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Muslim Brotherhood: pragmatism or power? (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Dr. Bosmat Yefet-Avshalom 04/03/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1674 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-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 contend.

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 intentions.

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 these circumstances.

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.

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