Long before the phrase ‘Arab Spring’ had been coined, one of the principal justifications given in some Western countries for supporting the often violently authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (‘MENA’) region during the post-1945 period was the purported danger of Islamic fundamentalist (or, in more recent times, Islamist) rule. Now-deposed presidents such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were said to be bulwarks against a ‘Green Peril’ of radicalised zealots that would sweep all before it en route to transforming the Greater Middle East into a cauldron of ideological extremism.
The movement that cropped up time and again in this analysis was the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt (‘the MB’, ‘the Brotherhood’), a rather opaque organisation that was at once an integral part of the dictatorial system – particularly under Hosni Mubarak – and regularly terrorised by it. A 1928 establishment, the Brotherhood – with its considerable network of businesses, significant membership from the professional classes and organisational capacity built up over decades of operation – was, in the absence of a stern dictator such as Mubarak, destined to rule Egypt apparently ad infinitum, transforming it (one presumes) into some kind of emirate in the process.
Yet within eighteen months of Mubarak’s ousting, this narrative already seems to be highly questionable:
1. An Underwhelming Start. The first clear signs that the conventional wisdom might not be so wise occurred in the Q4 2011/Q1 2012 elections to the People’s Assembly of Egypt and the Shura or Consultation Council, the respective lower and upper houses of Egypt’s bicameral parliament: the MB’s newly-founded political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (‘the FJP’), polled 37.5% in the People’s Assembly ballot and 45.0% in the Consultation Council counterpart – good figures, but hardly the stuff of full-spectrum domination. These numbers begin to look slightly disappointing when one bears in mind that many other entities that are sure to be powerful electoral forces in the future had not yet coalesced into anything like coherent platforms; in other words, in this sense the Brotherhood may already have peaked.
2. Electoral Slide. This impression of the Muslim Brotherhood’s distinct fallibility only grew with the recent first round of the 2012 presidential contest (23rd-24th May 2012). The MB’s eventual candidate – the bespectacled engineer Mohamed Morsi, put forward following the banning from running of furniture salesman Khairat El-Shater by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – is estimated to have only just crept over the 25% mark, with none of the four candidates positioned closely behind Morsi in the polls holding political positions analogous to the Brotherhood.
3. Parliamentary Performance. An excellent recent report by Al Jazeera English icon Sherine Tadros illustrated why the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral performance has slid so dramatically in a matter of a few months: even to their natural sympathisers, their performance in parliament has been anything but inspiring; they are acknowledged as ‘good people’, but not necessarily the solution to coax Egypt out of its economic malaise. And herein lies the crux of the matter: no party in Egypt – whether it be Islamist, liberal, liberal Islamist, socialist or radical – is likely to enjoy much support for long if it does not implement solid policies to remedy the country’s chronic youth unemployment, acute security deficit and hopelessly inadequate public services.