The US is facing a dilemma on how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On one hand, accepting them means accepting an Islamist system that will certainly have an anti-American and anti-Israeli agenda, and on the other hand rejecting and delegitimizing this group can turn some of its members to the use of violence. The group has very strong anti-American and Anti-Israeli views, and hence defeating them requires wisdom similar to playing chess rather than direct confrontations especially in the current volatile situation. This approach is possible because we know that the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, unlike other Jihadi groups, can sit at a table to negotiate. In chess, one may win the game by executing a proper "gambit," or a well-calculated sacrifice. Direct confrontations with the Muslim Brotherhood may be much less effective than well planned "gambits."
The current reality in Egypt is that despite being officially banned, the Muslim Brotherhood exists. For nearly 30 years, the Mubarak regime has been unable to suppress the spread of the ideology of this group. For example, the Brotherhood managed during the ruling of President Mubarak to increase the Islamic-based hatred of Israel and both anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism have reached very high levels in the country. In addition, they managed to Islamize a significant portion of the society. Currently, most Muslim women are wearing the hijab, Islamic jargon is used in mainstream media, and the support of Sharia is prevalent among the population. During the time of President Sadat, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism was declining and during Nasser's time, signs of Islamisation of the society were virtually non-existent. This indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood achieved its best success during the time of Mubarak.
The reliance of Israel and the US on one person in power in Egypt without pressuring him to change the educational systems and the government-controlled media to actively fight anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism was a short-sighted approach that was doomed to fail. It was much better that the US -- instead of pressuring Mubarak on democracy -- should have used its relation with the President to make changes in education and to implement effective strategies to weaken Islamism. This would have guaranteed a much better long-term relationship between Egypt and the US and Israel.
Mubarak's approach that allowed anti-Semitism to flourish in the country while pretending to be a friend to Israel was schizophrenic and indicates that he was not a true ally to these countries. His refusal to visit Israel even for once during his 30 years of presidency is another indication of the lack of sincerity in his relationship with Israel - despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from the US. A man who truly believes in peace would not have allowed anti-Semitism to flourish to such pathological levels in his country. For example, President Sadat who believed in peace took many active steps to change Egyptian society and used religion effectively to fight rather than promote anti-Semitism. Sadat's approach was to a great extent successful in decreasing anti-Semitism in the country - despite him being assassinated by extremists who deemed him an "apostate."
While the Muslim Brotherhood flourished over the last few decades in Egypt, they lost a significant amount of their popularity in the last few years due to several reasons. These include:
- The emergence of open criticism of Islam and the exposure of radical teachings that contradict human conscience. The Internet and modern media allowed a level of debates and discussions that weakened the appeal of political Islam to many people. This was evident by the refusal of the protestors in Egypt to use the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The failure of sharia-inspired Islamic groups in Somalia, Taliban, and Gaza (Hamas) to provide a better life for their people contradicted the basic slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood that "Islam is the Solution". Furthermore, the failure of the Islamic solution proved to many that the wealth in Saudi Arabia was not necessarily because they implement Sharia.
- The refusal of the Muslim Brotherhood to join the demonstrations at the beginning (they only joined them when they started to succeed!). This made the group to be perceived by many as a group of political opportunists. The Muslim Brotherhood had no other option to use their flag in the protests but to arrange a few separate insignificant parallel demonstrations. It is important to note that, the prayers that were held during the protests represented a common ritual level of Islam in the country rather than an ideological movement belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the current volatile and exploding situation in Egypt dealing with the Brotherhood has become a very sensitive and demanding issue. The following are a few -- but essential -- recommendations on how to handle the current situation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in a way to avoid complete collapse of the country.
- Try to 'contain' or 'accommodate' the group to some extent as direct confrontations with them in this situation can turn some of its members to become violent or support other more violent Islamic groups to do terrorist acts in the country. Stability at this stage is vital to defeat this group in the long run.
- Allow some of the members of this group to have limited roles in the next government in areas that do not allow them to control the strategic policies of the country, education, or the sensitive security and military apparatus. One could assign more technical ministries to them to test their competence - such as the ministries related to environmental affairs, or water and irrigation or housing and utilities. This offer to the Muslim Brotherhood MUST be conditioned by their approval of the former international treaties of Egypt including the peace with Israel.
- Fight the group ideologically - as putting their members in prisons without fighting their ideology has been ineffective and failed to stop the proliferation of their ideology.
- Use religion to fight the Muslim Brotherhood and embarrass them. For example the secular government can declare that they must respect the peace treaty with Israel and ask the group to agree with this as the Quran stated clearly that:
Quran 17:34 Fulfill (every) promise and treaty
Quran 5:1 O ye who believe! Fulfill (all) obligations.
Quran 13:20 Those who fulfill their oath and never break their treaties (the context is praising them)
- Provide humanitarian aids from non-Islamic organizations to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood in using this humanitarian tactic to win the hearts and minds of people.
This "gambit" to accept a limited and controllable role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the next stage of Egypt's political future, while using effective approaches to win them at the ideological level, will be vital to avoid further instability in the country that can breed uncontrollable radicalism.
Note: This does not in any way mean that I do not see the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood. I am only trying to put pragmatic approaches that deal with the reality as banning the group simply did not stop them from promoting their ideology.