Juan Cole: Fear Not the Muslim Brotherhood Boogeyman

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Juan R.I. Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.]

The hysteria in American media about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is not only ignorant and demagogic, it is hypocritical. The United States has actively promoted Muslim Brotherhood branches in other countries when it suited its purposes, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, the Turkish and Indonesian cases of democratic transition in the Muslim world should have taught us something about how Muslim fundamentalist parties are themselves transformed in a democratic setting.

As recently as 2005, the pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood had 88 seats in the lower house of the parliament, about 20 percent, and so has been at some points a junior partner in Egypt’s governance. It has been so establishment that it declined to support the Facebook campaign on April 6, 2008, for better wages and working conditions for Egypt’s textile factory workers. Out of that campaign came the April 6 Committee that called for this year’s Jan. 25 demonstration. The Brotherhood joined this year’s protest movement only at the last minute and was not a leading force in it.

On Sunday, the Brotherhood called upon the new military regime to release all prisoners of conscience, including young protesters incarcerated during the past three weeks. Its leaders also asked for an end to the state of emergency laws that allow the government to suspend civil liberties. It further suggested that a cabinet minister be appointed to investigate government corruption under the old regime....

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