I"ve heard the Muslim Brotherhood labeled a lot of things. Things such as terrorists and extremists. They have been called violent, dangerous and a threat to Egyptian society. The group is even outlawed in Egypt. According to the Brotherhood itself, the allegations against them are pure propaganda.
While attending a dialogue at the University of Cairo, I asked some of the participants a few questions about the Muslim Brotherhood. It was an attempt to get a little perspective on the group, but I wasn"t prepared for the eruption of heated dialogue that ensued. In retrospect, I think it was my comment that I had heard the Brotherhood identified as a terrorist organization that set up the animated discussion. Despite the relatively careless comment, I was quickly and harshly educated about the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, to be clear I was educated about the group"s views of the Brotherhood. These views came with the disclaimer "The University of Cairo is not Cairo, Cairo is not Egypt, and Egypt is not the Middle East."
After the dialogue, I was approached by a student member of the Muslim Brotherhood. There were members in the dialogue! No wonder my comments sparked such an animated response. I was surprised by the student"s willingness to talk with me about the Brotherhood. He even set up two separate interviews for me with the group. One with a small group of members, and then an individual interview with a higher ranking official of the Brotherhood. The names of the interviewees have to be withheld for obvious reasons, but the Brotherhood"s answers to a few questions will hopefully provide some first-hand perspective into the organization"s goals and convictions.
To me, the obvious first question to ask any political organization is what they plan to do with power if they should obtain it. But to my surprise, the Muslim Brotherhood says that power is not what they"re after. They also aren"t purely a political organization. As it was explained to me, the Brotherhood advocates a set of Islamic ideals. They want these ideals implemented into the structure of the government. They believe that the implementation of Islamic ideals into the Egyptian government will help to end the corruption that is so pervasive. The Brotherhood isn"t the only group that complains of corruption in the government, just ask anyone. Anywhere. Prepare for an earfull.
This overwhelming and pervasive sense of government disapproval explains why the Brotherhood was able to obtain 20 percent of the seats in the Egyptian Parliament. More seats than any other opposition party. This is despite Muslim Brotherhood candidates having to run on independent ballots because of the group"s illegal status. Group members say that in a fair election, the Brotherhood would easily have won the majority of the seats. They say that people are tired of the current regime, tired of the corruption, and tired of the poor economy.
Another interesting point about the Brotherhood is that they advocate democracy. The group, in recent years, has done away with the old saying that "Islam is the solution," now advocating that "Democracy is the solution." One would think that a group advocating democracy would win favor and support in the eyes of the world. The issue here, however, is that if the democracy runs its course in Egypt, there will very likely be an Islamic government in place. Many governments find that prospect threatening. There is an interesting video on youtube that talks about this issue, check it out here:
Despite popular propaganda, the Muslim Brotherhood officially condemns acts of violence, they say that this is in accordance with the Qur"an, which does not allow violence except in extreme circumstances. The group cites the chapter 5 verse 32 of the Qur"an. Despite this stance, the group has been accused of various violent acts throughout the past century. These accusations aren"t unfounded, seeing as the group did formerly have militant operations, which have been disbanded since the mid 1960s. Since then, no violence has been committed by the group. The group maintains that any violence carried out in the name of the Muslim Brotherhood was committed by an individual, without the knowledge or support of the Brotherhood. It"s similar to the United States military as a whole being accused of torture and terrorism because of the acts of a few its members, acting independently of the whole.
For more in depth first-hand perspective on the Muslim Brotherhood, you can visit the group"s english language site.