The following interview with the Tunisian historian Alaya Allani from Die Welt discusses the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the current Egyptian uprising, and the part the Ikhwan is likely to play in the near future.
Many thanks to JLH for the translation:
The Muslim Brotherhood Would Win the First Election
by Alfred Hackensberger
February 3, 2011
Islam expert Alaya Allani sees the extremist movement on the march — but only for a short time. Tunisia and Algeria are in turmoil trending toward democracy. In both countries, there are Islamist movements, and no one knows what influence they will have. Historian Alaya Allani of the University of Tunis is known as an expert on Islamism in North Africa and offers some insights into what goals the Muslim Brotherhood pursues, for instance, and what are the odds in the coming elections.
Welt: When the protests began, the Muslim Brotherhood did not officially take part. Why did the largest opposition group in Egypt hold back? Allani: The Muslim Brotherhood wanted to wait and see how the protests develop. They were afraid of being washed over by a wave of Mubarak regime arrests. When it was certain that the popularity of the demonstrations was growing day by day, they decided to participate fully.
Now they and all the other parties are claiming to be the ones who started the revolution. In reality, all the legal parties just jumped on the bandwagon. It is almost a copy of events in Tunisia: A popular rebellion of young academics and marginalized elements which spread rapidly to other social groups and political parties.
Welt: Now the Muslim Brotherhood feels strong and does not even want to negotiate with Mubarak about a transition to democracy. Allani: They are convinced that Mubarak has to resign as head of state. So they announced they are not ready to negotiate. Welt: The Muslim Brotherhood is supposed to have hundreds of thousands of followers that they can mobilize at any time. Are they in for an important role in the protests? Allani: The Muslim Brotherhood’s influence is relative. In this popular uprising, this revolt, no single group can claim to have a majority or greater influence. So the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to underpin its profile by emphasizing social and political aspects of the protests.
They give enthusiastic speeches about social services and health services, medical care, food and so forth. At the same time, they have radically changed their attitude toward Mubarak and his promises of reform. At the beginning they would not have had what is now their only slogan: “Mubarak, disappear!”
Welt: The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership team is already very long in the tooth. Do they even have a connection to the wishes and needs of the young people on the street? Allani: The older leaders were amazed by the reach of this revolution. In Tunisia, too, no one had expected this magnitude. You can say that the older leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood does not know and probably would not understand the true motivations and wishes. Don’t forget, the Muslim Brotherhood was manipulated and corrupted by the Mubarak regime. As the model opposition — officially forbidden but tolerated. Loved more or less, from time to time. Welt: Who is the Muslim Brotherhood?
Allani: The Muslim Brotherhood understand Islam as a single entity made up of politics, religion and Islamic law as a political and social organizing principle. Welt: How strongly is the Muslim Brotherhood rooted in today’s Egyptian society? Allani: The actual strength of the Muslim Brotherhood is unknown. It can only be estimated. It grew stronger and stronger during Mubarak’s dictatorship. Several observers feared there could be a scenario like the one in Algeria with the Islamic Salvation Front. They won the elections there in 1991, because the voters wanted to send the corrupt authorities a message. Welt: And today? Allani: I believe the Muslim Brotherhood will become the strongest party in a new parliament. They can count on a third of the votes in the next elections. That will work only right after the changeover. Then there will be a phase when they will weaken. In the end, they have don’t have a convincing program for the young people. Besides economic and social benefits, the young people want modernity. Welt: Where do the members of the Muslim Brotherhood come from? Are they from particular levels of society? Who are the most fanatic followers? Allani: They come from the traditional bourgeoisie, the classic middle class. Teachers, lawyers and doctors. A small number of them are socially disadvantaged. That is because the Muslim Brotherhood believes that their sacred message should be spread to all social classes. I have already mentioned their strongest adherents: teachers, doctors and lawyers. Welt: How sure is a power-sharing arrangement with the Muslim Brotherhood? Allani: In a change of power the Muslim Brotherhood will certainly be in the parliament. But not necessarily in the administration. As we have seen in recent days, it is and will be a decisive factor in Egypt. The military will not allow a wholesale sharing in the government by the Brotherhood. Conditions like those in Turkey, with the PJD in the government are not in the cards. At the executive level, there will be at most a symbolic participation of the a Muslim Brotherhood. Welt: In the event that the Muslim Brotherhood is voted into the government, would that not have fatal consequences for relations with Israel? Allani: In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood has become more pragmatic. Two years ago they announced that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel would not be abrogated, but at the same time, there would be no normalization of relations with the governing Netanyahu administration. Everything with the Palestinians would stay the same: firm connections as before. Especially intensive cooperation with Hamas. Welt: In the USA, there is concern about Egypt and the future role of the Muslim Brotherhood. Considering the geo-political position of Egypt, can this Islamist group become the USA’s nightmare? Allani: I don’t think they can become a nightmare. One way or another, in a democratic parliament, they have to work with the other parties. They can follow the example of the PJD in Turkey. Besides that, they will be participating in the repositioning in the Arab-Israeli conflict. With regard to relations with Israel, there will be new rules.
With or without the Muslim Brotherhood, a new Egyptian government will not simply take over Mubarak’s position. Another important factor must not be forgotten: Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor other political parties want to give up military aid from the USA. Naturally, the army will do everything possible not to snub the USA and lose the money.
Welt: And the peace process? Allani: In my opinion, tactical calculations will cause the Muslim Brotherhood to support the peace process. That is the best way to represent the interests of their partner, Hamas. Welt: Tunisia has its own Islamists. Rachid Ghanouchi, the leader of Ennanda has returned from exile. Doesn’t he come from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? Allani: Yes, he is of that school. The Muslim Brotherhood are his allies. But Ghanouchi is considerably more open and approachable — exactly what concerns the West. On the day of his arrival in Tunis, he announced that sharia — Islamic law — is not a priority for him. A normal rule of law is for him the fundamental basis of a pluralistic democracy. And, he says, the emancipation of women — which is unequaled in all other Arab lands — must definitely be maintained. Welt: Can all that not just be a tactic? Allani: Who knows?