Egypt uprising; the Muslim Brotherhood a ‘wildcard’

By Elizabeth Tenety Egyptian demonstrators perform the Friday noon prayer in front of riot police during a demonstration in Cairo … Continued

By Elizabeth Tenety


Egyptian demonstrators perform the Friday noon prayer in front of riot police during a demonstration in Cairo on January 28, 2011, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Analysts rushed Friday to read the religious tea leaves of Egypt’s political uprising.

According to the CIA Factbook, Egypt religious population is 90% Muslim (mostly Sunni) and 10% Christian (mostly Coptic). A neighbor to Israel, and home to Al-Azhar, a millennia-old center of Islamic scholarship, what happens in Egypt matters throughout the Muslim world. President Obama knew this in choosing the country as the location for his 2009 speech ‘A New Beginning‘ which he gave from Cairo University.


(A screenshot of protestors gathered for final evening prayers on the streets of Cairo/ Image via the livefeed of Al Jazeera.

Here’s a roundup of what some reporters and analysts have said about the faith factor in Egyptian revolts:

Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kulish of New York Times published a must-read story Friday titled ‘With Muslim Brotherhood Set to Join Egypt Protests, Religion’s Role May Grow,’ calling the brotherhood not only a ‘wildcard’ but also “the largest organized opposition group in the country.”

Via CNN’s explainer ‘What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious and political group founded on the belief that Islam is not simply a religion, but a way of life. It advocates a move away from secularism, and a return to the rules of the Quran as a basis for healthy families, communities, and states.

Why is it important in Egypt?

The Brotherhood has widespread support among Egypt’s middle classes, and its members control many of the country’s professional organizations.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer wrote a post called ‘Don’t Fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood‘ for The Daily Beat yesterday in which he said that “understanding the Brotherhood is vital to understanding our options” in coping with a potential post-Mubarak Egypt:

Technically illegal, it has an enormous social-welfare infrastructure that provides cheap education and health care. In Egypt’s unfair elections, it is always the only opposition that does well even against the heavily rigged odds.

Others disagreed that the role of the Muslim Brotherhood was central to the opposition, given the diversity of the anti-government coalition and the leadership of the reformers like Mohamed ElBaradei, who recently wrote in Time:

If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.

Historically, Islam was hijacked about 20 or 30 years after the Prophet and interpreted in such a way that the ruler has absolute power and is accountable only to God. That, of course, was a very convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler. Only a few weeks ago, the leader of a group of ultra-conservative Muslims in Egypt issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for me to “repent” for inciting public opposition to President Hosni Mubarak, and declaring the ruler has a right to kill me, if I do not desist. This sort of thing moves us toward the Dark Ages. But did we hear a single word of protest or denunciation from the Egyptian government? No.

UPDATE, 5:15 p.m., January 28:

Time Magazine’s ‘Fear of Islamists Paralyzes the U.S’:

Democracy movements are attractive to Washington when they target a regime such as Iran’s, but in allied autocracies, they’re a problem. There’s no way for Egypt to be democratic and exclude the Islamists from political participation. The same is true for most other parts of the Arab world — a lesson the U.S. ought to have learned in Iraq, where Islamists have dominated all the democratically elected governments that followed Saddam Hussein’s ouster.

UPDATE, 8:45 a.m., January 29:

CNN asks, “After Mubarak, will Egypt face a void?

Years of harassment and detention have hollowed out the Brotherhood as a political force. It has not been in the vanguard of these protests and the consensus among commentators is that the Egyptian military would not tolerate the Brotherhood in power.

In any event, says [Thomas P. Barnett] — formerly a professor at the U.S. Navy War College — events in Egypt and Tunisia show that the “Islamist narrative” to explain the woes of the Arab world is being challenged by a maturing and well-educated youth movement whose expectations of a better life have been dashed by economic stagnation and a stifling political atmosphere.

Amr Hamzawy, research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, notes in an article for the Los Angeles Times: “While the Muslim Brotherhood youth and some of their leaders participated in the protests, there were no signs saying, “Islam is the solution.” Egyptians have grown accustomed to the same political forces and opposition personalities in the streets, but this fundamentally changed.”

What’s next for Egypt?

Is the revolt a democratic uprising or a religious rebellion? A little bit of both? Time will tell, and On Faith will update as more reports come in.

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • ThishowIseeit

    A religious rebellion? Egiptian youth is not so gullible to believe in a just deity. How can possibly exist a just deity when every century thousands innocent babies and children are killed by earthquakes and tsunamis caused by earth plates tectonic, never caused by human activities.

