Pragmatism versus ideology for the Brotherhood
Despite the fears of some, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to engage in heavy indoctrination or change the foundations of the Egyptian state when in power, writes Khalil El-Anani
Mohamed Mursi's assuming of the presidency is certain to have profound effects on the Muslim Brotherhood. After more than 80 years in the opposition, it has become a fundamental part of the establishment in the post-revolutionary order. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the Muslim Brotherhood will monopolise all the institutions of the state and its decision-making mechanisms. In fact, at this stage, we should be wary of such hyperbole and attempt to analyse, as objectively as possible, how precisely the Muslim Brotherhood will handle the question of the presidency and the extent to which it will undertake the shift from its loose ideology to concrete programmes that can be drafted and implemented on the ground within the context of Egypt's new political frameworks.
When Imam Hassan El-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, he defined three phases for the realisation of the group's objectives: proselytising and disseminating the idea, formation and the selection of disciples and members, and the phase of implementation, work and production. Today, we can say that the group has accomplished the first two phases brilliantly. Its calling has spread beyond Egypt's borders and, at the international level, it has hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of members in the Arab and Islamic worlds, as well as in the West. The third phase is about to begin.
If ideology prevailed powerfully in the first two phases, it will have less of a role to play in the phase of implementation, work and production. In addition to the consummate pragmatism that has come to characterise the Muslim Brotherhood's political performance, the pressures and demands of the current phase will compel it to reduce the weight of ideology in its discourse and to pursue a more cautious and prudent approach to the application of its policies and programmes.
Looking back at the Muslim Brotherhood's performance over the past two decades and, indeed, over the past two years, in which the organisation and its leadership clearly betrayed certain flaws and a number of political miscalculations, one can contend that one of the fundamental transformations that the group will undergo in the forthcoming phase is the shift from ideology to methodology. In other words, it will have to make the transition from the world of ideas and ideological and organisational biases to the world of politics and viable programmes. In view of the countless adjustments to political, social and economic realities that this entails, ideological and organisational affiliation can no longer serve as the Muslim Brothers' primary criteria for decision-making and policy design and execution. It is not just that the Muslim Brotherhood will want to allay suspicions of monopolisation and hegemonic designs; current realities offer it no choice. The Muslim Brothers are as conscious as many others of the heavy legacy of corruption and the systematic destruction of the institutions, culture and values of the state that the Mubarak regime bequeathed. They may be equally aware that the rigidity of their organisational regulations and the means by which they conduct their internal relations are a reflection of this legacy and, in order to overcome it, they will have to adopt new criteria and modes of operation. Above all, they will have to move closer to the idea of a meritocracy, in which professional qualifications and records of performance become the primary standards for selecting government officials and staff members. This will not only help avert allegations of exclusionism, it will help spread responsibility in the event of failure. More importantly, it will enable them to benefit from the best available skills and talents.
The Muslim Brotherhood must certainly realise that they will receive the credit for success, but they will also bear the brunt of censure for failure. Therefore, the notion of a Muslim Brotherhood penetration and takeover of the state is closer to the realm of fancy than to the world of reality. But there are other reasons that support this. For one, the Brotherhood would not be able to dismantle and reconstruct a state whose roots stretch back more than 200 years, especially in view of the strong resistance to change that they would encounter in the institutions of this state, regardless of who plans to introduce the change. Secondly, it is not in the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood to create new enemies at this stage or to alienate large portions of government employees and technocrats who could throw some heavy spanners into the Mursi government's policies and programmes. Thirdly, the Muslim Brothers will not be able to impose their ideological and organisational culture on the long-established and remarkably resilient culture of the bureaucratic state. Fourthly, it would be excessive if not entirely wrong to assume that the military has relinquished power or plans to do so in the foreseeable future. There may have been a nominal handover of power, but the actual business of transferring power will be the subject of lengthy negotiations and bargaining ploys, the course of which is impossible to foresee at this stage. Fifthly, and more importantly, there is nothing in the Muslim Brotherhood's literature or ideological structure to suggest that they favour radical or revolutionary change. On the contrary, they support gradual reform, which suggests that, if anything, we will see processes of repulsion and fusion between the Muslim Brotherhood and bureaucratic cultures that may possibly yield a third culture the nature and outlooks of which are, as of yet, impossible to predict.
In view of the foregoing, the Muslim Brothers will most likely invest strongly in the public and private spheres, specifically in community associations, NGOs and business circles which are not closely intertwined with the bureaucracy and as encumbered by its complexities and culture. However, it will not have total manoeuvrability in these areas. Government agencies and departments remain the linchpin of any substantial change, not only because of the numbers of employees but also because of the porous boundaries between the public and the private sectors -- a government employee in the daytime may be moonlighting in the private sector in the evening. In addition, the Muslim Brothers will face some stiff competition in both the private and public spheres. Since the revolution, there has been a marked rise in the number of political and social actors, many of whom espouse ideas and outlooks that are virtually antithetical to those of the Muslim Brothers. Then, too, there is the business and entrepreneurial establishment that has carried over from the Mubarak regime and that may not bend to Muslim Brotherhood attempts to contain or co-opt it. Lastly, the changes in awareness and outlook that the revolution sparked in the Egyptian consciousness would prove a major trial to the Muslim Brothers if they tried to impose their ideology and way of thinking on large segments of the public that are inherently averse to the Muslim Brothers.
In all events, the Muslim Brotherhood appear more intent on engineering the success of their social and economic programmes than on changing society's culture, behaviour and value systems. This would be in keeping with the Muslim Brotherhood policy that holds that change through action and practice is better and more effective than change through indoctrination and ideological steering. President Mursi's speeches last week, in which he pledged to respect individual and civic freedoms and to focus on how to deliver the country from its current political, social and economic plights, offer strong indication that this will be the Muslim Brothers' approach in the coming phase. Hopefully, the Muslim Brothers will follow through on these pledges. Not only do they need to allay the fears aroused by their rise to power, regardless of how some of these fears may have been fuelled by their political antagonists, they must also now make the move from rhetoric to reality and from word to deed. I believe that the more involved the Muslim Brothers become in the Egyptian state, the more they will appreciate the intricacy and diversity of its map, and the more they will realise the folly of attempts to tinker with it, not only for the sake of the country but also if they hope to survive as effective players in its complex socio-political ecosystem.
The writer is a researcher at School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University.