Public Secrecy, Social Networks, and Political Morality: The Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Society

Report: Political anchoring
By Marie Vannetzel

This article analyzes the way in which the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood organization, founded in 1928 and still part of the Egyptian political scene under Mubarak’s regime despite being illegal until 2011, defined its relations with society. For reasons linked both to the movement’s ideology and to particular features of the Egyptian regime, these relations with society were not only the bedrock of the Brotherhood’s political strategy but became also the main stake of their action. The case of Sheikh al-Muhammadi ‘Abd al-Maqsud, Brotherhood Member of Parliament for the Helwan constituency in the working class southern suburbs of Cairo between 2005 and 2010, shows how much importance was given to the development of local networks. This case also emphasizes the constraints caused by the organization’s semi-clandestine status in this process of building social bonds. With the reduction in the social welfare functions of the Egyptian State, the “public secrecy” in which the Brotherhood was operating seemed like a formula for tacit cooperation with the authorities. But, in the end, it may have helped rather than hindered their political goal of social transformation through individual moral reform (this article was written in 2010).

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