In media coverage of the ongoing protests rocking Egypt, the phrase "Muslim Brotherhood" has cropped up more than once. Who is this group, and what role are they playing in the protests?
The Muslim Brotherhood, also known as Ikhwan, is an officially illegal Islamist opposition party that has been suppressed in Egypt since Gamal Abdel Nasser's government took control in 1952. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has "alternatively repressed and demonized the Brotherhood or tolerated it as an anti-communist and right-wing opposition," according to Bruce Riedel of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
Founded in 1928 in Egypt, Foreign Affairs describes the group as "the world's oldest, largest, and most influential Islamist organization." The group has earned itself enemies on both ends of the political spectrum: from jihadists due to their belief in democracy and from Western nations due to their critical stance on American foreign policy. According to the group's English language website, the group was founded in order to achieve "the independence of the Muslim land from foreign domination, and the establishment of an Islamic sociopolitical system (unitiy of ummah)."
In the current protests, the Brotherhood is playing a small role. While some political commentators have issued warnings, the group "insists it is little more than a bit player in the outpouring of resistance to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak," reports the Washington Post. As the New York Times noted, the current protests are being led by a youth movement. That report quoted Egyptian scholar Emad Shahin as saying, "The Brotherhood is no longer the most effective player in the political arena. If you look at the Tunisian uprising, it's a youth uprising. It is the youth that knows how to use the media, Internet, Facebook, so there are other players now."
Despite this reportedly minimal role, members of the organization have been rounded up and arrested. The Brotherhood has also joined in the protests, expressing its support for the protestors and signaling its willingness to work with Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, while the Egyptian government has warned protestors of the group's "hidden agenda." However, ElBaradei has countered that the Mubarak government uses "its Islamist opposition as an excuse for authoritarian rule."
You can follow the latest updates on the protests in Egypt here.