypt has really shown how far the Muslim Brotherhood has traveled…. The Muslim Brotherhood has basically empowered Muhammad ElBaradei, the Nobel prize winner and the public face of the opposition, to be the bridge, the negotiator for the army and the Egyptian government.

Gerges thinks it's a possibility that Egypt might find itself in a similar position to that of Iran after its revolution. 

Social upheaval has a logic all its own. No one can predict how social upheaval and social unrest will manifest itself. This is the reality. Even if a transition government takes place in Egypt in the next few months, I would say the process will likely be messy and even prolonged and risky. Risks are inherent in any transitional process.

While the Muslim Brotherhood does remain one of the only organized civil society groups in the face of the vacuum left by sixty-plus years of authoritarian dictators, Gerges pointed out that unlike in Iran, in the current upheaval in Egypt there is no Ayatollah figure or any sort of charismatic leader. 

It is the embattled middle class that is spearheading the Arab revolution. You’re talking about mainly independents, centrist, democrats, nationalists, leftists, independent Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful organized social movement.

Rather than asking if Egypt will go the way of Iran, Gerges said that a better question might be whether Iran will go the way of Egypt. 

If I were an Iranian leader like Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, I would be terrified, because as we well know, in the last year or so Iran has witnessed a great deal of social upheaval, and the reverberations of [Egypt’s] upheaval in the Arab world could have tremendous, tremendous impact.


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Comments [33]

I cannot comment on the realpolitik in Egypt but I can offer some facts about fraternal organizations and this I know for sure: the Muslim brotherhood is not like the boy scouts! The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a secret fraternal organization similar to the free masons. Free masonry started in Scotland during the 16th century. Secrecy and religious ritual are the hallmarks of these old quasi-social fraternal organizations. The MB has an agenda that calls for infiltration of societies through secret cells based on Islamic religious principles. One of the more outrageous principles of the brotherhood is the limited role of women in their organization and their inability to allow women into their upper echelons. Leaders of these secret societies encourage male dominated autocratic governance based upon some set of tribal, pre-Enlightenment, religious principles. Beware of this Trojan Horse.

Feb. 04 2011 12:44 PM
Rasputin from NJ

It is disgusting to hear the events in Egypt being discussed from the perspective of what is good for Israel's security and what is best for the US power in the Mid. East.

Well, what about the possibilities for democracy for Egyptians who have been brutalized by the regime for many many years, who are now crying out for the freedoms that Israelis and Americans have?

There is a strong possibility that what is good for Egyptians may be also good for Americans and Israelis.

Unfortunately, it seems that many in the leadership in Israel want the Egyptian 'occupy' and continue to brutalize their people just as the Palestinians are being treated in the occupied territories.

More power to the Peace Movement in Israel and to the millions in the Mid East who yearn for the Democracy that gets only lip service from the powers that be.

They can take comfort in the fact that the military elite will remain in control in Egypt for a very long time.
Better yet,, maybe a Fascist Gov. that can
provide enough jobs and food to pacify the people will emerge.

Feb. 04 2011 12:14 PM

very good show

Feb. 03 2011 07:29 PM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

"There have been Israeli Arab members of the Knesset since the first Knesset elections in 1949"

I agree with "Bob from Brooklyn".
Arabs are elected by clever Zionists seeking propaganda points in favor of jahiliyyah (PBUI)

Feb. 03 2011 05:27 PM

Israel is not the holy lamb! Israel doesn't equal Jewish. Israel is as aggressive and hypocritical as USA ever was with killing natives and slavery and with wars and chumming around with dictators - doing what it does to the Palestinians - you should understand why people everywhere are furious with you! Get Bibi a new job!!! He is a big thorn - Israel has to learn to get along with its neighbors. Israel is very clever and can rise to this with leadership that is not so knee-jerk aggressive. Israel has many shades of smart and needs to outsmart, not crush. Israel is definitely up to this. Look what Israel did with a desert!

Feb. 03 2011 03:02 PM
Bob from Brooklyn

So Bella you feel that the Muslim Brotherhood would incite the hotheaded, unruly mobs to go to war as it always has been in the past. What do you have to say when in a speech that Menachem Begin gave at the Israeli National Defense College on August 20, 1982 and said.
" In June 1967, we again also had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves, we decided to attack him "..........We must be honest with ourselved, we decided to attack him.
It seems as though not only hot headed mobs wanted to go to war, but also in 1967 Menachem Begin and the state of Israel.
* take note Bella, Begin used the term "we again also had a choice ".

