The west must be wary of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
The Brotherhood's aim is to take over the Egyptian state through the democratic process and then bring an end to democracy
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is playing a canny political game and its objective let no one doubt this is to take power.
Opinion polls over the past decade have awarded the Brotherhood the support of between 30% and 60% of the populace, and it is the best organised and most powerful political party in the country. But while many of its supporters are taking part in the street demonstrations sweeping Egypt's cities, the organisation has kept a deliberately low profile. The Brotherhood has not published its calculations, but one may assume they include a desire to avoid the mass arrest by the security services of its leadership cadres and a clash with the army, whose general staff like Iran's in 1978-79 fear and detest the Islamists.
The Brotherhood also presumably wants to avoid deterring the secular middle class from participating in the popular upsurge, a participation that gives the popular revolt cachet abroad as well as at home (and in the greater Arab world). A display of Islamist leadership at the head of the crowds would alienate much of that middle class. So the Brotherhood has kept virtually out of sight.
But it has endorsed Mohamed ElBaradei as its choice to head a transitional regime. He is not exactly a household name in Egypt he has lived abroad for the past three decades. As the head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), a position he left in November 2009, he was frequently critical of the United States and Israel and was seen by some as an appeaser of Iran. No doubt his behaviour appealed to Egypt's Islamists. But ElBaradei is western-educated and appears to be a secularist, and he is likely to be shunted aside by the religious fanatics once they feel confident enough to emerge from the shadows. ElBaradei will then have filled the role of the Mensheviks, who paved the way for the eventual Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917.
For now, the Brotherhood will be satisfied with toppling the hated Mubarak regime, which, following the Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1970) and Anwar Sadat (1970-1981) regimes, has serially imprisoned and tortured the Brotherhood's cadres for decades. Above all, the organisation no doubt wants the prospective interim regime to organise and oversee free and fair general elections, say in six months' time.
But once the campaigning for these elections gets under way, we will see the country awash with Muslim Brotherhood activists and placards, broadcasts and sermons; perhaps even a measure of intimidation and violence. The Brotherhood's aim is to take over the state through the democratic process, and is likely, as one of its first acts, to annul Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
It is possible that the movement will follow the model of Turkey's Islamists and try to follow democratic norms and adopt a stance of neutrality between Iran and the west. But it is more likely, given Egypt's position and history, and its own history, that the Brotherhood will follow the model of Iran and the Gaza Hamas. Both have employed extreme violence to crush their potential and real rivals to maintain power.
The Brotherhood is anything if not patient. It has looked to take over, and "purify", Egypt since the movement's foundation by Hassan al-Banna in 1928. Given the power of its enemies and the state's institutions, the movement's leadership has traditionally advocated a non-violent route to power (it was usually the movement's more impatient breakaways, like the Jama'a al Islamiyya, who murdered Sadat in 1981, who went in for blatant violence). But observers in the west should not delude themselves. This is not a movement for which democracy has any appeal, worth or value. Its leaders see democratic processes merely as means to an end, an end that includes an end to democracy.