Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity underrated in Egypt: Zeev Maoz

The oppressed have raised their voice and the only way ahead seems to be Egyptian leader`s ouster.

No, it’s not Islamism. What has pushed the people out on the streets of Egypt - one of the most populous country in the Middle East - is unemployment, almost absence of rule of law and rampant corruption in their country. It is a historic moment. Millions of Egyptians are on the streets to bring a change in their country. They want to oust President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak, who has been ruling Egypt with an iron fist for almost 30 years.

Egyptian President’s announcement that he would not run for re-election means Mubarak era in Egypt has come to a discomfiting end. But his declaration has not made any difference to the chaotic situation on streets of the country by the Nile. The oppressed have raised their voice and the only way ahead seems to be Mubarak’s ouster.

In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of, Zeev Maoz, an expert of Middle East, discusses the crisis that has gripped Egypt and the role of the US in pacifying the uprising.

Zeev Maoz is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Davis, as well as Distinguished Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, Israel.

Kamna: How is the US shaping its Egypt policy now?

Maoz: It seems that the US is attempting to persuade Mubarak to step down right away and is talking to Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, the military commanders, and—to a lesser extent—to some leaders of the opposition to insure quick and peaceful transition. But so far, this doesn’t seem to have an effect. It could be that US pressure finally got the military to act against the pro-Mubarak demonstrators but chaos seems to reign nevertheless.

Kamna: How is Israel looking at the events?

Maoz: Israel is very concerned and views these events with mixed feelings and a lot of anxiety. Three major concerns shape Israeli view:

1. The future of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Israel is concerned that a new government will abrogate the treaty, either for ideological reasons (if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power or exerts significant influence on Egypt’s foreign policy), or to divert attention from Egypt’s domestic—economic and political—problems. At the very least, a new government might open its border with Gaza, effectively ending Israel’s siege of Hamas.

2. The spread of unrest and regime change in Jordan and/or a Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon. Changes in Syria and/or Iran would be less troubling for Israel but a rise of an Islamic Syria would be extremely dangerous as well. These changes might worsen Israel’s strategic posture which had been greatly improved following the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

3. An economic concern. Egypt was Israel’s main supplier of natural gas. If this pipeline closes, Israel would have to import gas at higher prices. This is a short-term concern, as a huge gas field was found outside of Israel’s shore which is considered to be one of the largest in the world. However, this gas field is not likely to be operational in the next two years.

Kamna: Do you think in case of a free election, the Muslim Brotherhood would get support among the Egyptians?

Maoz: I think both western analysts and Egyptian liberals underestimate the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is well organised, it controls the mosques, and provides a lot of social services. Most important, the message of Islam will cure everything is one that is likely to resound promising among the poor, disenfranchised, and unemployed Egyptians. I think that they will get a fair amount of votes. Even if they do not emerge as the largest party, they are likely to be a part of the ruling coalition.

Kamna: What do you think of the future of Mohamed Mustafa ElBaradei in Egyptian politics in the wake of recent crisis?

Maoz: ElBaradei is a well-respected figure but without much grassroot support. He may emerge as the compromise candidate to replace Mubarak, but is likely to find a lot of contenders to his position. One of the arguments against him is that he was away from Egypt for a very long time, thus is not well suited to deal with Egypt’s domestic political problems. What is working for him is that he has the Wafd party organisation behind him, so this would help. Anyway, any prediction on the outcome of this crisis is fraught with uncertainty and danger, so I wouldn’t place any bets on anybody—including Mubarak himself—just yet.

Kamna: Is Yemen to be the next country to be hit by a wave of `Tunisami` after Egypt?

Maoz: It seems that change is already due in Yemen as President Saleh announced that he will not seek re-election and neither would his son run for elections.