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Professional Islamists

The Muslim Brotherhood’s long march through the institutions.

Feb 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 22 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The Brotherhood’s takeover of these professional institutions and its resulting influence over doctors, pharmacists, engineers, lawyers, and media personnel provided the movement with a solid constituency within Egyptian society. Qutb’s vision of Islamic regeneration in the sciences produced a political power bloc resting on the professional interests and yearning for the stability of Egypt’s educated elite. Within the Brotherhood, the move toward penetration and recruitment in the professions has produced differing opinions. Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, argues that the content of the Koran is specific to its historical context. Kamal al-Helbawy, a Brotherhood representative in Britain since the mid-1990s, has argued that the Koran contains all of human knowledge and that there is nothing new to be added to it. In the latter view, if the Brotherhood comes to power in any Muslim country, education and science must be brought under rigid religious authority. 

Strength in civil society is the necessary foundation for a successful transition away from authoritarianism or totalitarianism to popular sovereignty. 

In all countries, professional and other voluntary associations are a key element of civil society. In Egypt today, the Muslim Brotherhood is not merely one among many competing religious groups; nor does it command omnipotent influence in the opposition to Mubarak. But its prestige in the professions provides it with a major platform for its future ambitions. In the history of the Brotherhood, the Mubarak era is but one chapter, and little about the Brotherhood or its power today may be said to have been caused or even aggravated by Mubarak’s errors. The Brotherhood had prepared the foundation for its present involvement in Egyptian politics long before the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 and Mubarak’s accession to power.

Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam and The Other Islam, both published by Doubleday.

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