Shadi Hamid writes: It was looking bleak for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The region’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement had underperformed and overreached in parliament, alienating leftists and liberals in the process. When, in April, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that Mohammed Morsi would be its presidential candidate, after its first choice had been disqualified, the sense of policy drift was unmistakable. The Brotherhood was losing ground. Predictions of its demise, however, were premature. Despite numerous missteps, the movement has proved its resilience. It has not, to be sure, become what many Egyptians hoped it might be — the leader of a unified, national movement that would push Egypt, however haltingly, toward democracy. But by its own particular standards, the Brotherhood has succeeded.
The organization (including its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party) does not operate as a traditional party might be expected to. It cares, of course, about winning elections. But it cares even more about the unity and integrity of the organization, in Arabic, tanzim. In the early days of Egypt’s transition, the Brotherhood showed its more ruthless side—not necessarily out of discomfort with internal democracy but out of its longstanding concern, some would say obsession, with self-preservation. To the extent that dissent within the Brotherhood undermined the tanzim, it had to be quashed.
First, the Brotherhood leadership forbade its members from joining any other party but its own. Those who joined other parties, or started their own, were expelled. One of the group’s most prominent figures, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, was forced out after he insisted on running for president against the Brotherhood’s wishes. Thousands of young activists who joined his insurgent campaign had their memberships frozen.
Indeed, Egypt’s revolution was a threat as much as it was an opportunity for a group that had grown accustomed to the unifying power of repression. Without a clear enemy — the Mubarak regime — maintaining organizational cohesion was becoming difficult. So it had to be enforced. Brotherhood officials did not apologize for their increasingly aggressive tactics. For them, it was a simple matter of respecting the institution of which they were a part and to which they had pledged their lives. It was, after all, the group’s policymaking body, the shura council that voted to ban members from joining other parties. “All decisions are taken as an organization, with shura (consultation), with democracy,” Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) deputy leader Essam El-Erian told me at the time. “[The youth] are appreciated but they are appreciated in the context of the organization and not outside of it.” Dissent was permitted before a final decision was made, but not after. [Continue reading…]