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Abstract

Political observers often describe the Society of Muslim Brothers (SMB) as Egypt’s most powerful opposition movement. That image suggests the group is actively contesting power and trying to supplant incumbents. In fact, the Society’s 80-year history provides scant evidence that the group seeks to rule Egypt. During the monarchy, immediately after the July Revolution, and under Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, the SMB has eschewed direct control over the state. Contrary to the Leninist picture sketched by analysts, SMB leaders have focused on swaying top policy-makers, not replacing them. Scholars should therefore revise their depictions of the Muslim Brothers and treat it as a pressure group, rather than an opposition movement. Reclassifying the SMB does not minimize its significance; popular pressure groups can influence public policy more than marginal opposition parties. The conceptual shift would clarify what is at stake in an escalating campaign of state repression. Whereas researchers focus on the Brothers’ putative quest for power, it is their clarion policy critique, especially criticism of Egypt’s regional alignment, that most aggravates Mubarak.