Will the Muslim Brotherhood Rule Egypt?

When asked about the causes of the uprising, only four percent said it happened because the government was not Islamic enough and seven percent said it’s because Mubarak was too close to the U.S. and Israel. In terms of foreign policy, 19 percent want Egypt to be a full-fledged member of a pro-American bloc; 18 percent want to revoke the peace treaty with Israel and confront the Jewish state; 16 percent want distance from the U.S. and an independent course; and 15 percent want an alliance with Iran and Syria against “imperialism” and “colonialism.”

The polls show that a significant amount of Egyptians do not like specific terrorist groups. In the Washington Institute for Near East Policy poll, only 17% of those in Cairo and Alexandria approve or somewhat approve of the Hamas regime in Gaza. This contradicts a nationwide poll showing Hamas with a 49% approval rating with 48% opposing it. It is frightening that al-Qaeda is supported by one-fifth, but 72% oppose the terrorist organization. As for Hezbollah, 30% approve of the group and 66% do not. A huge majority of 80 percent feel suicide bombings are never or rarely justified and 70 percent say they are concerned about Islamic extremism in the world. A little bit over 60 percent are worried about Islamic extremism in their own country.

So what do we make of this statistical hodgepodge?

The Egyptian people want major elements of Sharia law introduced but they want to elect who carries it out. They do not want a theocracy where they have no say. Egypt’s foreign policy will go in a direction more hostile to the West but a nationalist streak means they want independence, though there are strong pro-Western and pro-Islamist blocs. There is a huge desire for modernization, but they do not want to compromise their Islamic identity. And the polls indicate that the strongest rival to the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed ElBaradei would be a coalition led by Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa that includes secular nationalists.

These stats also reveal a possible strategy by the Brotherhood’s domestic opponents and the West. The key is to dispel the notion that the Brotherhood is a democratic group as nearly 70 percent believe, particularly by pointing to its own doctrine and tying it to Hamas and Iran. Its commitment to elections and political freedoms must be brought into question. ElBaradei’s affection for Iran and allegations that his campaign received Iranian financing must also become a part of this narrative.

Their opponents need to also make the case that the Brotherhood’s primary concern is Sharia and that the group is not qualified to manage the economy. It must be stated that a radical agenda will inhibit foreign investment, tourism, and economic improvements. A Western threat to cut off all aid if the peace treaty with Israel is abrogated can underscore these points. These lines of attack would play upon the Egyptians’ nationalism, fear of Islamic extremism, longing for democracy, and desire for modernization.

It is also critical that broad freedoms are immediately granted to allow the Brotherhood’s domestic rivals to play catch up to its decades-long head start in organizing, offer alternative ideas, and, most importantly, put it on the defensive. The West can provide aid in preparing for a democratic transition and elections as it does in other countries and focus these efforts on making the entire country as competitive as possible for the contesting parties.

It is foolish to think Egypt will become the Arab equivalent of Israel towards the West, but it doesn’t have to become the next Gaza Strip or Lebanon either.