Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Re-Emergence Of The Brotherhood

With the Arab uprisings toppling their nemeses, Islamists are using every opportunity to build public support
By Osama Al Sharif
The Muslim Brotherhood has never had it so good; thanks to the Arab Spring which has toppled their nemeses in Egypt and Tunisia. Last Friday's mass demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria, which were exclusively attended by the movement's supporters, were a bold show of strength and influence. They also marked an important turning point in the course of the January 25 uprising, which was triggered by largely secularist youth.
Friday's gathering did not go the way secularist and nationalist parties, groups and movements had intended. The April 6 Youth movement and leftist parties accused the Brotherhood of breaking an agreement not to raise religious banners.
By midday, these groups decided to withdraw from Tahrir Square in protest, leaving the Islamists, including Salafists, to enjoy unprecedented media coverage. They delivered religious sermons, fiery speeches and raised banners calling for the implementation of Sharia and underlining Egypt's Islamic character.
It was a harbinger of things to come in a country that holds much influence in the Arab world. The Islamists have arrived and are here to stay. This was their time; their opportunity to deliver on their dream and goals. And it was a message to the rest of the region: The Islamist movement will make itself heard in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and others where the winds of change are now blowing.
The secular flank of the Egyptian opposition had expressed fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will hijack what began as a non-religious and peaceful uprising against the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak and his clique. Now their worst nightmare is becoming a reality.
The Brotherhood says that it is committed to a democratic Egypt and that people will decide their future through the ballot box. They say people will have a choice between the newly established Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm.
Still, the Brotherhood shares common demands with the rest of the opposition, which wants a speedy trial for Mubarak, his sons and dozens of influential figures under him. They want justice for the families of over 800 people who fell during the January 25 revolution. And they want assurances that the ruling Supreme Military Council will allow a peaceful and orderly transition to civilian rule.
The military, on the other hand, has other ideas, especially when it comes to handing over power. It wants to steer the country towards a situation where civilian rule will not undermine its special status in the Egyptian political system, a status it has managed to preserve since the 1952 coup which made the junta the ultimate power in the country.
Egypt's military and intelligence structures remain intact to date, even as criticisms of the ruling military council are on the rise by the secularists. This has led to speculation that the Brotherhood and the army may have reached a tacit agreement to share power.
The Islamists are also busy making gains in other countries. In Tunisia, Al Nahda Party is proving that it will be the power to reckon with in October's elections.
But there are no signs that it has worked out a deal with the interim government. In fact its leader, Rashid Gannouchi, is complaining that counter-revolutionary forces of the old regime are working to defraud the next elections. Such warnings work well for the Islamists, endearing them to the public. But their true power o will only be known after the elections.
A similar show of strength is taking place in Jordan, where the Brotherhood, a long-time ally of the monarchy, has taken the lead in opposition, especially in recent years. The movement has demonstrated that it can still muster the public and like in Egypt is quickly parting ways with the secular and nationalist opposition parties and groups.
The Brotherhood has denied press reports that key representatives of the movement from Jordan and Egypt had met with CIA figures in Turkey in April to discuss issues ranging from local politics to future relations with Israel. But still there are signs that a certain wing in the US State Department is ready to initiate dialogue with moderate figures in the movement.
Still the Brotherhood is not a full united organisation. Doves and hawks within the movement are locked in a power struggle. In Egypt, a group broke off from the Brotherhood, establishing the Pioneer Party, and announcing that it will contest the presidential elections. The same could take place in Jordan.
 Nevertheless, the Brotherhood is getting ready to play a pivotal role in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and even in Yemen. Ironically, the threat of Islamists taking over was the excuse used by Mubarak and Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali for many years to justify their hold to power.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 02/08/2011
-Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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