The Muslim Brotherhood's long game

The Brotherhood’s arrangement with the SCAF is not surprising. It is consistent with the organization’s long-held strategy of avoiding confrontation with more powerful authorities by negotiating the extent of its political activities. In fact, Morsi was the Brotherhood’s point man in these negotiations during the last five years of Mubarak’s rule, using the dealings to coordinate the Brotherhood’s participation in parliamentary elections and limited interaction with various protest movements. As a cohesive, 84 year-old society, the Brotherhood typically places organizational goals, such as achieving power incrementally, over broader societal goals, such as ending autocratic rule more immediately. “Our program is a long-term one, not a short-term one,” Morsi told me in August 2010. “If we are rushing things, then I don’t think that this leads to a real stable position.”

This hardly means, however, that the Brotherhood intends to accommodate the military indefinitely. Last November, for example, the SCAF and the Brotherhood struck a deal in which the Brotherhood agreed to avoid violent Tahrir Square protests in exchange for the SCAF’s agreement to hold parliamentary elections on time. But the pact broke down in March, when the SCAF first threatened to dissolve the parliament and the Brotherhood suddenly dropped its promise that it would not run a presidential candidate. Moreover, the Brotherhood appears unlikely to accept long-term limits on the authority that it has won in the elections. “The army is owned by the people,” said Brotherhood parliamentarian Osama Suleiman told me. “[Civilian oversight of the military] is the popular will — and nobody can stop popular will.”