When the house of the Muslim Brotherhood starts to shake
British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament in December that the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood contributes to terrorism. Two months later, the US House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee advanced a bill calling for the US State Department to designate the group a terrorist organisation.
If the State Department complies, the Brotherhood’s assets would be frozen and legal procedures would be taken against those who finance or deal with the organisation.
The Muslim Brotherhood has become stigmatised in the eyes of many Americans for a number of reasons, including the proliferation of its affiliates in the United States starting in the 1960s. Today, there are 220 of them. This should have instilled fear in the public as a number of analysts argue that there is are common ideological roots between Muslim Brotherhood thought and that of al-Qaeda and other violent groups.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood leader living in Qatar, has said that Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was once a member of the group and Osama bin Laden belonged to the Brotherhood before he created al-Qaeda, as did Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf.
It seems that the Brotherhood political wave has run its course after the fall of former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, the spread of chaos in Libya and after the Ennahda party was forced from power in Tunisia in January 2014 following a wave of terrorism that started with the assassination of two political leaders.
The United States, which briefly viewed the Brotherhood as a possible partner in redrawing the Middle East map, has started to rethink the wisdom of this approach, especially as perceptions that Washington favoured the group angered many Egyptians as well as other key US allies among Gulf countries.
Arab decision-makers and the public have concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood played only lip service to the goals of democracy and social peace and was more focused on its Islamist agenda and creating a new caliphate.
The change in perception by Washington — following Britain’s lead — will have repercussions for the future:
First, the Syrian Muslims will likely play no role in reaching a political solution to the crisis in that country.
Second, Turkey and Qatar will have to reconsider their support of the Brotherhood, seeing that the group’s reputation has been undermined in the Arab world and internationally.
Third, European states will continue to dissolve or freeze the activities of many of the Islamic associations that have links to political wings of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fourth, the power of the Brotherhood-affiliated parties will continue to wane in “Arab spring” countries. In Libya and Tunisia, where its affiliates maintain political power, the public seems determined to prevent them from regaining control.
Fifth, deep divisions within the ranks of the Brotherhood in Egypt and other countries will widen. In the medium term, this could lead to a realignment that could produce a new ideology that neither antagonises Islam nor uses it for political ends. Such a benign ideology was the trademark of Islamic reform movements in the 19th century.
Sixth, Americans and Europeans will likely take steps to limit the immigration of Muslim Brotherhood followers to their shores, as occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. And it is highly likely that Brotherhood supporters in the Arab world will suffer if a Republican wins this year’s US presidential election.
The spectre of instability will continue to haunt the Middle East and North Africa but at least there is hope that Muslim Brotherhood parties will no longer be artificially propped up on the political scene.