The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Involvement in the Mass Protests

This original and unique contribution comes from a colleague who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a renowned expert on the Muslim Brotherhood who shares his thoughts with us about the implications of its role in the mass protest movement rocking Egypt.

By Dr. Liad Porat

The Muslim Brotherhood's voice sounds clearer than ever during the last few "anger days" of protest in Egypt, after a period of 30 years. It is a new call that explicitly pushes for the toppling of Mubarak's regime. Not long ago the Brotherhood was attacking the regime for its failures and malfunctions outside and inside Egypt, but avoided calling for its collapse. Now they are emboldened and do it publicly. As a mass movement, which carries many decades of experience as Egypt's best known and organized opposition to Mubarak, the Brotherhood intends to take advantage of the present circumstances and achieve full political-electoral dividends.

The Brotherhood didn't initiate the mass protesting demonstrations at the central cities. But since the mass protest have gained momentum, the Brotherhood has jumped on the revolutionary band wagon and has successfully integrated itself into it. Since last weekend its leaders have been taking the initiative. In so doing, they assist in leading the mass demonstrations and call the population to keep demonstrating until the regime's collapse. The Brotherhood's websites welcome visitors with a red background, which includes updates concerning the demonstrations throughout Egypt, the regime's weakness with specific taunts, and encouragements for additional "anger days" until the end of Mubarak's regime. As but one concrete recent example, the Brotherhood published through its media organ headlines such as "Obama talked with Arab leaders in order to find a new home for Mubarak" in order to encourage the protestors and to imply that they are going to ultimately triumph.

The most significant subjects that are being raised now are explicit demands from the regime, which have been for many years part of the Brotherhood's daily practices. The Brotherhood has been preaching for decades against the laws of emergency and the military regime in Egypt and for more than a decade calls for democracy and full political freedoms. In addition, using the media, including more than twenty Brotherhood's websites (based on the counties' division in Egypt) and foreign satellites' channels, they are emphasizing the human rights issue and highlighting the regime's inadequate responses. Up-to-date, the Brotherhood has demanded five things from the regime: 1) dismiss the upper and lower parliaments 2) new elections 3) set free all political prisoners and detainees 4) establish a transition government which will hold responsibility for maintaining free elections and transferring the regime in an orderly manner 5) form a truth and reconciliation committee for the purpose of revealing the truth about the regime's using of violence against the demonstrators.

These demands have come to stand in the middle of the public discourse and in the heart of the mass protest. They are also used as the glue that holds together a variety of oppositional groups (left wing and right wing) and rallies the masses' emotions and anger towards the socio-political crises. As a result, the Brotherhood stands face-to-face with/against the regime and is trying to dictate its demands while at the same time bolstering its self-image as the inevitable legitimate alternative government for Egypt.

Since the Brotherhood lost the last two election campaigns of 2010 and its hope to enlarge its dominance had been destroyed (it didn't even manage to get one representative elected), its attacks on the regime has grown in severity. In this regard, it mainly accuses the regime of fraud, corruption, and authoritarian tyranny. Within the last few months there has been an escalation in the Brotherhood's attacks on the regime even before the protests. This radical shift in approach is mostly characterized by personal accusation and attacks against Mubarak, as the one who holds responsibility for the "tyrannical and corruptive regime". Indeed, in contrast to previous years, the Brotherhood was already starting to act as if it had nothing to lose, accept its reputation with the masses. As a result, on the one hand it is praising the current mass demonstrations of the young generation, hoping that it will generate enough protest and uprising in order to topple the regime (the Brotherhood anticipated that the youth would call and force change as seen in the last uprising in Iran, in 2009), but on the other hand, it preaches nonviolent struggle and calls for law-abiding obedience. At the end of the day, the Brotherhood is well aware of the regime's military supremacy and of the situation that enables its members to act freely in Egypt, which is a real asset of the status-quo.

In an environment in which there is a long tradition of suppression and tyranny and with the forthcoming presidential election (which still includes the possibility of inheriting the presidential position from father to son) there is a wide consensus amongst different opposition groups and their supporters that it is no longer possible to continue with the status-quo anymore.

A sense of anger, frustration and revenge brings together for the time-being a variety of opposition groups, as we can see during the current "anger days". The Brotherhood has a very developed consciousness; therefore it is putting the focus on the unifying motives- fighting for human rights, political freedoms and democracy. It is simultaneously, for now, ignoring ideological stances and principles of the Brotherhood that could be divisive in the current context, namely Islamizing the society and implementation of the Sharia law.

To sum up, the Brotherhood is benefiting tremendously from the present circumstances. Even though it is initiating and involved in the mass protest movement throughout Egypt, it is so far acting as a considered and responsible political actor and reveals, based on its claims, a national responsibility. How long this will last is now the real question.

Dr. Liad Porat is a postdoctoral fellow at The Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University