  • daniel12

    I finished reading Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy about a week before the current demonstrations in Egypt. Mahfouz describes the Islamic movement but far more describes quite complex human beings. We have Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, the patriarch who presents a stern and sober dignity to his family but behind the scenes drinks and is an expert tambourine player and consummate womanizer; we have Amina his wife who is not allowed by Ahmad to leave the home; we have Ahmad’s sons Kamal, who becomes a philosopher, Fahmy who dies protesting the British colonizers of Egypt, and Yasin who is a compulsive womanizer; we have Shayk Mutawalli who has no problem with hashish because hashish is not prohibited by Islam; we have Aisha, daughter of Ahmad who loses husbands and sons to Typhoid fever; we have Khadija, Ahmad’s other daughter who is sharp-tongued. We have Zubayda, cocaine addict and musician; we have Ridwan, gay son of Yasin; we have Aida, Kamal’s love who does not return his love; we have Husayn Shaddad, Kamal’s wealthy and sophisticated friend for a time. So many others in this trilogy, a great and humorous and passionate read of a fascinating people and country. I strongly recommend this book. Egypt from world war 1 to world war 2 and which sheds light on modern times. One of Khadija’s sons becomes a Communist while the other joins the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt from Mahfouz is more complex than simple Western conceptions of Islamic nations allow. I loved the book. I feel like I know the family of Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. But then again it should be observed that Mahfouz clashed with Islamic fundamentalists and was almost assassinated at one point in his life.

  • wiki-truth

    Ooopps. “.. NO DICTATOR..”THE FEAR, the “JEALOUSY” of Being Left Behind.

  • veerle1

    Any civilization based on the precepts of any religion are certain to fail.Hopefully, any new Egyptian government will be biased towards the real world and not the fantasies of religious zealots.

  • djfeiger

    The ignorance and belief in deceitful propaganda by the Western media, academics and politicians is disgraceful, dangerous and frightening. The Muslim Brotherhood was formed by pro fascists during WWII. They aspire to an Arab Muslim Empire, One Land, One Nation, One Religion. Nasser was head of their Youth Movement fashioned after Hitler’s Youth, Young Egypt. Egypt was a safe haven for SS Nazi War Criminals including The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem a double agent appointed by the British who fled to Nazi Germany to his friend Adolf Eichmann. He promoted extermination of the Jews of Europe, Africa and the Middle East over deportation to Palestine. He was to be tried at Nuremberg but was smuggled out of a French detention camp and transported to Egypt by Odessa. He was made an honorary non Aryan Arab Muslim SS Officer by Himmler and impressed Hitler for his shared antisemitism. He served in the Turkish Army in Smyrna during WWI and witness the Armenian Genocide to cleans Turkey of Christians. He was a bigoted thug who was paid by the British Military to incite Arab antisemitism and violence while acting as a moderate religious leader. As Grand Mufti he was central in organizing anti Zionist riots and the assassination of moderate Muslim and Christian Arab leaders in Britain’s Miltery’s covert creation, financing and directing of Arab antisemitism and violence by which they illegally stole the land created for the Jewish Homeland and Nation, Palestine that they were mandated to by the Paris and SanRemo Peace Agreements sand the covenent of The League of Nations. The Mufti never supported an Arab Palestinian state. Rather he wanted the Southern Levant which was never part of Arabia reincorporated into a Greater Syria and an pure Islamic Arab Empire free of JEWS, CHRISTIANS and especially and ironically PERSIANS. Fascist Syria under President Hafiz al-Assad who allied with the USSR and entrenched minority Alawite control and incorporated Stalin-ism and Marxism fought against the anti secular Islamic Fascist Muslim Brotherhood. In 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood successfully took control of the city oh Hama Assad had the city surrounded by troops then demolished by bombing and artillery bombardment. The ruins were spayed with poison to ensure no one survived and a lesson to all of Syria. 20,000 to 40,000 men, women and children were massacred. Iran’s appeasement by Bush II’s second term, Obama the EU, Britain and it’s use of Hezbollah has led to the destabilization of Africa and the Middle East. Rice’s and Obamaq’s Cairo speeches emboldened Iran’s puppets under pro democracy front’s like the Egyptian MB to ferment the street using social networking in a far more aggressive acute movement then that of it’s fascist roots. Go to Arab websites and read, Tunisia, then Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE then America.Wake Up!The Palestinian Myth is being used as a catalyst for bigotry, hate and totalitarian rule.

  • gandhiano

    USA citizens believe that everybody likes their political system. Forget it!