Feb. 03 2011 02:36 PM

It is so disheartening to listen to NYC's skewered version of Middle East events. The current situation in Egypt is romanticized as a "people's uprising", when probably much more cynical motives are at play here. I was waiting (and not disappointed) to hear when you would inject Israel into this seething cauldron, "if only Israel...(take your pick: made peace, or did this or that differently...)
It is unbelievable that you even mention Israel in this context. Egypt's problems have nothing to do with Israel. I fear that given half a chance, any new power (ie, the Muslim Brotherhood) would use Israel as a diversion from its own problems and incite the hoteaded, unruly mobs to go to war. This is always how it has been in the past.

Feb. 03 2011 12:48 PM
Bob from Brooklyn

Brian many people like yourself use that old tired hypocritical term that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It's true that Israel is a democracy, but that democracy is enjoyed by only the Jewish population.......The following example's hardly represent what could be considered to be a true democratic state for all it's citizens.

1. According to the law set by The Jewish National Fund which controls 97% of the land of Israel. Only those Jews who can show 4 generations of maternal Jewish descent can own, sharecrop, lease or rent land in the state of Israel.....a rather racist policy I would think.
2. Social services which is given to those who serve in the Israeli army, because Israeli Arabs are excluded from the army those services which may include health care are denied.
3. During the 1st Iraq war waged by George Bush, and scud missiles were fired by Iraq towards the state of Isreal. Jewish citizens in Israel had received much needed gas masks from the government, because of the potential danger that those scud missiles posed. Many Arab towns and citizens behind the green line didn't receive any.....any gas masks like the Jewish citizens had received....Some Democracy!!!!

Feb. 03 2011 12:17 PM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

The tone of the discussions this morning (Egypt's Future ; What is the Muslim Brotherhood ) mimics the upper west side equivalent of Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". Initially you feature an Egyptian ex-patriot, living in the United States for half his life, since he was persecuted out of his opera company position (was he persecuted because of his position on the color of the stage scenery or his support for extending the Egyptian franchise to Jews and Christians - oops, we're too polite to ask?). Sadly, what appears to be most relevant to understanding Egypt's future is the possibility that this fakir will be returning to that sad country to stand for elective office? (Who does this guy think he is - Barry Sowaeto?) [He'll be a great 13 minute segment in the future.]
Onto the Muslim Brotherhood! {This is where the usual lack of preparation by the interviewer is demonstrated.}
I'm thinking there's going to be some mention of Sayid Qutyb - but of course that would go against the current media myth of the benevolent Egyptian street riots.
(Ah h h h - now comes a topic more suitable for the WNYC ennui routine - "Mommy Wars")
Much apologies to all.

Feb. 03 2011 11:32 AM
john from office

Hjs, I meant the tone. The Arab point of view would be better served with a calm presentation. The Israeli point of view, how ever correct or incorrect, comes acrss better because of the polished spokesmen. This has been consistent and the Israeli understand this.

Feb. 03 2011 11:12 AM
Carol Stewart from Bronx

Thank you, I believe Fawaz Gerges makes a good point when he says Iran has to fear revolution itself if Eygpt has a real democracy.

Feb. 03 2011 11:07 AM

In his eagerness to play a political role in the future of the Arab World Fawaz Gerges fails to comment on the role of women in a future government. At this time the last thing Egypt needs is a Brotherhood to exercise restraints on Arab women. The problem of over population in Muslim male-dominated nations can be resolved simply by educating women and bringing them into the mainstream. Let the woman chose between being a breeder of children for whom society cannot provide or playing a significant role as supporters of a true democracy.

Feb. 03 2011 11:02 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The first time I was in ISrael in 1970, this was the picture. Israeli jets were flying back and forth over Israel and the Suez Canal firing at Egyptian positions, as the Egyptians were firing artillery on Israeli positions on the eastern bank of the Canal. The Suez Canal was closed to shipping. In northern Israel, Jewish children were sleeping in bunkers every night due to mortars being fired by Fatah guerrillas. BEfore 1967, the Suez Canal was usually closed to all shipping going to Israel, and such cargo had to go clandestinely. However, oil was coming from Iran, then under the Shah, and from Sinai oil fields that the Israelis had developed.
M point is, that Israel is always surrounded, and always under fire, and is always genuinely nervous about the shifting sands around them. And have good and genuine reasons to be.

