The Muslim Brothers are left behind, again

One of the interesting things about the gigantic turnout on Tahrir Square is that it is happening even as the Muslim Brotherhood has officially opposed the protests and most Salafists done the same, in the name of calming the streets before the elections. This decision is very reminiscent of January 25, when they refused to take part in the first protests leading to the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. The same goes for the Salafists, who apart from Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, have opposed protests and even tried to intervene to stop them in Alexandria yesterday.

This is not to say there are no Muslim Brothers or Salafists, or other religiously-inclined people in Tahrir today. There are.

But their leadership has failed them once more. Once again the Muslim Brotherhood has shown that its basic essence has not changed: just as its leader in 2009 said he had no problems with a Gamal Mubarak presidency and had much respect for Hosni Mubarak, just as they rushed ton negotiate with president-apparent Omar Suleiman in late January, just like they preferred to cut a deal with the military in the transition's early days and accepted a slapdash referendum and constitutional declaration, the Brothers are once again swimming against the prevailing tide of the Egyptian people. They prefer to negotiate for their own maximum advantage rather take a principled position.

I often think the Brothers' biggest problem is not that they are fundamentalist, or out of touch with the Egyptian mainstream, or too radical. It's that they are perceived, rightly, as schemers by average people. It's true of their leaders, at least, and it's what has made so many bright young people leave them in recent years and so many others doubt their intentions.