Gilbert Achcar writes:
Egypt’s uprising, contrary to most predictions, was initiated and driven by coalitions – including political parties, associations and internet networks – which were dominated by secular and democratic forces. Islamic organisations or their individual members took part on an equal footing with groups of marginal importance before the uprising, and with groups closer to eastern European dissidents of 1989 than to the usual mass parties or revolutionary elites of social revolutions.
The discretion of Tunisia’s Islamist movement can be explained to a large extent by the harshness of its suppression under Ben Ali, impeding the ability of the Islamic Nahda party to act. However, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was also discreet, but for the opposite reason: because it was a party tolerated by the military regime (although not legalised).
Anwar Sadat, when he came to power after Gamal Abdel Nasser’s death in 1970, favoured the Brotherhood’s return to the public stage and its enhanced position as a counterbalance to the Nasserist or radical left. The Brothers fully subscribed to the economic liberalisation (infitah) of Sadat when he embarked on dismantling Nasser’s legacy. This led to increased influence of members of the new Egyptian bourgeoisie within the Brotherhood. Even so, it continued to assert its piety against rampant corruption; this was a key argument for the petit bourgeois, the Brothers’ favourite constituency.
The Brotherhood built itself as a reactionary religious political movement, whose main concern was – and still is – the Islamisation of Egypt’s political and cultural institutions and the promotion of sharia as the basis for legislation. This programme is summed up by its main slogan: “Islam is the solution”. At the same time, the Brotherhood has served as a political antidote to extreme and violent fundamentalist groups.