Extreme capitalism of the Muslim Brotherhood


Gilbert Achcar in Le Monde Diplomatique:

The Muslim Brothers’ economic credo of free enterprise unhampered by state interference is more closely consonant with neoliberal doctrine than was the form of capitalism dominant under Mubarak. This holds in particular for the version of that credo articulated by Khairat al-Shatir, the Brotherhood’s very capitalist number two after the murshid (guide), and a representative of its most conservative wing, or by Hassan Malek, an extremely wealthy, eminent member of the Brotherhood, who, after making his debut in the business world in a partnership with Al-Shatir, today manages, with his son, a constellation of enterprises in textiles, furniture and trade, employing more than 400 people.

The portrait of Malek painted by Bloomberg Businessweek could well have been titled The Brotherhood Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, so faithfully does it seem to paraphrase Weber’s classic: “[The Maleks] are part of a generation of religious conservatives ascendant in the Muslim world, whose devotion to God invigorates their determination to succeed in business and politics. As Malek says, ‘I have nothing else in my life but work and family.’ These Islamists pose a formidable challenge to secular governance in countries such as Egypt — not only because of their conservatism but because of their work ethic, single-minded focus, and apparent abstention from sloth and sin. They’re up for winning any contest. … ‘The core of the economic vision of Brotherhood, if we are going to classify it in a classical way, is extreme capitalist,’ says Sameh Elbarqy, a former member of the Brotherhood”.

The former Muslim Brother interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek asked the right question. What is in doubt is clearly not the Brotherhood’s allegiance to the neoliberal capitalism of the Mubarak era, but its capacity to shed its worst traits: “What remains to be seen is whether the crony capitalism that characterised the Mubarak regime will change with pro-business Brotherhood leaders such as Malek and El-Shater in charge. Although the Brotherhood has traditionally worked to alleviate the conditions of the poor, ‘the working people and farmers will suffer because of this new class of businessmen,’ Elbarqy says. ‘One of the big problems with the Muslim Brotherhood now — they have it in common with Mubarak’s old political party — is the marriage of power and capital’”