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Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Admires Turkey
12 March 2013

After the otherthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the west found itself having to deal with members of the Muslim Brotherhood who assumed positions of power in Egypt.

The financial crisis in Egypt prompted members of the Muslim Brotherhood to consider taking the $3 billion IMF loan in order to stabilise the economy. After 80 years as an underground movement with many members in jail, the Brotherhood found itself at a historic moment. Its decision on the IMF loan was a fundamental part of an economic plan for Egypt that was believed vital by many Western officials and by Egypt's own business community.

There has been deep distrust in Egypt of the IMF, fueled by a general suspicion of Western meddling and foreign invasions in the 18th and 19th centuries to collect debts. The Suez Canal crisis in 1956, brought on my President Nasser's nationalisation of the canal, is still a living memory for many British and French officials. Many Egyptians believe that the Western-style economic reforms of recent years enriched a handful of wealthy regime cronies and did little for regular people.

Yet the Brotherhood recently ended up giving tentative approval to the $3 billion IMF loan. Since the Brotherhood was legalized after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the group has tried to remake itself. Two years ago it was a secretive group dominated by elders who had spent much time in Egyptian jails, and little time in Western capitals. Today, its members are the ruling power and the new Egyptian ruling class.

Hard reality is steering that transformation. Confronted with a badly sinking economy, the Brotherhood doesn't have the luxury of harping endlessly about Zionist conspiracies, American hypocrisy, or bikini-clad tourists—not if it wants to put Egypt back together again.

Tourism revenue dropped by at least one-third since the uprising, according to government statistics. And billions of dollars of annual foreign investment—which peaked at $13.7 billion in 2007—were almost entirely choked off.

The main concern for ordinary Egyptians is food, closely followed by jobs. Any religious agenda is secondary, if not an outright irrelevance. Skeptics worried that once the Brotherhood is entrenched in power, the group's social agenda will come back to the fore. They say that could particularly be the case if the Egyptian economy continues to decline

Indeed, there are competing views in the movement on how closely to tie itself to the West. Even as some Brotherhood members have courted Washington, other spokesmen have criticised recent US foreign policy.

The room for manoeuvre for the Muslim Brotherhood is limited, due to the presence of the Salafi Nour Party, a hard-line Islamist party, which does have a modest electoral following. With the Salafis threatening to undermine the Brotherhood's

For now, many Brotherhood members are on a charm offensive. The Brotherhood has received multiple delegations of foreign investors, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley . The Brotherhood is meeting with executives from leading U.S. corporations that operate in Egypt, including oil and gas producers and Coca-Cola Co.

The meetings are part of a broad, tentative rapprochement between the West and the Islamist forces coming to power as part of the Arab Spring. Advocates of engagement with the region's Islamists have maintained that integrating these movements into mainstream politics and accepting their credentials is the best strategy and now that thesis is being tested on a broad stage.

THE EXAMPLE OF TURKEY

There was an earlier test. In 2002, Turkey's Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power after a year in which that country's economy had declined, inflation had risen to 50%, and the Turkish lira had devalued by around 40%.

The AKP oversaw the implementation of a stringent IMF austerity package, opened up the country to foreign investment, and sold off many state-run companies. In the decade since, Turkey has seen consistent growth and is one of the strongest emerging markets in the world. The party also changed Turkey's foreign policy, shifting away from its former close ally of Israel and the West.

The Brotherhood frequently cites the Islamist AKP party of Turkey as a role model that it is trying to emulate. Abdulah Gul and Recep Erdogan are now frequently mentioned in Cairo.

Following the example of Turkey, leading Muslim Brotherhood businessmen wear well tailored suits and discuss their experiences in US colleges as postgraduate students when in the presence of IMF dignatories.

Mr. Haddad, the Brotherhood's foreign-affairs adviser, earned an MBA. in England and has impressed Western diplomats, investors and Egyptian businessmen with his grasp of economic and global affairs.

As ratings firms downgraded Egypt five times over the past year, the government has had to pay wary lenders steadily higher interest rates, which have jumped to 15%

One concern was what the Brotherhood's Islamist agenda might do to tourism, an industry worth $13 billion a year to Egypt and employing 11% of the work force. During the recent campaign for parliament, some Brotherhood candidates advocated banning alcohol sales and forcing Western tourists to cover up on Egypt's beaches.

The relationship between the U.S. and the Brotherhood has grown. Before the uprising, the Brotherhood rarely met U.S. officials and when it did it was with low-level diplomats. In the past year, U.S. officials and Brotherhood officials say there have been dozens of meetings between the two sides.

Most western observers are taking a ‘wait and see' approach. On the one hand, they would welcome an Egypt which is sympathetic to the west, and therefore conciliatory towards Israel. However, if civil rights are eroded by an Islamic programme, their attitude will undoubtedly harden.

Author
Leslie Hardy is the UK Chairman of Wellington Estates Ltd, a North Cyprus property development company.

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