  • gposner

    Many people have already forgotten (or never knew) about the link between Egyptian religious fundamentalism and 9/11. The torture and repression of Islamic radicals in Egypt was a force in the growth of Al Qaeda. Read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower. This doesn’t mean that religious fundamentalists would be able to take over if Mubarak fell, but they are certainly a significant element and have paid for their beliefs with death, pain, and suffering.

  • srb2

    Is the photo of the wild-eyed, bulged-neck-veins, screaming ‘protester’ accompanying this column on the front page supposed to encourage, discourage or have no effect on a belief in ‘a people’s democracy’? Frankly, the guy looks to me like he’d like to cast a vote… and then slit the throats of his political opponents; not terribly ‘democratic’ in the traditional sense…

  • qqbDEyZW

    The US has it’s own example of why the people of Egypt are protesting. Remember Civil Rights and how many Americans used the bible to justify racism/prejudice/discrimination/torture as we watch millions protest the right for Freedom and Democracy. We see the Pope is welcoming those who don’t believe in God into the church because of how many faithful have lost faith in the church. Clue the US has a seperation of Church/State and the people of Egypt/Middle East are demanding Democracy from their leaders and religion has nothing to do with it, but it’s a since try to attach the two for this article anyway.

  • DPoniatowski

    Is there such a thing as an “Islamic democracy?” We better hope Mubarak stays in power, he’s the only reason the country has been stable for the last 30 years.

  • jodiepup1

    My daughter has been in graduate school at the American University in Cairo for 2 years. I visited her in Egypt for 3 weeks last spring.This does not appear religious to me or to her (she is in Cairo now). Although a more religious society than the US, the Egyptian version of Islam is clearly more liberal and tolerant than the Saudi version. Egyptians are generally friendly and welcoming of visitors, and most seem generally tolerant of other religious views, dress, etc.The Egyptian police are clearly ineffectively, if not corrupt. For example, I witnessed a car accident in which both drivers stood in the road threatening each other. There were several armed policemen nearby, and they did nothing to intervene to calm the situation. It appears that they do not consider public order their job; they simply stand post waiting for who knows what. I differently had the impression that if challenged, they would drop their weapons and run.

  • VikramAhuja1

    Islam and democracy do not go together. These people are asking for Islamic rule or Sharia. But US should stay out of it. Let these Muslims be the first one to try democracy on their own in Mid-East

  • areyousaying

    The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious and political group founded on the belief that Islam is not simply a religion, but a way of life. It advocates a move away from secularism, and a return to the rules of the Quran as a basis for healthy families, communities, and states.——————————-Interesting how one can substitute the words “Muslim” with “Christian” and “Quaran” with “Bible” and describe the Tea Party.

  • yasseryousufi

    Showing your true colors America! I didn’t see no mullahs running on the streets in all the TV footages I saw. Its just ordinary egyptians against the mighty tyrant and his mighty armed to teeth army along with tanks and guns. All you can do is turn away people away with your usual scare stories. WHY DO YOU HATE DEMOCRACY SO MUCH AMERICA???? Why cant we hear Obama speak a word of praise for the Egyptians dying in the streets of Cairo? Muslims, Christians, Men, Women, Young, Old, toddlers they are all there. Where are all the bleeding hearts who were egging on the Iranians to topple democratically elected Ahmedinejad in CIA sponsored protests?? This is no fake purple, green, burgundy wateva revolution. This is a genuine voice of Arab people sick and tired at getting their countries being humiliated by US and Israel through their corrupt to the core leaders. Jordan would be next, Mahmoud Abbas days were numbered long ago……all these US ponies will have to go!

  • rjma1

    dponia- Hope? Better have a plan B in case that doesn’t work out. “ISlamic Democracy”? Seems plausible. Not sure how it would work in real life.

  • shirwhir

    America is praying for the success of the Egyptian people to govern themselves! The issue of Democracy vs. A government mandated religion will need to be addressed. Freedom of Religion is as important as Freedom of Speech.

  • lhao333

    Whatever kind of uprising, it is the people’s uprising.

  • asoders22

    Let us really, really hope that one dictatorship will not be succeeded by another – namely, a religious one. Let us really hope that religion will be a private matter in Egypt and a true democracy will emerge.

  • JUSTACOMMENT

    When a country is close to anarchy because an uncontrolled revolution, one organized group like The Muslim Brotherhood can seize power.Hope that it doesn’t happen.

  • 1toughlady

    So far this doesn’t look like a religious uprising at all. It’s possible it could be co-opted into one later, but right now this looks like frustrated young people who want a modern life, and I for one wish them well.

  • roboturkey

    Rebellion-power vacuum-opportunists and realignments-eventual new government.If a country the size of Egypt goes into anarchy, the USA cannot control the rolling dice. We may be able to influence the next leaders, but this is not an easily engineered outcome.Cut off all money flows to the current government in distress (it has about a half hour left to pack bags and sneak away). Wait until some calm descends and hope that the rest of the Arab world keeps a lid on.

