Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scholars discuss Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

‘How would Egypt’s government look if the Muslim Brotherhood was given a share of the power?’ This topic was the initial focus of today’s discussion at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. The event was moderated and co-sponsored by the U.S.-Egypt Friendship Society. Panelists included Dr. Bruce Rutherford, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Colgate University; Robert Dreyfus, independent journalist; and Sameer Jarrah, Visiting Fellow at The Brookings Institution.

If the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928, had a share in the government, “it would fall short of the Western norms of democracy,” Rutherford said. Reflective of the Brotherhood’s current structure, he continued, non-Muslims, particularly Copts, and women would not have equal rights. Limitations on freedoms would also exist, he said. On the other hand, if given a share in the government and forced to take on greater responsibility, the Brotherhood would likely fractionalize along generational, family, and urban versus rural lines, resulting in a “less threatening entity,” Rutherford said.

“Democracy isn’t the question. What policies would they implement?” asked Dreyfus. Citing the frequent suicide-bombings of Hamas, a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dreyfus argued that the Brotherhood has not sworn off violence and could bring additional instability to the region if they were to assume any power in the Egyptian government. “What are the social, political and economic implications in having a radical, fundamentalist organization that operates in cell-like, secretive fashion?” he asked.

The successful management of social welfare is how the Muslim Brotherhood was able to gain power over the years. That is why, according to Jarrah, the Brotherhood has a following of approximately 50 million people throughout the region – approximately 9 million in Indonesia alone. Due to the size of the following and his belief that democracy is for all, Jarrah encourages dialogue at all levels of society.

The future of the Muslim Brotherhood specifically was not actually the main point of contention among the panelists and audience. Rather, the role of the U.S. in regards to Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood was much more passionately debated. Expressed opinions varied greatly: The U.S. should decrease its military footprint in the region. U.S. involvement in Egypt’s affairs has only made matters worse. The U.S. has some clout with Egypt in regards to foreign aid assistance but needs to deal with all political party members. The U.S. can provide more efficient guidance through syndicates.

All-in-all, little consensus was achieved by the time the audience disbanded.


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