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.