RECOMMENDED READING: "Is The Brotherhood A Democratic Organization?"


Khalil Al-Anan, described by an Egyptian newspaper as a visiting Brookings scholar, suggests looking at four aspects of the internal workings of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in order to gauge its commitment to democracy. According to his analysis:

The first element pertains to the pattern of leadership within the group. It might be said that the leader commands a great deal of respect within the Muslim Brotherhood to the extent that there is compatibility between the leader and the organization on the one hand, and the leader’s ability to have the final say, on the other. This is done through the relationship of obedience and deep respect the members show towards their leadership, diminishing the chances of criticizing the leaders if they make mistakes.

The second element deals with interactions within the Muslim Brotherhood, through two levels: the relationship between the various organizational levels (the cells, the subdivisions, the districts and the governorate offices). The second level is how to manage the organization through an internal regulation system that gives the top level the upper hand over the lower levels. Unfortunately, the group adopts primitive undemocratic criteria for promotion based on demotion and documentation. The first means demoting a member to a lower rank if it is proven guilty that he has committed mistakes affecting his reputation. The second means promoting the member to a higher rank if he wins the favor of the leadership through showing respect and obedience.

The third element concerns the decision-making, as it takes a hierarchical form, from the bottom to the top. Although the decision is taken in a decentralized manner, no one can break with or disobey the leadership’s decisions. It is true that some members can express their dissatisfaction about certain decisions but they cannot reject or disobey them. Many members have broken away from the group because of their rejection of certain decisions.

The fourth element deals with the organizational values within the Muslim Brotherhood. It might be said that the values that are inculcated into a Muslim Brotherhood member have nothing to do with the values of democracy, transparency, accountability and responsibility. The values that govern the Muslim Brotherhood have religious-moral dimensions such as obedience and confidence, not efficiency, competence or integrity.

Al-Anan concludes that the “Shoura (consultation)” principle, often cited as evidence of the democratic nature of the Brotherhood, is only applied in a limited fashion and that the group does not currently meet the test of a true democratic organization:

Although the Brotherhood always speaks about activating the Shoura (consultation) principle, it seems that it has only been applied to consensus issues that do not contradict the Muslim Brotherhood understanding of religious texts. There is no room for discussion about other issues. It is an authoritarian Shoura based on the principle of “overwhelming majority” without respect for the opinion of the “dissenting minority.” Therefore, the organization is run by an authoritarian method dominated by the leadership’s desire to run the organization under the pretext that they are the most experienced and knowledgeable members that have paid dearly to reach their posts. Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood group is in need of in-house radical change to become a genuine democratic movement to render its call for a democratic political system legitimate. This will distinguish the group from the ruling party which does not enjoy any internal democracy.

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