CGP Senior Fellow Kamran Bokhari talks with Eric Trager, the Esther K. Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute, about the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Trager is the author of “Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days” and was in Egypt during the 2011 uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak.
In this podcast, Trager dispels the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate Islamist movement. He calls the group “a totalitarian cult” and describes the years-long vetting process meant to weed out members who aren’t completely loyal to the cause, who ask too many questions or who don’t follow orders. Trager also discusses the group’s hierarchical structure and its ideology that Islam is an all-encompassing concept and only the Brotherhood’s interpretation of the faith is correct.
One of the factors that led to the Brotherhood’s downfall in Egypt is that its version of Islam does not correspond with many Muslims’ beliefs, Trager says, pointing out that the group’s use of religion in Egypt alienated a population that is 90 percent Muslim. Though some would argue that the Brotherhood is considered moderate because it is not Al Qaeda, Trager says “They’re not Al Qaeda” should not be the standard for moderation among Islamist groups. He also points out that after 2011, the Brotherhood was not the only Islamist party in the game; Salafist groups got involved in politics for the first time.
Trager says one of the things that struck him the most after the Muslim Brotherhood gained power in Egypt was the lack of answers about policy changes. He says he spoke with some leaders about what would change under a Muslim Brotherhood government and discovered that the group’s political motivations were more about gaining power than imposing any specific policy.
After losing power and being gutted in Egypt — with many leaders dead, in prison or in exile — the Brotherhood is now divided over tactics, Trager says. But whether the Brotherhood should be banned or not depends on how it manages its relationships with the countries where it has a presence, Trager says, and is not a decision that Washington can make from 6,000 miles away.