RECOMMENDED READING: "The Brotherhood's Dilemma"


George Washington University professor March Lynch has published a paper titled “The Brotherhood’s Dilemma” which concludes that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has adhered to the democratic process and but that is not yet clear if this reflects a true commitment to democracy as opposed to a tactical position designed to reassure its audience and prevent further repression. The paper concludes:

Conclusion Columbia University political scientist Lisa Anderson once warned that regimes tend to get the oppositions they deserve. For now at least, the Brotherhood seems determined to prove her wrong. The Brotherhood’s leadership has remained remarkably consistent in its adherence to the democratic process and its rejection of violence in spite of every regime provocation. It has also matched its words with deeds: contesting the 2007 Shura Council elections, drafting a political party platform, refraining from violent responses. The Egyptian regime’s crackdown has had the perhaps unintended virtue of testing the MB’s commitment to democracy by imposing harsh costs on that commitment while limiting the likely gains. The MB’s determination to proceed with its political party platform in the face of strong deterrent efforts by the regime, or to contest the Shura Council elections despite all the obstacles put in its path, speaks more loudly than would mere talk. The inferences to draw from this consistency, however, are less obvious. It might reflect a real normative commitment to democracy and to rejection of violence. It might also be merely tactical: a way to reassure Western and Egyptian audiences of the Brotherhood’s benign intentions and to undermine support for the Mubarak regime, as well as to prevent a harsher regime crackdown. The Brotherhood today is perhaps best understood as an internally divided organization, with the balance of power between politically oriented pragmatists and religiously oriented conservatives very much in flux. The MB’s still dominant moderate stance is engendering impatience among the ranks, with analysts as well as Brotherhood leaders and activists warning of the growing difficulty of persuading young activists of the virtues of self-restraint. A sensible policy approach would be to try to create the conditions in which the pragmatists could win these internal battles—by reducing regime repression, recognizing and rewarding positive developments, and pushing to open up the public sphere for discussion and debate that might increase the organization’s transparency. Unfortunately, current trends seem to be very much in the opposite direction, with the result that the MB’s moderates have been put on the defensive, embattled both by the MB’s internal conservatives and by the regime’s security forces.

Although a full analysis the Dr. Lynch’s lengthy paper is not possible in this format, there are reasons to be skeptical, both about Dr. Lynch’s conclusions and the Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy. To begin with, Dr. Lynch is a political scientist and as such employs a social science methodology, relying heavily on interviews and statements. He explains:

To evaluate the MB’s response to a constricting political space, this Brief looks closely at over fifty interviews with, and statements and documents made or written by, Brotherhood leaders over the last year (all in Arabic), supplemented by the public debates in the Egyptian and Arab press and by my personal interviews with many of the MB’s senior leaders and activists.

There is good reason to question the use of this methodology in the investigation of organizations with a substantial covert component such as the Muslim Brotherhood. While statements and interviews are important, as Dr. Lynch himself noted, there is the very real possibility that the Brotherhood is engaged in deception operations which cannot be uncovered in this manner. Also, as previous posts have discussed, Dr. Lynch recently traveled to Egypt where he met with the Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders and has been heavily promoted by the Brotherhood since that time. Both another essay and postings on Dr. Lynch’s blog reveal him to be sympathetic toward the Brotherhood, a position that is consistent with State Department policy in recent months. This raises the question of whether or not Dr. Lynch’s trip was in someway endorsed by the State Department although he has denied acting as a “channel.” Yet, there would appear to be sufficient reason to be cautious about Dr. Lynch’s role given the State Departments push to engage with the Egyptian Brotherhood.

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