Feb. 03 2011 11:02 AM

I hope and pray Egypt comes out of the other side of this a decent, democratic nation. We'll see.

I was surprised that no one pointed out the questioned raised by Brian's quote from Haaretz regarding Israel's peace with dictatorial Arab states: what democratic Arab states is Israel at war with? Of course, the answer is none. But only because there are none (except Lebanon but then that's it's own basket case of pathologies). And that the deeper problem faced by the Arab peoples.

Feb. 03 2011 11:01 AM
Steve from NY, NY

Actual reporting on who the opposition is:

On Sunday, Egypt's political opposition groups formed a 10-person Negotiation Steering Committee. Here's a run-down of the committee members:

1. Mohamed ElBaradei: ElBaradei, the most internationally prominent figure in the Egyptian opposition movement, heads the National Association for Change (NAC), a broad opposition coalition (which includes the Muslim Brotherhood) that emphasizes democratic constitutional reforms. In the 2011 protests ElBaradei, a secular liberal, has emerged as the widely supported choice for Egypt's next president. But his support isn't unanimous: his time abroad has earned him criticisms that he lacks an understanding of Egypt's daily political life.

2. Ayman Nour: As chair of the Ghad ("Tomorrow") Party, Nour leads the liberal-secular faction in Egypt.

3. Osama Al Ghazali Harb: Harb, a liberal intellectual and former member of the National Democratic Party (NDP), to co-found the Democratic Front Party and remain's the party's chair. The DFP pushes for reforming the National Assembly to represent all of Egypt's political constituencies, reforms that guarantee an independent judiciary, cultural diversity, and abolishing the state of emergency and its special courts.

4. Abdel Gelil Moustafa: Moustafa, an engineering professor and political activist, is the general coordinator of the National Association for Change and an ElBaradei supporter.

5. George Ishak: Ishak, once a trade union leader, founded the Kefaya ("Enough") movement in 2004, which draws support from Egypt's middle class professionals.

6. Mohammed El Beltagui: Beltagui is a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's heavily repressed and largest opposition bloc (taking up one-fifth of the legislature).

7. Magdy Ahmed Hussein: Hussein is a journalist and member of the (Socialist) Labor Party; initially socialist, but shifted to a more religious ideology in 1985.

8. Abdel Halim Qandil: Qandil is a leading member of the Nasserist Party, which is rooted in the Arab nationalist, socialist, and largely secular ideology. He is a spokesman for the Kefaya movement, and has called the Muslim Brotherhood as a "'dinosaur' weighed down by its aging leadership."

9. Hamdeen Sabahi: Sabahi is an Arab nationalist politician who leads the Karama (or "Dignity") Party, a left-leaning Nasserist party.

10. The Youth Movement: The tenth seat on the steering committee is reserved for a leader of Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement, which has yet to name a representative.

My take home from this, is somewhat disappointing that the youth movement groups are not more represented, but also that Islamists are represented but far from dominant or unilaterally in charge.

Feb. 03 2011 10:59 AM

i think we all know everyone has their "crazies" and they aren't the majority

john from office
another good one. you're consistent!
do u also think egypt has a "representative government?"

Feb. 03 2011 10:55 AM

Uh, Brian, wasn't there an intermediate step there in Iran between the fall of the Shah amidst flowers and the rise of those scary bearded and oh so evil ayatollahs?
Maybe (I doubt it) having learned from that mistake, the US won't be so quick to destroy a democratic outcome in Egypt...if Israel let's them.

Feb. 03 2011 10:52 AM

I wouldn't tell that Israeli guy to shut up and get off the air, but rather, listen to his voice verrry carefully.

Feb. 03 2011 10:49 AM

I think that we should stop being scared of things we don't understand. People evolve situations evolve. If indeed the Egyptians want the Islamic Brotherhood then let them . If they don't then let's trust their ability and help them elect a good leader.

We should learn to negotiate and make friends with countries not leaders.

Feb. 03 2011 10:48 AM

Not all Jews and Israelis feel as that caller does! It's SO important for Egyptians and Muslims in general to know that the Jewish perspective on this is much more complicated. That caller was racist and, frankly, rather ignorant. The Israeli gov't is not representative of the Jewish perspective on this -- please know that many of us support this revolution and believe the Egyptian people deserve democracy as much as any human being on Earth. That caller should have "qualified" himself as the rabidly right-wing person that he clearly is, instead of saying that Ha'aretz should be qualified as a left-wing paper. I'd hate to think that people listening to this broadcast will come away thinking that all Jews/Israelis are as ignorant and hateful as that caller -- we are not.

