Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2011 / 26 Shevat , 5771
How -- and why -- the Muslim Brotherhood's Egyptian strategy is succeeding
By Jeffrey Fleishman
AIRO (MCT) The medical students marched and sweated in protest.
"The fear is broken," yelled
"And Islam," said his friend. "We need Islam."
"Yes," said Mohammed, hushing the young man. "But first freedom and the will of the people."
The exchange in the streets of
The organization's strategy became more apparent Sunday when it announced support for opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as a transitional president if the Mubarak government is toppled. The move was recognition that ElBaradei, a secularist with Western democratic principles, is the most potent symbol for change in a nation desperate for fresh voices.
Founded in 1928 by a teacher in the
"The Muslim Brotherhood has always been a concern for secular and even religiously devoted Egyptians because of fear that their Islamic ideology could damage the country's image and hurt tourism," said Emad Gad, a political analyst.
"The revolution does not belong to any one group," said
Whether that attitude survives in a post-Mubarak era is uncertain, but it suggests that after a week of uprisings the Brotherhood understands the emerging dynamics of
"They don't want to appear as if they're using this revolt to seize power," said
The question is whether the organization's religious agenda fits easily into an
Estimated to have 600,000 members, many of them educated and middle class, the Brotherhood said it rejected violence decades ago. Its social and health programs have filled gaps in the state's failing public services in this nation of 80 million people. During the 30 years under Mubarak's rule, thousands of its members have been arrested. It has been further weakened by internal divisions over its role between religion and politics.
In 2005, after then-President
The organization, politically isolated, debated strategies. Then in mid-December, the Tunisian uprising started, which forced President
It also asked its young rank and file to keep diaries of their thoughts on the gathering revolt. Their involvement in Tuesday's protest drew accusations from Mubarak's security forces that the Brotherhood was instigating violence and sedition. But by Friday, the organization, calculating that the president was vulnerable, sent thousands of its young and old members marching through
"It was a revolution that started with young people with no political agenda. It was important for the Brotherhood to send its youth," said group member Shosha, whose cell phone holds videos of Egyptians who were beaten and shot during protests. "Our young members are probably more educated and more knowledgeable in demonstrations and how to handle police tactics."
What surprised the Brotherhood and other traditional opposition groups was a protest movement without slogans, news releases and position papers. It came from the people, students and middle class at first, then swelling across economic and social lines. It has forced the organization to recalibrate its message in a world where the old boundaries have shifted.
That may not be easy.
"A Christian Copt or a woman cannot be president of a Muslim nation," said Shosha, a broad-shouldered man, who sat in the Brotherhood's headquarters in
Shosha said he was 12 when he befriended older Brotherhood members at a neighborhood mosque. Their message was to suffuse all aspects of life — job, family, politics — with Islam.
"Then I grew up and entered university, and I started thinking if the Brotherhood only wanted power it wouldn't have lasted so long after all the state oppression against it since 1950s," said Shosha, 31. "It's still here doing the work of G0d."
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