Harvard study says Muslim Brotherhood will never be a viable political force
Washington- As “an ideology bent on inserting more religion — including sharia — into politics and the legal system,” the Muslim Brotherhood could not gain acceptability by the majority in Arab countries, Nawaf Obaid said.
Obaid, a visiting fellow for Intelligence and Defence Projects at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, is the author of “The Muslim Brotherhood: A Failure in Political Evolution,” released this month.
The Muslim Brotherhood began as an opposition movement, as have many political parties throughout history. In the case of the Brotherhood, it was opposition to Westernisation characterised by post-independence secular regimes in the Middle East. Brotherhood opposition, however, was based on an ideology determined to insert religion into politics and the legal system, Obaid wrote.
This, he said, has made it unacceptable to the majority in most Arab countries that “have grown increasingly inimical to such insertion.”
While most people in the Arab world are religious, they do not view Islam as “a comprehensive system of values and governance,” Obaid said the Brotherhood’s vision renders it fundamentally obstructive to democratic norms, tolerant societies and political systems that reflect a wide range of viewpoints.
Compounding the Brotherhood’s problem, Obaid said, has been its inability “to keep its members in step” on issues and political strategies. No doubt this is due to the Brotherhood consisting of disparate, loosely connected organisations spread across the Arab and Muslim worlds, each standing in opposition to a different government. The effect is that the Brotherhood sends profoundly mixed signals about the imposition of sharia and, more critically, about terrorism and jihadism.
For every positive or constructive comment by a Brotherhood leader, one can easily find an equally negative and destructive comment from another one.
Obaid, who formerly served as special adviser to Prince Turki al- Faisal when he was the Saudi ambassador to Britain and later to the United States, wrote: “(A)s an oppositionist movement that has had a difficult time keeping its members united and that also has myriad links to terrorism and/or a failure to address terrorism, the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] has struggled to gain legitimacy as a viable form of governance.”
Obaid’s argument was reinforced by the recent examples of Brotherhood political success: The brief terms in office of Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi and Tunisia’s Ennahda Party.
Morsi governed in an overbearing manner and enacted laws that seemed to be dictated by unelected Brotherhood ideologists, despite his resigning as a Brotherhood member on his election as president. Egypt’s powerful deep state did not try to make things easy for Morsi but his errors in office and a mixed message on terrorism accounted for the popular protests that led to his ouster and the subsequent suppression of the Brotherhood.
In Tunisia, Ennahda became the governing party after the ouster of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali but proved slow to react in the face of terror attacks and the creation of jihadist cells along Tunisia’s border with Algeria, raising suspicions about its true intentions. Perhaps viewing Morsi’s fate as a warning, Ennahda relinquished power to maintain its status as a legitimate political player and prevent suffering the fate of the Egyptian Brotherhood. Obaid called Tunisia “a bit of a success story for the MB.”
Jordan and Morocco, Obaid suggested, are similar partial success stories although in both cases Brotherhood parties have been accommodating to the government and, in the case of Jordan, has used “a gentle, non-radical terminology.”
While Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan are examples of Brotherhood parties that learned to adjust to being “legitimate opposition,” they have not eliminated concerns over hidden agendas and a serious commitment to separating religious life from political life. Obaid suggested that these concerns will hinder the Brotherhood in its efforts to achieve political power, at least via the ballot box.
Obaid concluded that parties of the Brotherhood will never succeed in achieving lasting political success because “its history is far too riddled with infighting, violence and resistance to give way to a cohesive organisation that will ever gain widespread support as a source of respectable political leadership in the Arab world.”