Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Fractures

By Sarah A. Topol

Over the past decade, U.S. attempts to promote democracy in the Middle East have mostly backfired. When, at Washington's urging, secular governments did grant new political freedoms in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, the beneficiaries tended to be Islamist parties. It seemed as though a green tide was washing over the region.

Today, that green wave is rolling back as Islamist parties fail the most basic tests of governance--including governing themselves. The latest victim is the movement's godfather: Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The party has long been persecuted by Cairo, but remained so popular that it still managed to win a fifth of Parliament's seats in 2005, making it the largest opposition bloc. Yet after internal elections in December, the highly disciplined Islamists are disintegrating. Moderates accuse the group's conservative wing, which won power, of engineering a coup by coercing voters and violating election rules. This has produced a rare public schism, and the fractured party now looks likely to lose a quarter of its seats in upcoming elections. That echoes events elsewhere: in Morocco, Jordan, and Gaza, Islamist parties are also crumbling due to internecine feuding and a general inability to govern effectively. It turns out that the greatest obstacle these Islamist groups face may be themselves.