Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2012

When Victory Becomes an Option: Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Confronts Success

Nathan J. Brown

January 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stands on the brink of an impressive electoral victory. After several months of suggesting it would check its own electoral ambitions, the Brotherhood plunged into politics with unprecedented enthusiasm, focusing all of its energies and impressive organizational heft on the parliamentary vote. Now, with the electoral list of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, likely to gain close to (and maybe even more than) half the seats and perhaps cabinet positions as well, the movement is entering uncharted waters. Brotherhood leaders often invoke the phrase “participation, not domination.” That old slogan may hold for the time being because the hazy and unsettled rules governing a country in transition make it difficult for any one actor to be in control. And, with the military continuing to exercise a firm grip, the movement will have a strong voice but hardly a dominant one. But the Brotherhood’s ambitions have clearly edged upward. Seeing itself as deeply rooted in its own communities, offering a virtuous alternative to the corrupt system that governed Egyptians for so long and that allowed political, social, and economic power to be deployed for private benefit, Egypt’s Brotherhood now seems to feel called into service by the nation. Recognizing that its electoral strength may spark a counterreaction from other political forces, the Brotherhood is now calling not for a parliamentary system but for a mixed or semipresidential system. Though currently seeking to avoid full authority, the movement is hardly in a timid mood. It is focusing on the longer term: asserting a justifiably powerful claim to a leading role in the process of writing a new constitution. And the movement’s leaders seem to want a democratic constitution above all else.