The Brotherhood and business

Submitted by martin on 20 February, 2011 - 5:26

Some reports suggest that the upheavals in Egypt have created ferment within the Muslim Brotherhood, the political-Islamist movement which was the largest visible political opposition force under Mubarak and also the oldest of the Middle East's Sunni-Islamist movements.

Groupings such as Hamas, among the Palestinians, originated as offshoots of the Brotherhood.

A 2009 study by Husam Tammam and Patrick Haenni, written for a Swiss-based research institute, sets a baseline for assessing the more recent reports by giving an overview of the Brotherhood and the "social question".

In line with the call from the Brotherhood's founder, Hassan al-Banna, for the creation of elements of Islamist economy, several Brotherhood-owned capitalist corporations were created in the 1940s.

In Egypt's "Arab socialist" period, under Nasser, Brotherhood capital fled to the Gulf, and developed strong interests there, mainly in construction and import-export business.

The Brotherhood both supported and took advantage of Sadat's "infitah" (neo-liberal) policies from the 1970s. Brotherhood capital returned to Egypt and invested massively in construction, property development, health, education, and transport.

These moves have created a veritable "business lobby" within the Brotherhood. In 1997 the Brotherhood supported an agrarian counter-reform, by Mubarak, which returned certain lands nationalised by Nasser to the old landlords.

A Brotherhood economic expert has called for a two-thirds reduction in Egypt's public-sector payroll "to guarantee an increased workforce for the private sector"; and the Brotherhood has called directly for privatisation in the health and education sectors, hoping to benefit by organising its own substitute "Islamic" provision.

Historically, political Islamism has presented itself as a just alternative to both "socialism" and "capitalism". However, in the Brotherhood social and anti-capitalist agitation has dwindled in recent decades. "The new Islamists never speak of social justice and redistribution... Their demand is that they should be rich in order to be good Islamists..."

The late 1930s to the early 1950s was the "golden age" of Brotherhood "workerism". It set up a "worker" section and supported some strikes; but it opposed others, and insisted that the first job of Brotherhood worker-activists was to preach Islam.

When government repression against the Brotherhood eased in the 1970s, it first re-implanted itself in the universities and professional associations (lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.) rather than among workers. But from 1998 the Brotherhood began an effort in Egypt's state-controlled "unions", with a little success.

The Brotherhood's refusal to support the strikes in solidarity with the Mahalla workers in 2008 was due not only to caution, but also to the fact that a Brotherhood leader was among the owners of the Mahalla factory.

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