Since the election of Hamas in the Gaza strip during 2006, the governments of the United States and Europe have been rather more wary of promoting the democratic process as an engine of change in the Middle East. A desire to see gentle reform rather than regime change have been the aims of Presidents and Prime Ministers in recent years. After all, the most important goal has been seen to be “stability”; stability of oil supplies to the West, stability in relation to Israel and stability in terms of governmental responses to religious inspired terrorism.
Even yesterday, President Obama was still asking for “an orderly transition” to democracy, rather than for Hosni Mubarak to stand down in the wake of democratic elections. A “transition” of course, led by Mubarak’s long-time friend and newly appointed deputy Osman Sulieman could take twenty-years or never happen at all.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and to a lesser extent Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon and Syria are strategically, economically and or politically important to the West. No matter how undemocratic, repressive and corrupt their governments may appear, the last thing that the West wants is the rise of democratically elected governments overtly sympathetic to radical Islam.
Today, the people of Egypt are flexing their democratic muscle on the streets of Cairo in a move that could make that possibility a much closer reality.
As part of his strategy to remain in power for as long as possible, President Mubarak cracked down on all democratic opposition parties, figuring that the weaker and more divided the opposition, the stronger he would be. What he did not recognise was that by doing this, he was leaving the door open for the Muslim Brotherhood to emerge as a potent force in Egyptian politics.
The Society of the Muslim Brothers is an Islamist transnational movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states. The group is the world’s oldest and largest Islamic political group, and according to the Aljazeera news agency,”the world’s most influential Islamist movement.” It was founded in 1928 in Egypt by the Islamic scholar and Sufi schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna.
Within Egypt, they have developed a power base by going over the heads of secular politicians, appealing directly to religious sensibilities of their Muslim brothers and sisters. Although the Brotherhood is banned as a political party, its candidates stood as Independent candidates in the 2005 General Election and won 20% of the seats. If an election was called in Egypt tomorrow, there is no doubt that they would be swept to power by a massive majority.
So far the Brotherhood has kept out of the limelight but their newly elected chairman Mohammed Badie, Professor of pathology at the veterinary school of Beni Suef University will become an increasingly important figure over the next days and weeks.
Today up to one-million people will gather in and around Tahrir Square in the middle of Cairo to demand Hosni Mubarak stands down from power. If the army moves to support the people, he and his supporters will have no choice but to do what is asked of them either today or tomorrow as worldwide political pressure grows. Once that happens and the secular celebrations surrounding his departure are over, we will see moves towards the establishment of democratic elections at which the Islamic Brotherhood will emerge from the shadows to possibly become the dominant force of Egyptian politics…