  • roboturkey

    Rebellion-power vacuum-opportunists and realignments-eventual new government.If a country the size of Egypt goes into anarchy, the USA cannot control the rolling dice. We may be able to influence the next leaders, but this is not an easily engineered outcome.Cut off all money flows to the current government in distress (it has about a half hour left to pack bags and sneak away). Wait until some calm descends and hope that the rest of the Arab world keeps a lid on.

  • roblimo

    “WHY DO YOU HATE DEMOCRACY SO MUCH AMERICA????”Dude, the American people — even most of the teabag nutcases — totally side with the Egyptian people against Mubarak the dictator. Yes, I know… our government sometimes holds its nose and supports “our” dictators when the State Department believes the most likely alternative is an even worse dictator. But given any choice at all, even the most worker-hating Republican slime generally prefers a government of, by, and for the people to kings and other autocrats.Go, Egyptians, go!

  • toc59

    It’s easy enough to see where this is going. This secular middle class revolt will be hijacked by the religious maniacs shortly after Mubarak is deposed.Get ready for more insanity and violence on a national and international scale, think of the Taliban and Khomeni and Al-Queda, thanks once again to religion.

  • garoth

    Anyone who has any knowledge of Egypt over the past thirty years knows that it, along with most other Arab countries, has been ruled by an autocrat. Although Egypt is, in some ways, better than many of its neighbors, the people have been under his thumb, and much of the anger against the U.S. has been the result of our support for these regimes. There are no guarantees as to what will happen if these become democracies, but many of the people in these countries hope for a “new day” from America – the result of Obama’s reaching out to them. These regimes will fall – the question is “whose side will we be on?” If we remain tied to the old regimes, the new ones, like Iran when it fell, will be anti-American. If we are on the people’s side, there is a good chance for better relationships with them. Our foreign policy toward the whole mid-east will have to change in light of these revolutions, however – including our position as the defender of Israel, whatever it does. It would be good, not only for us, but for the whole mid-east, if, when these new governments come to power, we embrace them, and get a bit tougher with Israel over its policies. It could actually bring about a chance for peace in the area, and settlement of the Palestinian question, if we play it right. Right now, though, Obama is taking the right track, of trying to push these leaders gently toward democracy, and also supporting the people who want change.

  • abrahamhab1

    Someone pontificates thus:This is a case of a non-Arab blaming the shortcomings of Arabs on the ”other”. It is the Arab culture that is the culprit. First and foremost it determines the value of a person on only “his affiliation” whether social or religious and nothing else. It is a culture that has no respect for his humanity or recognizes his individuality or his liberty and considers the ruled to be the servants of the rulers who answer to no one but to Allah i.e. to no one.

  • yasseryousufi

    A Zionist apologist rears it ugly head and speaks thus,This is a case of a non-Arab blaming the shortcomings of Arabs on the ”other”. It is the Arab culture that is the culprit. First and foremost it determines the value of a person on only “his affiliation” whether social or religious and nothing else. It is a culture that has no respect for his humanity or recognizes his individuality or his liberty and considers the ruled to be the servants of the rulers who answer to no one but to Allah i.e. to no one.———————————–This Jewish squatter who steals the land of Arabs is so typical of the mindset displayed by all colonials who justify their treachery and deceit by blaming the victim for its predicament. There are a lot of uneasy Jewish Squatters in Israel right now looking at this revolution and fearing their future now that a poodle they fed for 30 years is all but gone.

  • eezmamata

    Whether or not the more secular, educated middle class of Egypt will take over power in that country is not directly determined by the ‘morality play’ taking place there among the groups now contending for power.The secular Egyptians have a specific understand of the evils of autocracy, but a somewhat vague notion of Democracy in their heads — something to be admired and supported certainly by all freedom loving humans.But this doesn’t describe what will happen there. The islamists have a much better organized goal in mind, a pure focus on the theocracy they wish to impose on the people. In any power vacuum they can promise stability and control over the seeming chaos of argumentative and compromising democracy.The secular people of Egypt will have to defeat the autocracy and entrenched powers of Mubarak, after which they will immediately have to enter into a struggle with an impending theocracy as promised by the muslim brotherhood.If they succeed in quashing the theocracy, we will see a new thing on our planet, a true Arab democracy inspired only by the hopes and dreams of the people.The western powers are truly more interested in the Suez canal than they are your freedoms. This is your battle to win, I hope you emerge from it owing thanks only to yourselves for the victory.

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