Perhaps the most significant world event since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been broadcast around the world: the Egyptian people have overthrown now ex-President Hosni Mubarak through 18 days of peaceful protests. Much of mainstream western media has been in a frenzy over what will come next in Egypt and how the Muslim-majority country will “fair” in “dealing with democracy.” Countless journalists, news articles, and pundits have painted a frightening picture of the Muslim Brotherhood as a violent, Islamic extremist organization on the brink of an Iranian Revolution style takeover of Egypt, imposing Shariah law, and going to war with Israel. In contrast, Howard Schweber, Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin termed these characterizations “hysterical fear mongering” and called the possibility of Egypt going to war with Israel “wildly implausible.”
I did my own research on who the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is and what they want. Here’s what I found. . .
1) The Muslim Brotherhood is not an Islamic extremist organization.
2) The Muslim Brotherhood is non-violent and has been so for over 30 years.
4) The Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly said that it will not pursue an Islamic State ruled by Shariah.
5) The Muslim Brotherhood wants multiple parties to participate in elections and calls for legal pluralism.
6) The Muslim Brotherhood is not running a candidate for the upcoming Egyptian Presidential elections.
It’s important to be clear. There are other organizations called the Muslim Brotherhood in other countries, but they are not the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, it’s important to note that there are a few extremist organizations in Egypt that have carried out recent terrorist attacks, but they are also unrelated to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Former CIA officer and current senior fellow at Brookings Bruce Reidel recently wrote that the Muslim Brotherhood’s “relative moderation has made it the target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists [Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri.]”
While the Muslim Brotherhood is clearly not a violent organization, they also are not a liberal one either. The Brotherhood prides itself on its adherence to conservative social mores (by western standards). Jeremy Menchik, an expert on political Islam at the University of Wisconsin, recently compared the Muslim Brotherhood to the Christian right wing in the United States, interested in pushing an agenda of socially conservative values within a democratic political framework.
The New York Times’ Anthony Shadid recently wrote, “While it [the Muslim Brotherhood] remains deeply conservative, it engages less in sometimes frivolous debates over the veil or education and more in demands articulated by the broader society: corruption, joblessness, political freedom and human rights abuses.”
So it is clear that the segments of the western media that are portraying the Muslim Brotherhood as some sort of threat are not doing very good research or reporting. The question remains whether they are intentionally fearmongering or if they are simply ignorant to the facts on the ground.
The Muslim Brotherhood just posted this on the front page of their website:
“. . . Demonstrations marked by non-violent behavior that constituted a national uprising in Egypt, to remove oppression and tyranny, have achieved more in just 18 days than Al-Qaida-like terrorism has done in decades.”
If one is interested in learning more about the Muslim Brotherhood, their English website is a good first step. For a less-biased account, see Muslim Brotherhood expert and GWU Professor Nathan Brown’s recent Q &A. Professor Brown recently said this of the Muslim Brotherhood: “A lot of their program is just standard reform stuff–independence of the judiciary, the end of corruption, protecting the environment.”
Professor Schweber sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a buffer to the real extremists in Egypt and urges policy makers to recognize that reality. This moment in history is too important for the media to lose sight of what’s going on in the Middle East. Encouraging Muslims, Christians, secularists, and other groups to work together in building a new, democratic Egypt is what’s needed. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a part of that process and it’s time to recognize what they really stand for.