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Political Islam Gaining Ground

Μιχαήλ Α. μακρύς

characteristics of the democratic order. Their newly-discovered acceptance of elections andparliamentary processes results not least from a gradual democratisation of the formerlyauthoritarian regimes these groups had fought by terrorist means even in their home countries.The prime example of this development is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which started out as acharitable social movement and has now become the most powerful political opposition force inEgypt.Founded in the 1920s, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest Islamic organisation of the Arabworld today. Following the ideas of its founder Al-Banna, it intended to return to a state of ‘trueIslam’, i.e. to return to the way of life of the early Islamic congregation at the time of theProphet, and to establish a community of social justice. This vision was increasingly viewed as acounterweight to the Western social model that was marked by secularisation, moral decay, andgreed. During World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood even founded a secret military arm, whoseactivities, however, were uncovered, leading to the execution of Mr Al-Banna by Egypt’s secretpolice

Political Islam in Egypt

Emad El-Din Σαχίν
The landscape of political Islam in Egypt has changed dramatically over the past decade and a half. Since the mid-1990s, the country’s mainstream Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB, or Muslim Brothers), has undergone a significant transformation; an Islamist centrist party, Hizb al-Wasat, has emerged and for the past ten years has been struggling to acquire official recognition; and the country’s radical movements, especially the Jama`a
Islamiya, have reassessed some of their tactics.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest grass-roots Islamist movement of the twentieth century (established in 1928) and perceives itself as “the mother of all centrist Islamist movements”. It is an activist movement with a comprehensive reform message, combining multi-dimensional spheres that give the movement reasonable space for manoeuvre, even when it is severely constrained by the Egyptian regime. The movement is a synthesised version of earlier reform movements (such as Salafi reformism and Islamic modernism) and can claim to be the heir of
‘reformist Islam’.1 It has adopted a gradualist bottom-up approach to change that seeks to resocialise society along Islamic lines: the individual, family, society, and then the state. The Brotherhood is also one of the most institutionalised movements in Egypt. Its structure has survived the lifetime of its founder, Hassan Al-Banna (1906-1949), despite suffering repeated phases of brutal regime repression. All this has generated a particular political orientation that is characterised by caution, gradualism, slow adaptation, and fear of experimentation and failure.
In the movement’s view, failure will not simply reflect on the leadership of the group at a particular moment, but on the entire movement. It could even affect the fortunes of political Islam as an alternative to post-independence foreign-inspired secular models. Therefore, bpreserving the survival and structural coherence of the movement has always been a top priority.
It is an objective that for long has dominated the Brotherhood’s political calculations and levels b of interaction in the political process, and enabled the movement to exhibit a pragmatic attitude whenever the circumstances warrant it.
In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood has revised its political strategies and policy orientations. To many observers, it seems as if it has made a clear and deliberate departure from its traditionally cautious approach. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Muslim Brothers rejected the idea of getting directly involved in the political process, participating in the parliament, or taking part in the syndicates. Their attention was mainly focused on rebuilding
the organisation’s structures and avoiding confrontations with the regime that might have provoked repression of the movement. By the mid-1980s, they gradually began to participate in parliamentary elections in alliance with other political parties like the Wafd Party in 1984 and the Labour Party in 1987. They also contested elections in syndicates and succeeded in gaining control over many of the latter during the 1990s. After 2000, the Muslim Brothers adopted an increasingly assertive strategy in their relationship with the regime and a pragmatic reform The landscape of political Islam in Egypt has changed dramatically over the past decade and ahalf. Since the mid-1990s, the country’s mainstream Islamic movement, the MuslimBrotherhood (MB, or Muslim Brothers), has undergone a significant transformation; an Islamistcentrist party, Hizb al-Wasat, has emerged and for the past ten years has been struggling toacquire official recognition; and the country’s radical movements, especially the Jama`aIslamiya, have reassessed some of their tactics.The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest grass-roots Islamist movement of the twentieth century(established in 1928) and perceives itself as “the mother of all centrist Islamist movements”. Itis an activist movement with a comprehensive reform message, combining multi-dimensionalspheres that give the movement reasonable space for manoeuvre, even when it is severelyconstrained by the Egyptian regime. The movement is a synthesised version of earlier reformmovements (such as Salafi reformism and Islamic modernism) and can claim to be the heir of‘reformist Islam’.1 It has adopted a gradualist bottom-up approach to change that seeks to resocialisesociety along Islamic lines: the individual, family, society, and then the state. TheBrotherhood is also one of the most institutionalised movements in Egypt. Its structure hassurvived the lifetime of its founder, Hassan Al-Banna (1906-1949), despite suffering repeatedphases of brutal regime repression. All this has generated a particular political orientation that ischaracterised by caution, gradualism, slow adaptation, and fear of experimentation and failure.In the movement’s view, failure will not simply reflect on the leadership of the group at aparticular moment, but on the entire movement. It could even affect the fortunes of politicalIslam as an alternative to post-independence foreign-inspired secular models. Therefore,preserving the survival and structural coherence of the movement has always been a top priority.It is an objective that for long has dominated the Brotherhood’s political calculations and levelsof interaction in the political process, and enabled the movement to exhibit a pragmatic attitudewhenever the circumstances warrant it.In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood has revised its political strategies and policyorientations. To many observers, it seems as if it has made a clear and deliberate departure fromits traditionally cautious approach. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Muslim Brothersrejected the idea of getting directly involved in the political process, participating in theparliament, or taking part in the syndicates. Their attention was mainly focused on rebuildingthe organisation’s structures and avoiding confrontations with the regime that might haveprovoked repression of the movement. By the mid-1980s, they gradually began to participate inparliamentary elections in alliance with other political parties like the Wafd Party in 1984 andthe Labour Party in 1987. They also contested elections in syndicates and succeeded in gainingcontrol over many of the latter during the 1990s. After 2000, the Muslim Brothers adopted anincreasingly assertive strategy in their relationship with the regime and a pragmatic reform agenda .