Explaining Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

February 8, 2011

Lawrence Wright is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower, which examines the history of al-Qaida. The founding members of al-Qaida are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group banned in Egypt by the regime of President Hosni Mubarak that could play an important role in the future of the country.

On today's Fresh Air, Wright talks about the history of the Brotherhood, why al-Qaida considers the group an enemy, and what the future may hold for the organization. He says that the Brotherhood's decision not to field a presidential candidate in Egypt is remarkable and, in some ways, unsurprising.

"They have an opportunity to put forward their own candidate but they recognize that the West is terrified of seeing Egypt turn into an Islamist state. And they also recognize that the Mubarak administration has used the Muslim Brotherhood as a kind of scapegoat," he says. "I think, very wisely, they declared they are not going to run a candidate, which [destroys] that whole argument that after Mubarak, comes the deluge. That decision alone could be the turning point in what happens in these next several days."

And if the Muslim Brotherhood plays a part in a new Egyptian government, Wright says, it will finally find its proper place and size within Egyptian civil society.

"We don't really know what size of a constituency they have," he says. "Other organized opposition parties [have] been so crippled by the Mubarak administration — and haven't been allowed to function and organize — so they simply haven't had a chance to get their roots out among the people. If the Mubarak regime comes down, which seems likely, there needs to be a period of time where people actually have the time to organize new parties with new candidates. One of the real problems is Egypt is just there aren't very many democrats. They haven't had that experience and they're going to have to have it in an extremely compressed period of time." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.