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A woman looks at a graffiti with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s face on a playing card near Tahrir Square in Cairo. (AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS)
A woman looks at a graffiti with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s face on a playing card near Tahrir Square in Cairo. (AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS)

MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD

After the Arab Spring, what’s next for the new Egypt? Add to ...

If liberals are anxious, Brotherhood supporters are impatient.

Mr. Morsi won many votes in Imbaba, a crowded neighbourhood of grim Soviet-styled apartment blocks where men sit and smoke cheap Chinese cigarettes in the streets and women chat from the shuttered balconies of small apartments shared by big families. It’s a neighbourhood of calmly religious people preoccupied by economic survival, the kind of people who still get worked up in seconds when they recall the venality of Mr. Mubarak and his cronies.

Mohammed al-Toubi, 23, runs a couple of small auto-body shops here, and had high hopes for the President, for whom he voted. “I’m impressed with Morsi’s words and speeches. But up until now, his actions haven’t been that impressive.”

Mr. al-Toubi, like many of his neighbours, is not so interested in the religious agenda. He wants to see a greater sense of security, a growing economy and real proof that Mr. Mubarak’s dreaded intelligence apparatus has been checked. “People are no longer easily scared and, if [the President] doesn’t act, then people will rise against him.”

The Brotherhood needs to placate people such as Mr. al-Toubi if it is to win a majority in parliament, something it views as critical to solidifying its position.

Post-conflict Africa and Latin America are thick with examples of revolutionary and opposition movements that struggled when they became governments, and the Brotherhood has a lot of baggage, such as the secrecy and unquestioned loyalty that helped it survive successive attempts to eradicate it since the 1950s.

It may say it never wanted power, Prof. Hassan notes, but that does not mean it will want to give it up soon. To strengthen its chances, he predicts, the Brotherhood “will change the rules of the political game” – including the election laws.

That means imposing a new emergency law that makes it easy to shut down opposition, co-opting the resource streams that Mr. Mubarak and his party henchman once used to fortify their power, and taking control of major posts in local government, security forces and the bureaucracy. “It’s going to be extremely hard for them to give up power without implementing their vision,” Prof. Hassan says.

But not everyone who voted for Mr. Morsi did so because of his Islamist credentials. Many either opposed Mr. Shafik and any ties to the old regime or were mainstream Muslims who believed the Brotherhood would halt the corruption of the Mubarak years.

Should its party begin to look less than clean in the months to come, the Brotherhood will struggle to retain that large chunk of the electorate – it governs a population now keenly aware of the power it can wield.

The Nile Centre for Strategic Studies operates from a bustling office in a British colonial-era building in downtown Cairo, its researchers besieged with interview requests as Egyptians devour political debate in a much-freer media.

Leaving one such interview, Prof. Hassan heads for a conference room jam-packed with young people. Most are about the same age as Maria TV’s Heba Serag, but instead of veils and gloves, the women wear stylish glasses, jeans and witty T-shirts. A few have covered their hair in bright print hijabs that match their wedge sandals.

“This is April 6,” the professor explains, preparing to close the door behind him. “These are the young people who are the April 6 movement” – the one that launched the revolution and the drama in Tahrir Square that brought down the old power.

Why are they here, these kids who usually haunt coffee shops?

To learn about the new power, “They’re coming to me for a lesson on Islamist movements.”

The rise of the Brotherhood

Over its 84-year history, the Muslim Brotherhood has changed radically.

In the beginning

The Ikhwan al-Muslimun was founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, first as a spiritual and social organization, but it came, especially through the influential writing of the Islamist thinker Said Qutb in the 1950s, to focus on the idea of bringing about the rule of sharia as the one truly just system of government.

In the ranks

Its membership – estimated at 500,000 dues-paying followers – is carefully cultivated; a Brother must spend years working through a hierarchy of qualification before he is admitted into any but peripheral activities. (Women join the Sisterhood, which has a similar, if somewhat less rigid, structure, and focuses on social and charitable work.) Loyalty to the organization, modelled on fealty to God, is paramount.

In power

Called the “accidental president” because he was a last-minute substitute for his party’s first choice, Mohammed Morsi now governs by executive power. Egypt’s first post-revolutionary parliament was dissolved by a high court in a technical dispute over qualifications, a challenge many people suspect was pushed by backers of the old regime.

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