ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Muslim Brotherhood is not a passing feature on the Egyptian scene. To get some sense of where it may be heading, we're going to hear now about where it's coming from. We called on Yasser El-Shimy, an Egypt Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group, to give us some background on the group, beginning with the Brotherhood's founding in 1928 when Britain effectively controlled Egypt.
YASSER EL-SHIMY: When the Muslim Brotherhood was first established, it was established to try and revive the Muslim caliphate that had been ended by the first World War. And ever since that period, it has worked towards that goal, even though it thinks that it's not exactly an achievable goal within years or even a couple of decades. But it has worked assiduously to build the kind of conservative religious society and eventually build a kind of religious conservative state that would serve as a nucleus for the reestablishment of the caliphate.
SIEGEL: In recent decades, at times it was banned. At times, it wasn't. I mean, did it manage to survive the years of Mubarak despite his crackdowns?
EL-SHIMY: Yes. The Muslim Brotherhood have come under many periods of repression and crackdowns, including under Mubarak, as well as under Nassr. And I think that the 1950s and '60s were the periods of time under which they came under extreme repression and yet they were able to survive this as a result of, you know, basically going underground and establishing networks of support, societal networks of support, as well as maintaining their religious and social activities, including charity and otherwise, that has allowed them to function.
And under Mubarak, you know, the regime almost tolerated their presence in societies in order to fill in the gap that was happening as a result of the state being unable to provide some of the social services that the Muslim Brotherhood the came in and started to fill that void and provide those services.
SIEGEL: Well, flash forward to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and every election was dominated by the parties or the candidates associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. What do you think the voters of Egypt were saying when they cast those votes?
EL-SHIMY: I think the voters in Egypt wanted change, first and foremost, and then they wanted a group that they know has been in opposition for decades to the Mubarak regime and what they perceived as a corruption of that state. And they wanted an organization that was organized and that could potentially take control of that state and reform it and lead. They wanted change, but they wanted conservative change.
And I don't mean conservative here in the social sense, but rather in the sort of piecemeal gradual change, as opposed to the kind of revolutionary change that was promised by some of their liberal counterparts.
SIEGEL: And Yasser El-Shimy, just briefly, if you had to tell us where in Egypt is their base, where are their most loyal supporters and voters, where would you say?
EL-SHIMY: I would say that the Brothers most loyal base in Egypt comes from the countryside, from the rural areas, especially south of Cairo. That is an area that has remained loyal to the Brotherhood since the first electoral contest was held in March 2011 and throughout all the electoral contests that took place subsequently, and those were about five, over the course of about two years.
You know, that group of people just continued to vote in favor of the Brotherhood or their agendas and preferences consistently. Most of the Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers and members come from lower middle class, lower class Egyptians who are from the countryside, more likely to be socially conservative than their urban counterparts.
SIEGEL: Yasser El-Shimy, thank you very much for talking with us today.
EL-SHIMY: You're very welcome.
SIEGEL: Yasser El-Shimy, who is based in Cairo, where he's an analyst for the International Crisis Group. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.