Ian Birrell: We should not fear a Muslim Brotherhood win

Power could be a Pyrrhic victory. The party may be forced to take tough decisions

Ian Birrell
Tuesday 29 November 2011 01:00
Comments

The resurgence of Egypt's revolution has overshadowed the start of the country's convoluted election, so long awaited after nearly six decades of military despotism. The belief is that the Muslim Brotherhood, after 85 years in the wings, finally stands on the brink of power. The idea of an Islamic party running such an influential and strategically important nation is viewed with horror in the West. Commentators talk of the Taliban, or remind us how the optimism of the Iranian revolution was dashed by repressive theocrats.

But as I walked past barricaded streets beside Tahrir Square in the wake of last week's unrest, I asked Yara how she viewed the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood running her country. She was typical of the activists behind the revolution: bright, passionate, young and liberal. So her reply surprised me. If they won a fair vote, she was unconcerned, she said, since they were so preferable to the ruthless ruling generals.

It was a sentiment I heard echoed again and again in Cairo, by cautious diplomats to the most secular liberals. They do not want "the brothers" in charge, but they do not fear them. Indeed, some believe it might even be for the best. For a start, the well-organised Muslim Brotherhood represents a significant slice of Egyptian opinion. It is a right-wing, ultra-conservative party, whose message has a resonance – and if we demand democracy we should not complain when people exercise their vote in a way that we dislike. Their promotion of social, moral and religious purity is profoundly troubling, raising issues such as dress codes for women, and restrictions on artistic expression. But how different are they in this from the religious right in America, all those Tea Party zealots who seek to impose their own antiquated beliefs on individuals?

In a country so reliant on tourism – the industry supports nearly one in five Egyptians – the Brothers are unlikely to undermine it. And if they do, we have seen again the power of protest in this country.

Just as with some far-right parties in Europe, in government its leaders may be forced to grow up, take tough decisions and account for their actions. The realities of power can be a moderating force, especially for a once-banned party that played the victim for so long. And, after decades of kleptocratic dictatorship, the realities of power also include a wrecked economy, soaring state debts, high unemployment, grinding poverty, a collapsed tourist trade and widespread illiteracy. With most state income spent on debt payments, public servants and subsidies for fuel and food, there is little spare money to sort out these crushing problems.

On top of this, people are impatient for change. So if the Muslim Brotherhood finally attains power after so many years waiting, it could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

twitter.com/@ianbirrell

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in