The Muslim Brotherhood’s bleak future

The Muslim Brotherhood experienced its fall from grace in Egypt just one year ago with President Morsi’s removal. The once highly organized and hierarchical party is now shattered, bringing into question the future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Tunisian Ennahda party. On Monday, the Middle East Institute hosted “The Muslim Brotherhood: Between the Path of Ennahda and the Threat of the Islamic State” with panelists Alison Pargeter, Hassan Mneimneh, and Eric Trager. They came to a consensus that the Muslim Brotherhood has weakened, especially in Egypt, and its strategy has become disjointed. It is currently unlikely to succeed in gaining power either in Egypt or in Syria.

The future of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is questionable after the violent clashes and unprecedented crackdown this past year. Pargeter, author of The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power, said that the party has faced significant challenges over the past twelve months in internalizing its overthrow and moving forward to regain legitimacy. It has had to face depleted finances, party leader arrests, and distrust from the public.

The current strategy has been to act defensively and shift blame away from the Brotherhood. The discourse of self-preservation has been far from successful. The international community has moved on—Sisi has taken power and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is crippled. It is trying to give the impression that the fight is still going on, but is it has not found a viable path back to political power.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has always struggled in articulating its ideology. It is now more important than ever, as the future of the party depends on institutional reform and transparency. A genuine change in political culture will be necessary if the Brotherhood is ever to gain power again. The cycle of competition between the military and political Islam will need to change if Egypt is to ever move forward, which Pargeter concluded could ultimately take more than a decade.

Trager, Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discussed the role and future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. The party was founded in 1946 and had a tumultuous history throughout the past several decades. It was exiled in 1982 after a violent uprising, which ultimately forced the leadership to reshape its chain of command and membership strategy.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has now had to focus entirely on organizational maintenance, such as funding livelihoods and housing for its members. It is still a wealthy organization but has become very weak within Syria since its exile. It faces significant long-term challenges and is preoccupied with maintenance rather than politics. The organization will have to gain significant support within Syria if it is to ever acquire political power.

Mneimneh, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said  that Tunisians don’t want what happened in Egypt and Syria to play out in their countries. Ennahda has been the only true success story among the three. It is making strides towards democratic practice.

The Ennahda leader has spoken with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regarding how to seek compromise. There ultimately needs to be an acceptance of diversity and inclusivity in Egypt rather than focusing on one party at the exclusion of the others. Ennahda is working to break the three main characteristics of politics in the region:  paternalism, tribalism and elitism. It aims at broader pariticipation in government. This approach has proven far more successful than the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach in Egypt or Syria.

The Muslim Brotherhood has had a tumultuous few years and it is unlikely that it will gain power in Egypt or Syria anytime soon.  It is preoccupied with its own survival. With no coherent strategy, there isn’t much hope for the Egyptian and Syrian branches moving forward.

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