Part of Best Foreign Affairs Web Stories of 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood After Mubarak

What the Brotherhood Is and How it Will Shape the Future

With the end of the Mubarak era looming on the horizon, speculation has turned to whether the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate the new Egyptian political landscape. As the largest, most popular, and most effective opposition group in Egypt, it will undoubtedly seek a role in creating a new government, but the consequences of this are uncertain. Those who emphasize the risk of "Islamic tyranny" aptly note that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as an anti-system group dedicated to the establishment of sharia rule; committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era; and continues to use anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. But portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature that exaggerates certain features of the Brotherhood while ignoring others, and underestimates the extent to which the group has changed over time.

Founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has had the longest continuous existence of any contemporary Islamist group. It was initially established not as a political party but as a da'wa (religious outreach) association that aimed to cultivate pious and committed Muslims through preaching, social services, and spreading religious commitment and integrity by example. The group saw its understanding of Islam as the only "true" one and condemned partisanship as a source of national weakness. It called on Egyptians to unite to confront the forces of Zionism and imperialism and pursue economic development and social justice.

The Free Officers' Movement, which seized power in Egypt in 1952, was influenced by the Brotherhood and shared many of its concerns. But the new regime headed by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser did not support the Brotherhood's call for sharia rule and viewed the group as a potential rival. After a member of the Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Nasser in 1954, Nasser had the pretext he needed to try to crush the organization -- interning thousands of its members in desert concentration camps and forcing others into exile or underground.

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