Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt and the Palestinians

Many are claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate and marginal force in Egyptian politics. Let's examines these claims, as well as the relevance of recent events in Egypt for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are two myths that are being disseminated in American media regarding the future of Egypt. The first is that the Muslim Brotherhood is a negligible force in Egyptian politics. The second is that the Brotherhood is a moderate movement that has renounced violence, distinct from 'Hamas' 'Hezbollah' 'Al Qaeda' and all the other terms that 'scare' Americans.

Regarding the Brotherhood's popularity, the first thing to keep in mind is that the group has been banned for the last 20 years, meaning that the current support of the group is likely to skyrocket once limitations on the group's campaigning and influence are lifted. Today, even before Mubarak has stepped down, even the most moderate analysts predict that the Brotherhood will take 30% of the vote in upcoming elections. According to Haroon Moghul, "It's inevitable that the brotherhood will play a political role, they are the most organied force on the ground...and they represent a decent-sized chunk of the Egyptian population." In other words, the Brotherhood is not a marginal force, and their popularity will only grow from this point forward. Many of the protests against Mubarak are accompanied by hostility towards the U.S. and Israel for entrenching Mubarak's rule, and many will seek to associate with a group that is strong enough to fend off foreign influence in process of defining Egypt post-Mubarak.

Those who claim the Brotherhood is a moderate movement largely base their claims on the group's renunciation of violence under Mubarak's rule. This renunciation however was inseparable from the need for the Brotherhood to suppress certain elements under a secular, U.S.-friendly tyrant. The essence of the Brotherhood should be judged therefore not by their guise under Mubarak, but by the identity and actions of the group on an international scale. The Muslim Brotherhood is an international movement, and is considered the most importnat Islamist movement across the Arab world. It is widely known that Hamas, the group which currently controls the Gaza Strip,, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood. According to Article Two of the Hamas charter : "The Islamic Resistance (Hamas) Movement is one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine." Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings killing women and children in Israeli cafes, hotels and outdoor cafes.

Scene from the 2001 Sbarro Pizzaria bombing in Jerusalem, in which 15 Israelis were killed

There is little doubt among anyone that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt means a deterioration of relations with Israel, an annulment of the 1978 Camp David Accords, and most likely, war with Israel. Here is Rashad al-Bayoumi, an Egyptian Brotherhood leader on Egyptian TV: "After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel."

War against Israel is the prime example of the perfect alignment of Hamas and Brotherhood interests. According to George Friedman of STRATFOR, Hamas' deadlock in its struggle with Israel requires it to reach out to radical forces in neighboring countries, first of all Egypt, and create a regional environment more hostile to Israel. In 2007, after Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip, American political scientist and founder of STRATFor, a geopolitical forecasting company, George Friedman, wrote the following:
Hamas' long-term strategy -- indeed, the only hope of the Palestinians who not prepared to accept a compromise with Israel -- is for Egypt to change its tune toward Israel, which could very well involve energizing Islamist forces in Egypt and bringing about the fall of the Mubarak regime. That is the key to any solution for Hamas. (Friedman, 'The Geopolitics of the Palestinians', STRATFOR, June 19, 2007)

While it may be a stretch to say that Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are forces are behind current events in Egypt, it is highly probable that both groups will take advantage of the current chaos in order to establish an an ally for Hamas in its struggle against Israel and beyond. The Muslim Brotherhood are well-prepared for the post-Mubarak era, and Hamas are their first beneficary.

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