The stakes in the unrest in Northern Africa are crystallizing. I remain convinced that the riots in Tunisia and Egypt originated with the people’s genuine frustration and desire for greater freedom and self-determination. I don’t see evidence that their uprisings were fomented artificially by the agents of a centralized international organization.
But the leader figures emerging in both nations have long associations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and are being backed by it now. Two such instances make a pattern, particularly in the wake of Hezbollah’s takeover in Lebanon. The caution that we do not yet know the outcome in either African nation is always well advised – but there is no national voice, no coherent political body, no identifiable trend competing with the unique visibility of Mohamed ElBaradei in Egypt and Rachid Ghannouchi in Tunisia.
Ghannouchi originally told sympathizers that he intended to sit out the Tunisian uprising on his perch in London. He returned to Tunisia yesterday, however, met by cheering crowds after his 22-year exile. He now states that he has no interest in assuming a political role in Tunisia’s new government. But in explaining his brand of Islamism to the Western media, he chose to compare himself to Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey – not only a prime minister, but the leader of an Islamist party seeking to roll back Turkey’s long-cultivated secularism and non-ideological modernism. (H/t: Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report)
The Muslim Brotherhood is not a modern incarnation of the Bolsheviks, or even of the Ba’athists; its core focus has not been on seizing the reins of power through the mechanisms of the traditional nation-state. Its activities will not necessarily be recognizable to us on the outline of 20th-century revolutions. But we should not let this blind us to the Muslim Brotherhood’s radicalism or the political role it has played in many Muslim nations. If the tottering governments of Tunisia and Egypt cannot organize an alternative public consensus that competes effectively with the Muslim Brotherhood’s resources and mystique, the Brotherhood will have the opportunity it needs to put down roots in political power.
In many ways, the model of what we might expect to see can be found in Hezbollah. Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, Shia and Sunni, represent different eschatological and geopolitical perspectives on the Middle East and the future of Islam. But Hezbollah’s profile in terrorism, radicalism, and politics is a pattern natural to the region. If the Muslim Brotherhood gains a minority foothold in the national governments of Egypt and Tunisia, as Hezbollah did in Lebanon, its political future is likely to unfold much as Hezbollah’s has.
My sense today is that the time is not yet ripe for Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored coalitions to take over Egypt and Tunisia outright, as Hezbollah did in Lebanon this month. I suspect the most likely outcome is that, for the time being, Brotherhood-backed politicians will seek to form coalitions incorporating “moderates,” whose names and histories are reassuring to America, Europe, and the global traders of the Far East. Developments like this are virtually guaranteed to keep the Western media quiet – or, indeed, to get them clapping and cheering. Not that they need much encouragement; the Washington Post, in an act of gratuitous fatuity, yesterday delivered this throw-away characterization: “Inspired by the YMCA when it was founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has been under a ban since 1948…” (H/t: Meryl Yourish, Barry Rubin.)
But the Muslim Brotherhood momentum is building, and with each passing day, evidence mounts that the only organized alternative to it is the sclerotic dictatorships now breathing their last. Those who predicted that it was not safe to allow Hezbollah into a coalition government have been proved correct: Hezbollah has not been domesticated. It had no fealty to the consensus, multi-faction “unity” concept for Lebanon, and has now done away with that fiction. The Muslim Brotherhood is an equally radical organization (see here and here, for example) – it has trained, indoctrinated, and funded terrorists for decades – and the outcome of its inclusion in coalition governments will be the same.