Arab revolts bring Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist regional vision closer

March 29, 2012

(An Egyptian protester holds up a Koran while participating in a rally at Tahrir square in Cairo July 29, 2011.REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood has quietly spread its influence far beyond Egypt in its 84-year history, but Arab revolts have opened broad new political horizons the group hopes will reflect its founder’s vision for the Arab and Islamic world.

“There is no doubt that Hassan al-Banna believed in Islamic unity and not just Arab unity. But with such a vision we must consider reality and what is possible,” said Mahmoud Ghozlan, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive bureau.

Interviewed at the group’s new headquarters in Cairo, he called such unity a “long-term objective”, but seemed alive to the possibilities thrown up by a ferment in which Islamists are driving mainstream politics across North Africa and beyond.

“This region is in a period of deep-rooted change,” the 64-year-old said. “Starting from Tunisia and ending with Syria, the nature of the region and alliances will change.”

The Brotherhood, banned and repressed under President Hosni Mubarak, did not instigate the uprising against him, but like Islamist parties elsewhere it has been the main beneficiary, using free elections to sweep to the brink of power.

Its success, along with election wins by Islamists in Tunisia and Morocco, and the emergence of powerful Islamist players in Libya and inside Syria’s opposition, is forcing the world to rethink how it deals with political Islam.

The Brotherhood, the oldest and most established contemporary Islamist movement, could find itself at the center of a Sunni arc of influence from the Atlantic to the eastern Mediterranean.

“We can start to talk of an emerging Sunni Islamist bloc from North Africa all the way potentially to Syria. I think the Brotherhood is the most important part of that,” said Shadi Hamid, research director at the Doha Brookings Center in Qatar.

“They are part of a broader movement, and it is that movement that is going to reshape the regional architecture.”

Read the full story by Edmund Blair and Tom Perry here.
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