Muslim Brotherhood Jockeys for Power in Egypt

The Islamic supremacist group known as the Muslim Brotherhood, which is dedicated, according to a captured internal document, to eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within, has its best chance in years to take power in Egypt, with implications for the Middle East and beyond.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has terminal stomach cancer, and is not expected to survive beyond another year. Mubarak has anointed his son Gamal as his successor; however, the Brotherhood, from which sprang both Hamas and al Qaeda, could attempt to seize power upon the elder Mubarak’s death, and is maneuvering now to ensure that once Hosni Mubarak is gone from the scene, the Muslim Brothers will be more powerful than ever.

The Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, but often runs candidates in Egyptian elections as independents. In this way it won one-fifth of the seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Since the days of President Gamel Abdel Nasser (1956-1970), the Egyptian government has looked the other way as the group terrorized Coptic Christians and enforced Islamic strictures upon the Egyptian populace, but cracked down when the Brotherhood showed signs of growing powerful enough actually to seize the reins of the Egyptian government.

Shortly before he was assassinated, Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat released all the Brotherhood political prisoners who had been languishing in Egyptian prisons, and even promised the Brotherhood that Islamic law would be fully implemented in Egypt.

The Islamization of Egypt has been proceeding steadily for decades. The Brotherhood’s societal and cultural influence has long outstripped its direct political reach, and shows no sign of abating. Nonetheless, nearly 30 years after Sadat’s promise, the Brotherhood is still pressing for that full implementation of sharia law.

Gamal Mubarak said in July 2008, in a clear reference to the Brotherhood, that “confessional political parties” were “multiplying anti-Western references” and thereby “building barriers between the different cultures” and “destroying the bridges between the Eastern and Western worlds that the past generations had so much trouble building.”

But will he be able to out-maneuver the Brotherhood? The Brotherhood recently came out for the presidential candidacy of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Brotherhood leaders may be banking on being able to exploit the popular discontent with the Mubarak regime that is unwilling to take up the cause of the Brotherhood itself, and to holding real power in a weak ElBaradei presidency. ElBaradei is widely regarded as ineffectual.

But the Brotherhood is not necessarily hoping for an ElBaradei presidency at all. Hossam Tamam, a political analyst and former editor at the Islamic supremacist website IslamOnline, has suggested that the Brotherhood is using its support for ElBaradei to win concessions from the Mubarak regime: “The Muslim Brotherhood wants to use ElBaradei as a card in its negotiations with the regime ahead of the upcoming elections. By supporting ElBaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood can put pressure on the regime and force it to reach a compromise with them, eventually granting them a certain quota of parliamentary seats.”

If the Brotherhood succeeds in imposing a sharia regime in Egypt via a figurehead or weak ElBaradei presidency, the Camp David Accords, already much transgressed and ignored by Egyptian authorities, could be swept aside altogether. Egypt could follow Turkey’s path of a new belligerence toward Israel as it jockeys for power with the Saudis and the Turks among the major players of the Sunni Muslim world. If, on the other hand, it wins enough concessions from Gamal Mubarak and his ailing father to push forward its agenda with new energy, confidence, and power, an Egyptian sharia state inveterately hostile to the United States and Israel is not necessarily forestalled, but merely postponed.

Hosni Mubarak is the third Egyptian strongman in a row to keep a lid on the Brotherhood’s power. Whether his son will be able to do so as well remains to be seen—but if he doesn’t, the consequences of an Egyptian political scene dominated by the Brotherhood will almost certainly extend far beyond the borders of Egypt itself.