Although it is believed that the Brotherhood has supported the protests in Cairo all along, the Islamist organization has not taken an official stand until now.
This announcement further complicates matters for the Obama administration, which has struggled to signal support for pro-democracy protesters without alienating Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a strong U.S. ally.
The Muslim Brotherhood is technically banned in Egypt, but its members managed to win Parliament seats in 2005 after running as independents. In 2006, The Washington Post described the Brotherhood's efforts for mainstream reform -- promoting unions, freedom of speech and freedom for political prisoners -- as a potential "model for Islam's political adaptation."
Yet the Muslim Brotherhood, which claims to reject violent tactics, is reputed to have ties to terrorist organizations, and its members have been involved in bombings and political assassinations. Its goal is not just reform, but the creation of an Islamic state.
Accordingly, there's a range of opinions about the Brotherhood's impact on Egypt's political upheaval.
Shadi Hamid at The Atlantic sums up the conundrum the United States faces:
The U.S. can opt for relative silence, as it did in Tunisia. In Egypt, however, deep support of the Mubarak regime means that silence will be interpreted as complicity. On the other hand, if the U.S. offers moral support to embattled protestors, it will be actively undermining a government it considers critical to its security interests. Tunisia, as far as U.S. interests are concerned, was expendable. The revolt was spontaneous and leaderless. Islamists -- mostly in prison or in London -- were nowhere to be seen on the streets of Tunis or Sidi Bouzid. But if Egypt is lost, it will be lost to an uprising that includes some of the most anti-American opposition groups in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood -- by far the largest opposition force in the country.Daniel Larison at The American Conservative takes a similar position, noting that Islamists and secular protesters will march side by side in Cairo, whether the U.S. likes it or not:
Officially, the Brotherhood has stayed out of the protests as an organization, but its members have been participants all along. By the end of the week, it looks as if the Brotherhood will have officially joined the protests as well. The protesters cannot be neatly separated into the "good" secular democrats here and the unacceptable Islamists over there. For that matter, there is as yet no evidence that any of the protesters object to the Brotherhood's participation.For that very reason, the National Review editors back away from a full-fledged endorsement of Egypt's reform movement:
The Muslim Brotherhood has, so far, been sitting out the demonstrations as an entity. But if the protesters were to succeed in toppling Mubarak -- sending him packing to Saudi Arabia, as some of their signs suggest -- it could open the way for an even less appealing regime. ...But Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch argues that Western discomfort with Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood should not interfere with support for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia:
One reason that we have to regard the prospect of an Egyptian upheaval with trepidation is that Mubarak has systematically neutered his organized democratic opposition, leaving the Islamists as the most obvious alternative to him -- the better to spook us whenever we push him to liberalize.
[W]e must not allow fears of Islamists to short-circuit support for such transitions. Already, scare-mongering over the potential for Islamist takeovers has become a major, even dominant theme of Western and Arab official discussions of Tunisia -- and that, in a country where the primary Islamist party al-Nahda was long ago crushed and its leaders exiled. I've long expected that if Egypt got the democratic change which so many in Washington talk about, there would be a rapid and intense backlash as the still powerful Muslim Brotherhood necessarily played a major role and as popular opposition to the Mubarak government's foreign policy jeopardized American and Israeli interests. I'm hoping to be proven wrong.Finally, the New York Times reports that this week's grassroots uprising in Tunisia and Egypt has helped shift the balance of power from the region's entrenched political interests to young people in the streets. That means the Muslim Brotherhood simply may not wield the clout it once did:
Even the Muslim Brotherhood may have grown too protective of its own institutions and position to capitalize on the new youth movement, say some analysts and former members. The Brotherhood remains the organization in Egypt with the largest base of support outside the government, but it can no longer claim to be the only entity that can turn masses of people out into the streets.
"The Brotherhood is no longer the most effective player in the political arena," said Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar now at the University of Notre Dame. "If you look at the Tunisian uprising, it's a youth uprising. It is the youth that knows how to use the media, Internet, Facebook, so there are other players now."
More Coverage of the Egypt Protests on Surge Desk:
Mohamed ElBaradei Heads Home to Egypt: His Greatest Moments on the World Stage
Cairo, Egypt, Protests Erupt [VIDEOS]
Egypt Protest Footage of Water Cannon Evokes Tiananmen Square Images [VIDEOS]
Will Egypt Facebook Flashmob Protests Yield Tunisian Results?
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