A Brotherhood For Or Against Democracy?


Steve Coll contemplates the role of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood:

[T]he Brotherhood is at once a revolutionary, antidemocratic movement and an adaptable force that can be co-opted at times into peaceful democratic politics. In that respect, it resembles international Communism during the Cold War: that ideological movement produced both Italy’s elected, technocratic Communist mayors and the Soviet Union’s Stalinist gulags.

Never before, however, has the Egyptian Brotherhood faced such stark choices about accommodating democratic opponents. In part, that is because the Brotherhood has never been so close to holding national power. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party has shown that an Islamist opposition movement can adapt to governing in a pluralistic system (even if the party’s authoritarian tendencies taint the government’s performance, as has happened in Turkey). But many Brotherhood branches have failed to make the transition from fevered opposition to power sharing and governing when given the opportunity. The direction that Mohamed Morsi steers in during the weeks ahead may define the limits—or the potential—of Islamist politics in the Arab world for many years to come.

(Photo: An Egyptian man residing in Oman votes 'No' in a referendum on a new draft constitution at the Egyptian embassy in the Gulf sultanate's capital Muscat on December 13, 2012. A divided Egypt is being called to vote in a referendum on a new constitution that the secular opposition fears will be used by President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to usher in Islamist interpretation of laws.By Mohammed Mahjoub/AFP/Getty Images)