As Nicholas Kristof notes, Egypt’s oldest and most popular Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, is now transforming into an inclusive political party after its electoral victory. Kristof’s field conversation with the activists reveal how the Muslim Brotherhood’s future is discussed in terms of “Iran versus Turkey,” a growing discursive trend that I underlined in my previous post. The first round of election results have provided not only a big self-confidence for the Brotherhood but also a discursive opportunity: surprising many, conservative Salafis had a remarkable vote for their party, Al-Nour (second place after the MB).
Although scholarly reports on Egyptian Salafism criticize alarmist media descriptions, the Al-Nour is predominantly portrayed as Islamist, ultraconservative, and radical. Now, the media pundits ask what is the future of Egypt, as all dominant players are becoming some sort of Islamic actors. Instead, I wonder if a positive “radical flank effect” would work for the Muslim Brotherhood (a concept that is largely known among social movement scholars). The concept basically suggests that a contemporaneous radical challenge may help or hinder a moderate movement (so, radical flank effect could be positive or negative). Despite the fact that Salafis are not violent, the radical demands of the Salafis would make the MB’s strategic positioning much more acceptable in the eyes of Western powers. Social movements literature often considers the radical flank effect within a movement (intramovement); however, the radical flank could be applicable to inter-movement relations. Consider the following field observation of a journalist:
Now it’s the Brothers who complain that the Nour party is using religion to sway voters. “The simple people in the countryside are confused by a superficial, religious appearance,” says Daoud. “Whoever has this appearance they think is a religious authority and someone who can bring about change.”
Thus far, the Western discourse has been freaking-out about Islamist threat in Egypt (and that was referring to the Muslim Brotherhood). Now, I suspect, it might turn to a depiction of “good Muslims” versus “bad Muslims” (read: good Brothers versus bad Salafis) in near future. It is noteworthy that the MB’s political party is named as “Freedom and Justice Party” (after the revolution), reminiscent of Turkey’s moderate Islamic “Justice and Development Party” (AKP), which came to power in 2002 after its denunciation of radical Islamic demands of the National Outlook movement (a positive radical flank effect). Will history repeat itself?