An Islamist Middle East? The Muslim Brotherhood Has Its Problems, but It May Be More Inclined to Democracy Than We Realize
The overthrow of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East over the past eighteen months has brought Islamists to power. Beyond its victory in the presidential election in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood holds 47 percent of the seats in Egypt’s parliament and received 40 percent of the votes in parliamentary elections in Tunisia. It leads the political opposition in Jordan and in Palestine’s West Bank; in Hamas, it took control by force after elections in Palestine’s Gaza. It will probably lead a post-Assad Syria. The Brotherhood is likely to be the dominant political force in the Arab world if democracy takes hold, and even if it doesn’t.
One of the main fears about the Muslim Brotherhood is that its election to power will lead to “one man, one vote, one time.” That is, they will attain power by political means and never relinquish it. Another concern is that Brotherhood-dominated governments will be inimical to American interests—that they will tolerate and perhaps even foster terrorism, become a threat to American allies in the region, complicate international efforts to sanction Iran, and abrogate the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Both are legitimate concerns, but neither is a foregone conclusion.
In May, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Doha with newly-elected members of the parliaments of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, as well as civil society leaders, journalists, and government officials from Islamic countries. Participants were not only Muslims from Arab countries, but also those from countries like Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, and the United States. For the latter group, the vision of the role of Islam in society is much more congenial than our caricature of “the Arab street.” That said, the center of attention at the “U.S. and the Islamic World” meeting was the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist politicians from the newly-democratic states of the Middle East.