Harvard study says Muslim Brotherhood will never be a viable political force

While most people in the Arab world are religious, they do not view Islam as “a comprehensive system of values and governance.”

Dissection of riddled history. Nawaf Obaid, author of “The Muslim Brotherhood: A Failure in Political Evolution.” (Nawaf Obaid)

2017/07/23 Issue: 116 Page: 11

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

Washington- As “an ideology bent on inserting more reli­gion — including sharia — into politics and the legal system,” the Mus­lim Brotherhood could not gain ac­ceptability by the majority in Arab countries, Nawaf Obaid said.

Obaid, a visiting fellow for Intel­ligence and Defence Projects at the Belfer Centre for Science and Inter­national Affairs at Harvard Univer­sity, is the author of “The Muslim Brotherhood: A Failure in Political Evolution,” released this month.

The Muslim Brotherhood be­gan as an opposition movement, as have many political parties throughout history. In the case of the Brotherhood, it was opposition to Westernisation characterised by post-independence secular re­gimes in the Middle East. Broth­erhood opposition, however, was based on an ideology determined to insert religion into politics and the legal system, Obaid wrote.

This, he said, has made it unac­ceptable to the majority in most Arab countries that “have grown increasingly inimical to such inser­tion.”

While most people in the Arab world are religious, they do not view Islam as “a comprehensive system of values and governance,” Obaid said the Brotherhood’s vi­sion renders it fundamentally ob­structive to democratic norms, tolerant societies and political sys­tems that reflect a wide range of viewpoints.

Compounding the Brotherhood’s problem, Obaid said, has been its inability “to keep its members in step” on issues and political strat­egies. No doubt this is due to the Brotherhood consisting of dispa­rate, loosely connected organisa­tions spread across the Arab and Muslim worlds, each standing in opposition to a different govern­ment. The effect is that the Broth­erhood sends profoundly mixed signals about the imposition of sharia and, more critically, about terrorism and jihadism.

For every positive or constructive comment by a Brotherhood leader, one can easily find an equally nega­tive and destructive comment from another one.

Obaid, who formerly served as special adviser to Prince Turki al- Faisal when he was the Saudi am­bassador to Britain and later to the United States, wrote: “(A)s an op­positionist movement that has had a difficult time keeping its members united and that also has myriad links to terrorism and/or a failure to address terrorism, the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] has struggled to gain legitimacy as a viable form of gov­ernance.”

Obaid’s argument was reinforced by the recent examples of Brother­hood political success: The brief terms in office of Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi and Tunisia’s Ennahda Party.

Morsi governed in an overbear­ing manner and enacted laws that seemed to be dictated by unelected Brotherhood ideologists, despite his resigning as a Brotherhood member on his election as presi­dent. Egypt’s powerful deep state did not try to make things easy for Morsi but his errors in office and a mixed message on terrorism ac­counted for the popular protests that led to his ouster and the sub­sequent suppression of the Broth­erhood.

In Tunisia, Ennahda became the governing party after the ouster of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali but proved slow to react in the face of terror attacks and the creation of jihadist cells along Tunisia’s border with Algeria, rais­ing suspicions about its true inten­tions. Perhaps viewing Morsi’s fate as a warning, Ennahda relinquished power to maintain its status as a legitimate political player and pre­vent suffering the fate of the Egyp­tian Brotherhood. Obaid called Tu­nisia “a bit of a success story for the MB.”

Jordan and Morocco, Obaid sug­gested, are similar partial success stories although in both cases Brotherhood parties have been ac­commodating to the government and, in the case of Jordan, has used “a gentle, non-radical terminol­ogy.”

While Tunisia, Morocco and Jor­dan are examples of Brotherhood parties that learned to adjust to be­ing “legitimate opposition,” they have not eliminated concerns over hidden agendas and a serious com­mitment to separating religious life from political life. Obaid suggested that these concerns will hinder the Brotherhood in its efforts to achieve political power, at least via the bal­lot box.

Obaid concluded that parties of the Brotherhood will never suc­ceed in achieving lasting political success because “its history is far too riddled with infighting, vio­lence and resistance to give way to a cohesive organisation that will ever gain widespread support as a source of respectable political lead­ership in the Arab world.”

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262


Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved