Since the several attempts to establish the Wasat party as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood since 1997, innovation inside the Islamic organization seemed to be guided by a liberal, even a democratic, spirit.
But this tendency is now being reversed by the assertion of a strong conservative Salafist current inside the organization. Traditionally, Egyptian Salafism often developed outside and as a rival (sometimes state-supported) to the Muslim Brothers. During what has been called the “Cairo spring,” the emergence of serious American pressure on the Egyptian regime to open up the political system and the appearance of an Islamic blogosphere contesting the old guard hegemony and criticizing a martial, authoritarian militant culture gave the impression that the trajectory of the Muslim Brothers might be moving towards a more liberal stance.
This seems now to have been an illusion. A liberal trend exists through the alliance of political democrats (Abdel Meneim Abou al-Futûh being the unique representative of this group among the Guidance Office, the executive body leading the organization) and a new generation of militants searching for a “downsized” political organization that was less authoritarian and capable of granting some space for individual autonomy. But it is not on the rise anymore, neither at the elite level, nor at the level of the rank and file.
Four factors explain this stagnation: first of all, the liberals need a certain level of political openness; secondly they are more exposed than Salafism to political repression (more strict in religious terms, but less keen to get involved in politics); thirdly, they mobilize on a discourse of openness (among non-Islamic actors inside Egyptian society; among non-Islamic categories at a conceptual level), but this openness is not based on an ideological aggorniamento; and, last but not least, they lack the financial support that their rivals inside the organization have.
— By Patrick Haenni, senior researcher, Religioscope Institute