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Feuding Brothers

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
April 5, 2011
Foreign Policy


As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cairo's Tahrir Square during her first visit to post-revolutionary Egypt last month, I watched the news unfold from several miles away in the damp, sparse offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary leaders.

"Why doesn't she meet with us?" asked one Brotherhood member.

"We know why," said another.

And then they both fell silent.

I was in Cairo to understand that confusing silence. In days packed with meetings with leaders and grassroots activists of the Islamist group, Egypt's largest and best organized, I pressed them on their views toward hot-button issues like the role of sharia in government, human rights, Israel, and global terrorism. In meeting with Brotherhood members hailing from all walks of life, I found an array of diverse and even contradictory views that refuted the conception of the Muslim Brotherhood as a monolithic, anti-Western organization.

Under former President Hosni Mubarak's rule, it was easy to ignore the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned and occasionally tolerated. Nobody's ignoring the group anymore. The Brothers are on the march to power. Their sheer numbers, political legacy, and ability to mobilize crowds make them the single most potent political force in the country. The Washington foreign-policy establishment's reaction to the movement has ranged from caution to outright hostility. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for example, recently raised fears that the Brotherhood would "hijack" the revolution.

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