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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The progressive movement and the Muslim Brotherhood

by John MacBeath Watkins

Some American pundits have been clutching their pearls over the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Since I've remarked before that for most of history, most of humanity has been ruled by force and faith, you might think I'd be one of them.

But I see every reason for the Egyptian in the street to trust the Brotherhood. Consider the parallels to the Progressive movement from the late 19th century through the 1920s.

The progressives wanted to unseat established and corrupt power. The organs of the movement were magazines and newspapers that exposed public corruption and worked to change the institutions that gave power to the political machines. Progressives attacked the spoils system with civil service legislation and attacked the political power of the robber barons with trust busting and the progressive income tax.

They were also "values voters" who considered the family the foundation of American society and wanted to encourage family values. That's part of why the progressives were for the most part prohibitionist, although that also crossed some other lines -- many opposed saloons because they were a locus of power for political machines, and the Anti-Saloon League had a lot of cross-membership with the KKK. Immigrants and ethnic minorities provided many of the votes that kept the political bosses in power, and that was offensive to racists and nativists as well as progressives.

The Muslim Brotherhood is one institution in Egypt that has a reputation of not being corrupt, and supports family values. Much of Egypt's economy is controlled by the army and people allied with it, all of which were part of the alliance that oppressed the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood has also taken up the family values standard, opposing alcohol consumption and providing welfare services where the government did not.

There are, of course, many differences between the Progressive movement and the Muslim Brotherhood. Progressives were big fans of science and technology and their dark side, which included an unhealthy interest in eugenics, reflected this. The Brotherhood will no doubt display a dark side connected with excesses  born of their faith.

At present, force and faith are not allies in Egypt, although that could change once faith is in power.

So there you have it. The Egyptian voter is faced with the choice of voting for the representatives of the old, corrupt regime, or new, secular parties that have not existed long enough for people to know if they are corrupt or incompetent, or the Muslim Brotherhood, the only opposition institution to survive under the dictatorship, which has a reputation of not being corrupt and of caring for the welfare of society's less fortunate.

Which would you choose?

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