Many in Egypt´s Muslim Brotherhood wary of plunge into politics (LA TIMES) By Jeffrey Fleishman CAIRO, EGYPT 04/29/12)
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Members fear that Egypt´s Muslim Brotherhood, long oppressed but also
respected, will gain power but lose its soul.
CAIRO ó Osama Abdel Hadi was born into the Muslim Brotherhood. His
father, a history professor, was respected within the Islamic
movement and Hadi grew up steeped in piety and resistance to Hosni
Mubarak´s secular police state.
He prayed in Cairo´s ancient mosques and knew the names of
Brotherhood members held in Egypt´s jails. The group was his
spiritual and intellectual buttress, and, amid the failings of other
parties and opposition ideologies, he carried the Brotherhood´s
precepts as he entered university to study political science.
Those bonds have now been loosened. The revolution that last year
upended Mubarak heralded the Brotherhood´s political ascendancy and
near control of parliament. But the world´s largest Islamic
organization is torn by conflicts between religion and politics, and
calls from its young to be more pluralistic and modernize its voice
for a new Egypt.
"We need unity, not an atmosphere where you´re the majority and
everyone else is against you," Hadi said. "It´s not good for the
nation and puts enormous pressure on the Brotherhood. If the country
fails, it´s all on them."
The rise of the Brotherhood mirrors a pattern of Islamists coming to
political prominence, most notably in Tunisia, since the uprisings of
the "Arab Spring." This narrative is reshaping the Middle East, but
it is revealing internal friction, political missteps and failure to
put forth a vision that transcends Islamic designs and speaks to
Christians, other non-Muslims and liberals.
These challenges epitomize the campaign of Brotherhood presidential
candidate Mohamed Morsi, a conservative pressing for sharia, or
Islamic law, to be embedded in the country´s new constitution. To win
office in next month´s election, Morsi must appeal to Salafi
fundamentalists while not pushing away moderates and liberals.
Many Egyptians wonder whether Morsi can fashion a political Islam to
solve the country´s deep economic problems. As recently as a few
weeks ago, any Brotherhood candidate would have been regarded as the
likely next president. Much has changed, and some now fear that the
group is peddling more religion than public policy. Morsi is a front-
runner but the race is tightening, especially with the popularity of
secularist candidate Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister.
"The Brotherhood has enemies because it hasn´t been inclusive," said
Hadi, a slight man in a checkered shirt whose quick hands seem to
move along words as he speaks. "This is not the time for the
Brotherhood to exclude revolutionaries and activists."
Talks have intensified within the group to more clearly separate its
political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, from its religious and
community works. Since its founding in 1928, the Brotherhood has been
respected for its Islamic and social programs, such as schools and
clinics. The fear among many members is that the Brotherhood´s taste
for politics is jeopardizing its soul.
"Our presence in parliament and trade unions has sapped a lot of our
energy," said Ashraf Abou Zeid, a Brotherhood member in
Cairo. "Before the elections, we were present in the street and all
our efforts were focused on social work and services.... But all of a
sudden politics has taken too much of our strength, numbers and
The Brotherhood was late coming to the protests that ousted Mubarak,
worried that if the revolt failed the group would be persecuted anew.
But its grass-roots reach and organizational skills quickly made it
the country´s dominant political force. The shift from opposition to
the chambers of government, however, has been clumsy and erratic; the
Brotherhood has broken promises and appeared politically
To allay fear that it was accumulating too much power, the
Brotherhood had vowed not to run a presidential candidate, but
reversed itself and entered Khairat Shater, a multimillionaire and
former political prisoner. When he was recently disqualified from the
race, the organization turned to backup nominee Morsi, head of the
Freedom and Justice Party.
Running a candidate "has affected our credibility," said Zeid, a 53-
year-old doctor who has six sons and three daughters. "The spirit
that people had for us was somehow shaken."
Zeid was active in student unions in the late 1970s when the
government allowed Islamists a degree of freedom. He joined the
Brotherhood while in medical school in 1982, and since the revolution
has learned the tricky dynamics of Egyptian politics and the hold
remnants of the old guard have on the media.
"There was a strong media campaign to defame us after fielding a
presidential candidate," he said. "There were about 20 television
channels all moving against the Brotherhood and we could only respond
through our one channel and one newspaper."
The Islamists have yet to outmaneuver their most potent obstacle: the
country´s ruling military council. The Brotherhood has cooperated
with the generals, at times holding back its street muscle by
boycotting anti-army protests, leading to criticism that it was
seeking to advance its political ambition at the expense of the
But parliament has yet to match the military´s power. This has led to
acrimony as Islamists have moved to expand their reach in a new
constitution and the army has countered to preserve its authority.
"The Brotherhood´s leaders are keen on survival," Hadi said. "But it
took a while for them to learn that you have to impose your own rules
if you want the upper hand. They learned this after being burned by
the military. That´s why they decided to run their own candidate."
Morsi, who in 1982 received a doctorate in engineering from USC,
faces his sharpest challenges from Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul
Fotouh, whose progressive strand of Islam led to his expulsion from
the Brotherhood last year. Both men are likely to siphon away voters
disenchanted with the Brotherhood´s recent tactics, including its
attempts to control the panel drafting the constitution.
"The concurrent blunders of the Brotherhood have exposed its limited
political skills," Khalil Anani, an expert on Islamist groups, wrote
in the Egypt Independent newspaper. "Not only have these mistakes
distorted the movement´s image but, more importantly, it weakened its
position in the game with its contenders."
But Hadi believes that despite its setbacks, the Brotherhood
represents the stirrings of a political Islam that will ultimately
take hold in Egypt and across the region.
"This is the identity of the country," he said. "The West shouldn´t
clash with this ideal, because this goal will be reached. It´s who
Egyptians are." Amro Hassan of The Times´ Cairo bureau contributed to
this report. (Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles Times 04/29/12)
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