The Muslim Brotherhood groups are making steady progress; the election results show it is the people’s choice. Hamas won in Palestine, Nahda won in Tunisia, and now the Freedom and Justice Party led by Muhammad Mursi have been elected in Egypt, the largest Arab country, where the ideology and the movement of Ikhwan was formed by Sheikh Hasan Al-Banna in the 1920s.
Under the Arab nationalist leader Jamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s, the movement suffered as its activists were imprisoned, despite aiding Jamal Abdul Nasser to overthrow the old monarchy that had more or less mortgaged Egypt to the Western banks. Over successive years, the Ikhwan movement spread to most parts of the Islamic world.
Libya, Yemen, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Algeria may also eventually elect a similar type of government in the future, provided there is political stability with a framework for a free and fair election. Until the election of Hamas in Gaza, Sudan was the one country were the Brotherhood was most successful in gaining power, its members making up a large part of the government for the last two decades. However, the Ikhwan based movements (Jamat-e-Islami) in the Indian subcontinent including Malaysia and Indonesia have not done well historically.
Therefore, why are the brotherhood groups succeeding now in the Arab world when they have been around since the 20s?
From a cursory examination of the history of the Arab world, it could be argued that it has gone from one end of the political spectrum after the post-colonial period of the 50s and 60s, to the other extreme in the 80s and 90s. Hence, the rise of Ikhwan is the outcome of that experience. IT represents stability.
The post-colonial era witnessed the rise of socialist and nationalist types of groups. Arab socialism never really took off in the religiously conservative Arab world, and Syria has the last Arab socialist regime in name that is struggling to survive. The failure to unify the Arab nations over Palestine and the disunity shown through the two Gulf wars has also sealed the fate of Arab nationalism.
During the 80s and 90s, the rise of the radical Islamic groups was inspired by the Iranian revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and subsequently the Jihadi-Salafi types of movement began to surface in the Arab world; the FIS in Algeria, the Taleban and Al-Qaeda type of movement in the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia and Afghanistan. But the appeal of these groups has waned post 9/11 and the Arab Spring has reinforced that view.
Using issues like Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, the radical groups may have appealed to the Arab masses to some extent, but their intolerant and puritanical approach to Islamic law, coupled with the escalation of violence through suicide bombings and the subsequent reprisal from the West has left them isolated. With the exception of FIS in Algeria in the 90s, their ability on the political front to rally the masses has been non-existent, partly due to their ideology of denouncing anyone who does not comply with their views.
Indeed, puritanical radicals will always be representative of the like minded fringe and dismissive of the rest, whereas the Brotherhood has evolved into a serious progressive movement for the masses, which recognizes diversity and the responsibility in catering for the nation as a whole, which is diverse.
The Arab masses desire a democratic government that is free from nepotism, corruption and is accountable. They want a society like that of the West where the rule of law prevails, and opportunities are based on merit.
While they desire material comfort and the technology of the West, they also want to maintain their tradition, culture and religious values. This is reflected in the rejection of radical models proposed by the Al-Qaeda type of groups who are obsessed with penal codes and women’s dress code, denouncing any dissension and waging war recklessly.
The Egyptian revolution has adversely affected the already failing economy; approximately 40 percent live below the poverty line and unlike the other Arab nations, Egypt lacks rich natural resources and has the largest population in the Arab world. The new government will need help from external sources, the West, the rich Gulf nations and China. Thus, in the interest of Egypt and promoting stability, Mursi has declared that he will honor all the past agreements, which includes the treaty with Israel. These agreements can be revised in the future, if the government proves to be successful in bringing about internal economic and political stability. Only the foolish would suggest a confrontational stance, before you declare war, remember to prepare for war.
n Yamin Zakaria is a London-based writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org