June 15th, 2012
03:19 PM ET

The Muslim Brotherhood needs a new strategy

Editor's note: Nader Hashemi is director of the Center for Middle East Studies and an assistant professor of Middle East and Islamic politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. He is the author of "Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies." The views expressed in this article are solely those of Nader Hashemi.

By Nader Hashemi, Special to CNN

Egypt suffered a political earthquake Thursday when the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court effectively dissolved the democratically elected parliament and ruled that Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister can remain a presidential candidate.

These events have been widely interpreted as a “judicial coup,” the start of a “counter-revolution” and “the end of Egypt’s Arab Spring.”

While the situation is still in flux and the future is unknown, there is one claim can be made with certainty: this is a naked power grab by the country’s ruling military.

The situation confirms Ellis Goldberg’s prescient observation last year, when the political scientist  said what we are witnessing in Egypt is “Mubarakism without Mubarak.” In other words, the “deep military state” remains in firm control despite its feigned commitment to civilian rule; the only real difference is that Mubarak and his family are no longer in power.

The timing of these events is noteworthy. On the eve of a national election that would likely give the Muslim Brotherhood control of both the presidency and the parliament, remnants of the old order, fearing an irreversible loss of power, have made a bold calculation that the time to halt Egypt’s democratic transition is now. Martial law has been announced, and Mubarak’s generals have now assumed full legislative authority. A new constitutional assembly will be hand-picked by General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and his colleagues.

The ball is now in the court of the opposition, principally the Muslim Brotherhood. How will they respond to this dramatic turn of events?  The answer to this question will determine the political trajectory of Egypt for the foreseeable future.

The initial reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood has been one of cautious acceptance. Presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi told Egyptian TV that "I respect the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court in that I respect the institutions of the state and the principle of separation of powers.” In a later speech at a campaign rally, however, he sounded more defiant: “A minority is trying to corrupt the nation and take us back. We will go to the ballot box to say no to those failures, [to] those criminals.”

In a nutshell, this seems to be the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood: to encourage people to vote in large numbers and to peacefully work within the framework of the military-controlled legal system to advance political change.

The likelihood of success for this approach is minimal. All struggles for democracy boil down to a struggle for power. Political battles have to be waged and won based on a careful plan that maximizes resources and capabilities. Timing is important, and opportunities can be lost that will not emerge again.

Q&A: What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

In the context of Egypt, the power is now with an older order that has considerable financial resources and the instruments of state repression on its side. There is also a vast network of millions of people in various ministries employed by the Mubarak regime for security and intelligence work.

On the other side is the opposition, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood but also new organized groups of liberal Islamists, secular nationalists, socialists and liberals. Their power lies mainly in their ideas, their vision for a post-Mubarak democratic society, and, critically, in the power of the street.  The moral force of global public opinion augments this power, aided by the Internet, social media and satellite technology.

Alone, the Muslim Brotherhood and its cautious strategy of winning electoral contests cannot win the battle against the military. There is too much at stake in terms of preserving political power, economic investments and the careers and livelihoods of millions of people who are deeply invested in preventing a structural transformation of power. A new strategy is needed.

Learning from the playbook of Tunisia’s mainstream Islamist Ennahda party would be instructive. A broad coalition of opposition groups — religious, secular and those in-between — came together to guide Tunisia to a democratic transition. They stood firm against remnants of the old order who similarly tried to block or slow down the pace of political change.

This strategy — of coalition building, developing a set of common principles for the transition period and abiding by them — has proved successful not only for Tunisia, but also in many other transitions from authoritarian rule.

If the Muslim Brotherhood wants to effectively respond to recent events in Egypt, its leaders have to adopt a new political strategy that breaks from the insularity and ideological rigidity of its past and embraces the more inclusive approach of coalition building with other opposition groups. The future of Egypt hangs in the balance.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Nader Hashemi.

Topics: Egypt • Politics

soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. ALLAMERICAN

    Mubarak may be out but everything he stands for is well and alive, the military officers appointed by him and the justice systems and judges who dismissed the parliament were also appointed by him. So Is this a good news or bad news.. who knows... only the Egyptians knows the best. Mubarak is still in power.. This whole election and speculations & propaganda is diversion from the real issue that is hurting the normal people on the streets..

    June 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      US has new puppets in Egypt and it did not help Mubarak because he was ill. This revolution succeeded only because it was not possible for US to help ill Mubarak. US support in Bahrain can be seen for proof.

      June 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  2. Anna

    What's all the flurry – was just about a year ago we were being told by he adminstration and the media that the muslim brotherhood would have no pull in the Egyptian elections, another BIG oops by the state run media in the US and Obie.

    June 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
    • Anna

      *the administration*

      June 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  3. Alice

    A well-written and extremely insightful article. While this is indeed a dark spot in Egypt's current trajectory, we can only hope that the Egyptian people will display the same courage and tenacity that brought about the fall of Mubarak. Struggles for human rights and democratic transition are the struggles of decades, if not centuries. And the victories won come at the cost of great sacrifice–just as we are seeing in Syria today. The Egyptian people deserve to make their own choices and vote in the representatives they believe will be the best guarantors of their rights and freedoms in the future. They have the right to practice their various faiths peacefully and to build the culture of tolerance so prominently on display in Tahrir Square during the revolution. The subversion of the judiciary by the military is a setback but ultimately, when people want to be free to determine the fate of their nations and themselves, history is on their side. As for the grossly ignorant and bigoted individuals who spewed their venom here, I wish they had the compassion, imagination and basic human decency to put themselves in the shoes of the people of Egypt who fought so bravely and deserve so much more. When you insist on demonizing the Other based on the narrowest possible view of the world, you diminish us all.

    June 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  4. sandcanyongal

    Religions should be banned. There is not a Jesus, no Allah and no other idols. Religious teaching are just that...stories to teach children right from wrong. Nothing more, nothing less.

    June 17, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Agreed, Syadan Moses, Easu, (Jesus) or Mohammad Pbt, never mentioned word religion, word religion does not exist in Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic languages, Word spoken by all three of them is Theen Allah, Ellah and Ellohim, meaning not religion but const-ituti-on of truth absolute, Word Allah means nothing else but AL, The, La. limit, H, most high or absolute 360*. Not of Arabic but of Latin, truth language. Arabic is not a noun but an adjective, miss understood by every one. Corruption of true teachings and subordination text of true teachings is called religions. Handy work of hindu Jew's, criminal secular s of hindu pagan Egypt and Persia, pretending to be Israelite.

      June 17, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Many Christians think religion is nothing because Bible is full of myths. Read Quran you will find truth everywhere.

      June 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  5. Tahir

    It is Americanism. US ruling Egypt even after Mubarik.

    June 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  6. 0hmama

    Us and the filthy Zoinist ,so called,nation are the cause of all trouble in the world.

    June 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  7. 0hmama

    Hitler,God bless his soul,left some trash behind. Someone will clean that garbage one day, Then peace on earth

    June 19, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Reply
    • jared

      you my friend are disgusting, we can only hope you go the same way as hitler and disappear from the face of this earth you racist bigot

      June 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
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