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How Will The Muslim Brotherhood Govern?


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the major winner in Egypt's parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is set to control at least 40 percent of the seats in the lower house of the legislature. The Islamist Party, which was long oppressed under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, is now the most important powerbroker in the country.

As Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Cairo, the question now is: what does the Brotherhood really represent? How will it govern?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Muslim Brotherhood leaders can wax poetic when talking about what it means to be on the cusp of power. After years of lurking in the shadows, persecuted and imprisoned, the Brotherhood's top spokesman and a member of its executive office, Mahmoud Ghozlan describes the new sensation of freedom.

MAHMOUD GHOZLAN: (Through Translator) It is undoubtedly the feeling of a bird that has been released from a cage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the brotherhood has survived these many years not on poetry but on hardnosed pragmatism. Egypt is at a delicate phase. Elections have delivered the Brotherhood a resounding victory but its still not clear what authority the new parliament will have.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, which rules Egypt, has been trying to preserve its political and economic privileges, refusing to devolve key powers to the new body. It's also been accused of abuses, including torture and the killing of at least 80 protesters since Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

In an interview with NPR, Ghozlan says some concessions have to be made for the greater good of the country, including possibly, offering immunity from prosecution for members of the ruling junta.

GHOZLAN: (Through Translator) If they are told they will be tried like Mubarak once they hand over power, logically, can we expect them to handover power easily? For the greater good of the country, they should be reassured in order to avoid more bloodshed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Brotherhood's critics see the potential offer as another sign that the Islamist party has been co-opted by the military. Egypt's liberal groups who fared badly in the elections are especially concerned. But there is more that divides the Brotherhood and the generals than unites them, say the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood wants to have presidential elections before a constitution is drafted, so that it happens under the authority of an elected civilian power. The military council, on the other hand, wants a role in crafting the vital document, so it's pushing for it to happen before a presidential vote.

Ghozlan says that's a red line for the Brotherhood.

GHOZLAN: (Through Translator) When the military interferes in matters of politics, dictatorship takes deeper root. For Egypt, we want military rule that started in 1952 to end and for power to be transferred to an elected civilian authority so we can enjoy freedom, democracy and human rights.

SHADI HAMID: The Muslim Brotherhood historically doesn't like full-on confrontation, so I think they are going to do whatever they can to reach understandings in the meantime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shadi Hamid is with the Brookings Institution. He says compromise will only go so far.

HAMID: The Brotherhood wants something very different than what the SCAF wants going forward. The Brotherhood wants a strong, powerful parliament, the SCAF wants a relatively weak parliament. And I think it's moving towards a full on confrontation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those tensions will define what happens next in Egypt. Mohamed Beltagy, is a leading member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and was just elected to the new parliament. He says the Muslim Brotherhood will fight for what it believes in, if it has to.

MOHAMED BELTAGY: (Through Translator) Definitely, we've succeeded at being the opposition. And now we are going through an important test in shouldering responsibility. If the largest political force on the Egyptian street backs away from that responsibility it will harm the country's interests greatly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a country on the verge of economic implosion, plagued by cycles of violence and struggling to move forward. The Muslim Brotherhood now has to shoulder the expectations of a population that is impatient for both change and stability. A strategy of alternately appeasing and challenging the military junta might backfire, alienating its supporters.

Beltagy says the Brotherhood is trying to navigate the complexities of its new role.

BELTAGY: (Through Translator) We are entering an important test. And we have inherited a huge burden to bear, and an exhausted legacy. This leaves us with problems that are greater than our resources.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says maybe people's faith in us will buy us time. But in any case, he says, it is a new and different mission.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.