Academics are finally learning why, at the present moment, the Muslim Brotherhood is in a good position to win a major political victory once the Mubarak regime collapses. In the latest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daniel Byman, a professor in the Security Studies program at Georgetown University, writes: “In the short term at least, and perhaps for much longer, Egypt’s politics are tilted against the more liberal and democratic elements of Egyptian society and in favor of the country’s Islamists.”
The fruit of Mubarak’s government locking up genuine liberal opponents of the regime — so it could posit an either/or alternative of the MB or Mubarak — has resulted in leaving the Brotherhood as the only viable and organized political entity in Egypt. Moreover, he points out, capitalism “became associated with cronyism, not a true free market.” The result is that in 2005, the MB won two-fifths of the seats in parliament, a figure that Byman thinks would have been much higher had a truly free election taken place.
Byman calls for groups like The National Endowment for Democracy and The Republican Institute to now play a more important role in funding civil society opposition groups that could hopefully gain strength and organizational skills during a transition period. This, of course, sounds a great deal like Bush democracy building that Democrats scorned. But in the short run, that won’t help much. “If elections were held tomorrow,” Byman says, “only the Brotherhood would have a strong political organization.”
He puts great hope in the knowledge that at the State Department, Tamara Cofman Wittes is in charge of democratization projects, and she knows that such programs can advance freedom’s cause. He writes: “If she can put her ideas into practice, democratic forces in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East should get a boost.”
Don’t count on it. As The Washington Post reports, the MB is “in sight of their long held dream” of a recognized and open role in Egypt’s politics. Their “professed ultimate role,” the paper’s article points out, “is to turn Egypt into an Islamic state.”
With the Obama administration evidently having decided to work with the MB, the chances for a liberal opposition gaining strength diminish every day. A new policy here, evidently, will depend upon a regime change in Washington.