A Muslim Brotherhood win would resonate far beyond Egypt

Nathan J Brown writes: When it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, even the irreligious evince a sudden interest in what lies within the inner reaches of the Islamists’ souls. Are they really democrats? What do they really believe? It is time for analysts to leave those questions to a higher authority. For now, it is much more important to ask what they intend to do and what they could do in office.

If balloting is free in the run-off in mid-June, Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi is the favourite to beat Ahmed Shafiq, President Mubarak’s last prime minister. If that happens, Egypt’s major democratic institutions, the parliament and the presidency, will be in Islamist hands. And while full oversight of the security services and military will be out of their grasp for the present – and important institutions like the judiciary will also likely push back against elements of their programme – the Brotherhood could soon have a fairly free hand to tackle many of the country’s domestic problems as it sees fit, and even to begin pushing Egyptian foreign policy in different directions.

When it comes to what the Brotherhood intends domestically, the movement has been stunningly loquacious in its attempts to sketch out a practical programme for administering the country. And that programme focuses much of its attention on good governance, the rule of law, the provision of social services, and an economic policy that owes more to the Washington consensus than to 7th-century Arabia.

Does the Brotherhood intend to apply Islamic law? That is where it begins to retreat into generalities, claiming that it will use Islam as a “reference” or pursue the “goals” of Islamic law, but it will do so through democratic and constitutional channels.

And when it comes to foreign policy, the Brotherhood has also been a bit more cagey: it wishes to “renegotiate” the peace treaty with Israel but will clearly face an Israeli government deeply resistant to making any formal changes; it has communicated reassuring messages to a stream of official American visitors but clearly has a regional agenda that would cause some headaches for the US; and it is deeply and emotionally opposed to the blockade on Gaza but has also effectively told its cousins in Hamas that their cause will have to wait.

The real question is how effective it can be in its programme when it is faced with crushing economic problems, a feisty set of public sector workers, and a public that has been fed the belief that ousting dishonest and corrupt leaders is enough to lead to immediate economic improvements. [Continue reading…]

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