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Rounding Up the Brothers

Who says that the Muslim Brothers (MB) in the various Middle Eastern countries do not have a role in elections?

They clearly do have a role, and that role is to sit behind bars.  That is the story in the run-up to elections for the upper chamber in Egypt's parliament and to municipal elections in Jordan.

The Egyptian security forces have continued their arrest campaign against local MB leaders, rounding up over 30 in the past days in Al-Buheirah, Al-Dakhaliyyah and Kafar Al-Sheikh.  In Jordan, Prime Minister Maarouf Al-Bakhit's government is in a stand-off with the Islamists and in an escalatory move, two members of the Jordanian MB - the Islamic Action Front, were arrested in Al-Zarqa City.

Now, I am not a card-carrying member of the MB, not a supporter and not a sympathizer, but this kind of action can hardly embellish the already wobbly popular legitimacy and credibility of the existing non-Islamist regimes.

In Jordan, these latest moves even threaten to upset historical arrangements between the Islamists and the state in which the former intentionally run too few candidates to challenge for a governing majority.

According to the Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper

...there is currently no trust at all between the two sides that are casting accusations against one another...there are ongoing and major debates in the ranks of the MB...

...within the Islamic ranks... there are now those advocating strong participation in the municipal elections to win the majority [of the seats] and respond to the governmental provocation.

The continuous provocations of Al-Bakhit's government are starting to raise an opposition in the ranks of the old guards among the decision-making elite in the state and the senate, whereby they believe that dealing with the Islamists the way that Al-Bakhit is doing is very dangerous, because whether the government likes it or not, the Islamists adopt the rhetoric that is the closest to the mood of the street and because the consecutive governmental strikes against the Islamic Action Front and its leaders and against the MB institutions are increasing the popularity of the movement.

Meanwhile, Israel has been doing the job for Fatah on the Palestinian front.  Israel arrested a number of members of Hamas' political wing in the West Bank, including mayors, members of Parliament, and the Palestinian Authority Education Minister Nasser al-Shaer.  Israel used a similar tactic last June, with little effect.  This is in addition to the military strikes against Hamas in Gaza and the targeting of a building identified with PM Haniyyeh (although the IDF denied that he personally had been targeted).

There is precious little indication that all this is actually serving to strengthen Fatah against Hamas, and the opposite seems to be the case.

What we appear to be witnessing are yet more examples of the manifestly short-sighted and self-defeating policy of undemocratically going after non-Al Qaedist Islamists.

I have been advocating a policy of stepped-up efforts towards political inclusion rather than aggressive exclusion and isolation of the MB movements - including opening appropriately calibrated Western channels of dialogue to them.

In order to more effectively counter Al Qaeda, it will require a change of mindset and an appreciation of the more nuanced and varied toolbox that needs to be used and alliances that need to be built.

Paul Krugman hinted at this in his latest New York Times op-ed, "Trust and Betrayal."

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

Krugman is right - and it is high time that the policy alternatives to this ignorance start getting articulated.


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Comments (6)


Good post Mr. Levy. But I have to agree with Mia that there is a limit to which you can allow "politically illiberal" groups a real chance in democratic elections and a further chance to rule a society which will likely no longer become a democracy after they begin to lead it. Perhaps the best thing to do is not to imprison the MB but for the other side to demonstrate that it can provide the type of social services and comprehensive focus on societal problems that the Brotherhood and Hamas have done thus far.
Of course this is all easier said than done, and the point that barring Islamic groups from potential access to politics in an age of rhetoric about "democratization" and accountability only further radicalizes them...

Gary Hart:

You have made and continue to make more sense on the complex Middle East than virtually anyone around, Mr. Levy. Congratulations on this important new website. I intend to bring it to the attention of as many people as I can. Keep up the important work.

Gary Hart
Kittredge, Colorado


They may be the bad guys, but that doesn't mean that locking them up and throwing away the key (or worse) is the best way to deal with the situation.

Maintaining pluralism may be the best way to invest in future stability. A state built on religious intolerance would be less than desireable.


Everyone agrees that terrorism is bad. Red flags go up and people get passionate when they hear about terrorists who attacked innocent civilians for some radical cause.
If only things were so clear.
In today’s world of undefined grays, people don’t always define terrorism in the same way. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. This becomes even more of an issue when those freedom-fighters try to run for government office. As Americans, we tend to value our democratic ideals and basic human rights as sacrosanct. But the question arises as to how a nation should deal with the political party of a terrorist organization in a democracy, where people are guaranteed their right to freedom of expression, but where the rule of law and respect for other citizen’s voices are essential.
Despite a multitude of concerns and debate, Hamas (a wing of the Brotherhood) participated in the Palestinian elections in January 2006 and won 58% of the seats in the chamber. Hamas has been recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, Israel, and Canada. The group’s stated goal is to conquer all of the State of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, including any secular Palestinian state that may come into existence, and replace it with an Islamic theocracy, as declared in its founding document and by its members. Hamas lauds violence as the means to achieve its ends, as opposed to legal institutions for conflict resolution, and refuses to give up arms as asked by the lawfully elected Palestinian Authority. Contrary to Palestinian and international laws, Hamas’ suicide bombings and other attacks on Israel have led to the deaths of hundreds of Israelis in the past five years alone, and have been condemned by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as well as Human Rights Watch.
An organization which does not recognize the rule of law should not have been permitted to run for election in a democratic society, because government representatives must uphold laws, obey elected authorities, and respect divergent views. In addition, Hamas’ participation in the Palestinian elections violated the 1994 interim peace accords that created the Palestinian Authority and bans any group from running for official positions in the government if it calls for the destruction of Israel. Palestinians violated one of their own founding documents when they allowed Hamas to run in the elections. The fact that Hamas calls for the utter destruction of a state merely because it is Jewish should shock the conscience of the rest of the world. Not only was the Holocaust was a clear indication of the evils of racial and religious discrimination, but supporting the destruction of an independent state in principle endangers the integrity of all independent states.
Recognition implies sanction. Recognizing a government whose basic tenets promote terrorism and murder is tantamount to collusion in terrorism and murder. There is no excuse for terrorizing innocent civilians. And there is no excuse for allowing people who do to run for elected office in a state government. The world should be clear on that.
Some might oppose this plan because they believe that a democracy means letting people choose the leaders they want. They see no justification in stopping a group from running in an election where everyone should have the right to state his or her beliefs.
But legally protected freedoms are not ends in and of themselves. Democracy is not a suicide pact. The purpose of democracy is to ensure the security, liberty, and welfare of its citizens. When rights are abused causing the endangerment of lives, those rights are not serving their purpose. When terrorists hide under the cover of free speech, they are abusing the foundation of a democracy-- respect for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Trying to integrate a dangerous group that goes against everything that the U.S. stands for seems to be a mistake. The group should not exist in the first place, and they certainly do not seem to be showing any chances for change. Their hatred is ingrained in their founding document, their members, and unfortunately, their members’ children. Simply recommending integration, for the sake of understanding and acceptance, seems fruitless and a misguided attempt to spend resources and energy that could be used elsewhere.


Dear anonymous,
your concern about the brothers is well-founded, but how do you expect to understand a group better when you drive it underground.


it does seem like the non-muslim governments of the middle east are upsetting a balance which very precariously held the muslim brothers in check... and it's obviously important that the muslim brothers are not al qaeda, but who know what they are they besides that? I am concerned that my own ignorance of the mb extends even to the experts.

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Daniel Levy


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 30, 2007 10:12 AM.

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