Feb. 03 2011 10:45 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

While I do not share Gilad's POV, which I do think is extreme, the fact is that as long as Arabs and Muslims do not agree that Israel is JEWISH SOIL, and that Jerusalem, Beersheba, Jaffa, Haifa, are all part and parcel of the Jewish state and homeland, then there can be no peace between the Israelites and the Ishmaelites. As long as the Muslims do not accept and respect that Israel is the Jewish state, there can be no peace and reconciliation in the Middle East regardless who is in power in the Muslim capitals and in Jerusalem.

Feb. 03 2011 10:45 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm wondering how the residents of Gaza will be affected by the events in Egypt, esp. after the Mubarak regime is gone. What are the chances that its replacement will allow more to cross the border than the barest necessities that Israel is letting in but will still effectively keep weapons from reaching Hamas? (I know, it's probably completely unpredictable at this point, but I had to ask.)

Feb. 03 2011 10:44 AM
Magda from Brooklyn

Everything Gilad said about Egypt and Jordan was factually wrong. Not a great role model. His concern is understandable but his ignorance is troubling. Egypt has a representative government?!

Feb. 03 2011 10:41 AM

Who is the crazyman who thinks Jordan and Egypt are “representative governments”
And who was listening and laughing on his other line?

Feb. 03 2011 10:41 AM
Nils from Brooklyn

With all that's happened around the world over the past half-century, especially the last decade, I respect the need to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood or any other political party in Egypt. But I'd like to point out that this discussion reeks of speculation. No one knows what is going to happen in Egypt today let alone a month or a year from now. If the Muslim Brotherhood is an organization America would be aligned against why legitimize it now with this kind of discussion? I understand that journalism is at least part speculative, but I think this is a little too much. If WNYC and NPR is engaging in this I can only imagine what cable news is making of the Muslim Brotherhood -- some on the right have probably already anointed them as the de facto leaders of the country. By all means discuss Egypt in depth, but I think in these early days of a possible revolution it would be wiser to wait and see what happens. Otherwise I feel like the media is falling into a terrorism-age, knee-jerk, fear-mongering level of speculation (Look! Another Iran! Another scary enemy!).



Feb. 03 2011 10:40 AM
gj from Manhattan

The Israeli says everything about how it could benefit HIM and Israel and how it could benefit America. He doesn't say anything about the Egyptian people. Surprise surprise. Try seeing things from others' points of view.

Feb. 03 2011 10:40 AM
Zach from UWS

Gilad basically said, "Those brown people are too dumb to run their own government." Sickening.

Feb. 03 2011 10:39 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Gil`ad wants to give "the" Israeli perspective? Like there's only one?

Feb. 03 2011 10:38 AM
hazy from brooklyn

OMG. get this caller (Israeli) off the phone! he has no idea what he's talking about. he cares about israel? this isn't about israel! unbelievable.
Really? this is why people hate us.
get him off!

Feb. 03 2011 10:38 AM
john from office

Arabs would gain in public opinion if they could argue calmly and express their point in a calm and logical manner.

Compare the Israeli Gilad and the call from the cab driver.

Calm down and talk.

Feb. 03 2011 10:37 AM
Ryan from Jersey City

Can you please ask your guest to talk about the links between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazis leading up to and during WWII and the implications for today?

Feb. 03 2011 10:36 AM
George from Bay Ridge

What are common misconceptions of the Muslim Brotherhood?

What is the Brotherhood's relationship with al Qaeda and Hamas?

Feb. 03 2011 09:23 AM
Herb E from NYC

Encourge the President & members of Congress to change the nature of the aid to Egypt from military credits to economic and social credits. This is a win for America, a win for American allies in the area, and a win for Egypt. The massive military buildup in Egypt is destabilizing. With the acknowledged precarious nature of Egypt's government and the ever-present danger of its growing fundamentalist movement (Brotherhood), it is far more in America's interest to attend to the political, social, and economic needs of the Egyptian people so our country can help create a less desperate situation.

The economic impact to America is neutral, since the money comes in the form of credits to buy US goods. It would be better to let the Egyptian people buy our cars, our computers, our construction equipment, and other American goods. This policy would encourage peace and a more stable Egypt. It would also produce demand for American products beyond the scope of foreign aid.

Feb. 03 2011 09:20 AM

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