The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Hamid on the MB's "Arab Calvinism"

Shadi Hamid of Brookings-Doha does some great research, but I tend to disagree with what he has written over the past year about the Muslim Brothers — I think they are much more conservative and less democratic than he gives them credit for, and strongly oppose any special relationship or particular "engagement" between the US and the MB, which he seemed to advocate in this piece last May. And I don't think they're interested in the Turkish model in any meaningful manner. But Shadi has a very nice turn of phrase in his latest Foreign Affairs piece:

In years past, the Brotherhood distanced itself from the Turkish Islamists under Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, whom they saw as unfaithful to the Islamist program, morphing into little more than European-style conservative democrats. But having emerged from Mubarak's repression with a real chance of ruling, the Brotherhood is increasingly looking toward the Turkish model. What the Brotherhood has absorbed from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party is that strong economic growth makes everything else easier. If you raise people's living standards, they are more likely to listen to you on noneconomic matters. Perhaps more important, the Brotherhood believes Egyptians will associate any such economic success with the "Islamic project" -- a sort of Arab Calvinist dream.  

He goes on about the potential for the MB to use parliament as a counter-weight to SCAF and, eventually, the presidency as well as their institutional culture. But I find what's interesting about the economic ideas of the Brothers is actually taking place away from parliament (although they did try to introduce a business court reform bill in 2006 I believe) and in their discreet reaching out to the business community since Mubarak's overthrow. As a group of mostly economic liberals that has many entrepreneurs in its higher echelons, the MB has been experimenting with business incubators and sending reassuring messages to the business community. But it also has some odd economic ideas with roots in an Egyptian tradition of populism that cuts across the political spectrum and makes little sense today, such as, in the FJP's program, "Achieving self-sufficiency in strategic commodities, particularly of wheat and cotton."

But in many other respects they favor free entreprise, economic rule of law, help to boost SMEs and other very reasonable ideas, interwoven with some religious concepts such as makign zakat more effective, reforming the awqaf charitable foundation system and more. Do check out their program, which we've made available in English and Arabic in our documents section.