Harvard study says Muslim Brotherhood will never be a viable political force

Sunday 23/07/2017
Dissection of riddled history. Nawaf Obaid, author of “The Muslim Brotherhood: A Failure in Political Evolution.” (Nawaf Obaid)

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.”