The Muslim Brotherhood from an International Relations Perspective

29 December 2012 | 04:17 Code : 1910889 From Other Media General category
An essay by Keyhan Barzegar, a university professor, for Khabar Online
The Muslim Brotherhood from an International Relations Perspective

Economy and interaction, identities and norms, and power and role are the three key themes of the mainstream international relations theories. The first one is related to Liberalism, the second to Constructivism, and the third to Realism. The behavior and policy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can be analyzed with these three themes.

The Middle East is a special and unique region. Issues of world energy security, international economy, financial resources, etc., have affected the region’s politics for long and actually created peculiar complexities in this region. For example, the importance of the issue of energy security for the great powers has led to their intervention in the region and different wars. One of the main reasons behind the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War was the issue of energy security.

On the other hand, the Middle East is still an ideological and value-based region where historical and political issues play an important role in making the identity of the nation-states. For instance, there is a strong sense of resistance among Middle Eastern societies towards the outside powers’ intervention in the regional affairs. Or each nation-state has its own historical view and sense of rivalry or identical differences with other nation-states in the region i.e., the Arabs and the Turks, and the Iranians and the Arabs.

 Ultimately, the Middle East is a region where the states and especially the ruling elites seek extensive power and role, either for the sake of preserving the interests of the country or safeguarding their governments which is, in fact, the main issue of Realism. A vivid example is the role the main regional powers are playing in dealing with the Syrian crisis in order to preserve their geopolitical interests. 

This combination creates a special framework from the viewpoint of international relations theories in the Middle East, which I call "idealistic realism". This means a combination of maintaining the interests of the country, along with safeguarding the ideological values of the ruling elites, and national and identical characteristics of the states, which is basically the reason behind the complexity of issues in the Middle East. 

The Muslim Brotherhood is not outside of this framework. The emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of a government has, for the first time, occurred in the Middle East. This issue would greatly affect the future balance of power and political structure in the region. Because a new ideological trend has entered in the conduct of the state’s internal politics and foreign relations.

Prior to this development, the Shiite and the Wahhabist trends were realized in the context of states’ policies.  The Shiite government was for the first time formed in Iran following the advent of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Then in 2003, a Shiite government was also formed in the context of an Arab Iraqi state. These developments have had great impacts on the redefinition of the states’ regional role and in general the political and security structures of the region. The Wahhabist ideology in the context of Saudi Arabia’s state has also had important impacts on the region’s politics.

These two trends have existed in the region until this day, when the Muslim Brotherhood has taken shape in the form of a government in Egypt. At present, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood has entered the administrative affairs of the Egyptian government. One should wait and see how the interests of the government of Egypt can be combined with the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood as an ideological trend.

The factor of ideology has long influenced the foreign policy of states in the Middle East. Starting with Iran, this characteristic has incorporated the Shiite ideology in the regional policy of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Here ideology impacts the political structure and foreign relations of the country. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Israel are all the governments which have entered the factor of ideology in their actual policies, particularly in the conduct of foreign policy. 

In this context, the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a turning point. Traditionally, Egypt has been a regional player with a traditional realistic view of only dealing with the Arab world issues. This traditional view encouraged a government-centered way of thought in the context of playing the power politics game in the Arab world in which Egypt was at the center of all developments.

For this reason, Egypt was an important actor during the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser. But during the Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak presidencies, due to the signing of the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel and following the political and security policies of the United States in the region, Egypt's role in the Arab world was gradually marginalized.

However, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Morsi government intends to increase Egypt's regional role in the broader context of Arab and non-Arab states of the Middle East. In this respect, Egypt’s traditional regional policy cannot meet the needs of the Muslim Brotherhood government. At present, Egypt, similar to Iran and Turkey which have used their ideologies i.e., the Shiite and the Neo-Ottomanism/Turkish style Muslim brotherhood respectively to expand their regional roles, attempts to enter the Egyptian ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood in the policies of the Egyptian government in the domestic politics and foreign relations, thus increasing its regional role and influence.

This means that today, Egypt is faced with an idealistic realism in which it believes that it should cooperate with other regional players on the issues related to the preservation of Egypt’s geopolitical interests. For this reason, President Morsi has tried to involve Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in a regional cooperation context for solving the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, in order to be able to solidify its position in Egypt's political, security, and economic institutions, which have traditionally been in the hands of the secular trends and security apparatus, the Muslim Brotherhood must certainly pay attention to the economic and social demands of Egypt's middle-class especially the youth, and those of the poor in this country. Here the main theme of Liberalism i.e., interaction and institutional and economic cooperation come into play.  One should perceive that President Morsi is likely to consolidate the Egyptian institutions in order to institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood's status and power in the new Egypt.

For this reason, President Morsi has started interacting with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Russia, the US, Europe, and all countries which can somehow assist the Muslim Brotherhood government achieve this goal. He knows well that it is only through interaction that political stability, which is necessary for Egypt's economic growth, is created in the region.

Yet, one should not forget that the Muslim Brotherhood is by all account an ideological trend. Therefore, the Islamic ideology, values and identity of this faction will eventually affect the interests and policies of the government of Egypt. At present, the discussions related to the new Egyptian constitution and that it should be or should not be based on the Islamic Sharee’ah, have polarized Egyptian society. 

Therefore, in order to keep the Muslim Brotherhood at the head of the government, President Morsi must simultaneously take into consideration the Egypt’s economic problems, identities and norms, and geopolitical interests. In other words, he must combine the key themes of the mainstream international relations theories, Liberalism, Constructivism, and Realism respectively.

With the Arab revolutions and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of the Egyptian government, appropriate grounds have been appeared for the scholars and students of international relations to examine the IR theories in a real political environment of the Middle East.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy

Kayhan Barzegar is a faculty member and Chair of Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University. He is also Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) in Tehran.

tags: muslim brotherhood morsi egypt middle east saudi