Muslim Brotherhood: pragmatism or power? (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Dr. Bosmat Yefet-Avshalom 04/03/12)
Israel Hayom Articles-Index-Top
The Muslim Brotherhood’s nomination of Khayrat el-Shater as a
candidate for the Egyptian presidency contradicts the group’s
previous declaration that it would stay out of the race. Despite
this, the brotherhood’s move should not be seen as a deviation from
its pragmatic, cautious methods of operation. This is not an open
declaration that the brotherhood sees itself as the exclusive power
that will single-handedly determine the future of Egypt and shape its
character. Instead it is a necessary step, as far as the brotherhood
is concerned, considering the circumstances with which it must
Over the past three decades the Muslim Brotherhood has consistently
and methodically worked to transform itself into a legitimate force
within Egypt’s political system. As such, it was prepared to play the
political game and express its commitment to the democratic process
and civil rights. Even as it endured oppression at the hands of
former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime – including mass
incarceration of its members and leaders like el-Shater – the Muslim
Brotherhood did not waver from its pragmatic course that required
avoiding confrontation with the government. The group’s dedication to
liberties and civil rights didn’t stem from intellectual discussions
of Western liberal thought, but rather because those ideas challenged
the regime that was suppressing them. It also helped assuage other
political groups that were skeptical of the brotherhood’s true
Furthermore, the movement’s conduct during the revolution reflects a
pragmatic and cautious pattern of behavior. The brotherhood did not
openly take part in the demonstrations, choosing to do so only after
it became clear that the revolution would succeed.
Throughout the entire political process, even after its victory in
parliamentary elections was assured, the brotherhood cooperated with
the military and refrained from clashing with it. At the same time,
it took care to placate and allay the concerns of other political
groups by vowing it had no intention of monopolizing power.
Throughout the entire process, the brotherhood tried to avoid being
seen as aggressively taking power.
However, pragmatism is limited when it translates into losing power.
The brotherhood’s open fight with the military over its demand for
new cabinet appointments, its disagreement over the wording of the
constitution and the fight to determine the degree of civilian
supervision over the army – all of these issues required the
brotherhood to act and to strengthen its positions.
Another factor that drove the brotherhood to act was the growing
concern about other Islamist presidential candidates’ success – and,
specifically, that of former brotherhood member Dr. Abdel Moneim
Aboul Fotouh. He has gained widespread popularity for his liberal
views and tolerance toward other political groups. As far as the
Muslim Brotherhood is concerned, pragmatism didn’t pay off under
Meanwhile, the announcement that el-Shater would run for president
exposed oppositions within the movement. The fiercest resistance to
his nomination came from the brotherhood’s younger reformists, who
demand greater democracy and transparency within the movement.
The young reformers oppose el-Shater because they perceive him as
being affiliated with conservative elements that deny or limit real
openness. Their desire for pragmatism stems not only from
understanding the political power structure, but from their genuine
commitment to fostering an Egyptian democracy. What will happen? Only
time will tell.
The writer is a lecturer in the Israel and Middle East Department at
Ariel University Center in Samaria and at Hebrew University.
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY