Tide turns in favour of Egypt’s Brotherhood in revolt

February 7, 2011

(Essam El-Erian, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, at a news conference in Cairo February 6, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The first time Essam el-Erian went to jail, he was 27. Last Sunday, he left prison for the eighth time at the age of 57. The medical doctor’s crime for each incarceration was belonging to the Muslim Botherhood, Egypt’s most influential and best-organised Islamist opposition movement and long feared by President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the United States.

Egypt’s courts have repeatedly rebuffed the Brotherhood’s requests for recognition as a party on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.

Now the world could not look more different to the past three decades when Brotherhood members were repressed, arrested, tried in military courts and shunned by the Egyptian government. After the last tumultuous days of popular revolt against Mubarak, it is now the government that is seeking out the Muslim Brotherhood to discuss Egypt’ future.

Mubarak’s Vice President Omar Suleiman met opposition groups on Sunday in talks joined for the first time by the Brotherhood. The once outlawed group is finally well-placed to play a prominent role as Mubarak’s government struggles to survive after 30 years in power.


(Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent figure in the liberal opposition, speaks to protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 30, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Analysts say the dynamics of Egyptian politics have changed from the 1990s when the Brotherhood versus the government was the only game in town. The Jan. 25 uprising has revealed a diversity in liberal movements which could see the creation of new political parties.

“The situation cannot be compared to the past. I don’t think the experience can be repeated or compared with Iran in the same way but of course there are fears,” Diaa Rashwan, an expert at al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said. “Nobody can predict the future but the uprising was against a dark regime. We could have something better, but we could also have chaos as something may happen to spoil and sabotage this uprising.”

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