DEMOCRACY IN ISLAM AND EGYPT’S ‘MILITARY COUP’
by Syarif Hidayat
Islamic values refer to the high values of peace, human rights, freedom of speech and belief, justice and equality, and democracy. Any society that upholds and practices these values is an Islamic society. Islam states that “there is no god but One God Allah SWT,” the creator of the universe. Democracy is an aspect of Islam, while dictatorship contradicts it. The tyrant acts like God, making the people submit to him and punishing them if they do not. The tyrant is never accountable to his people. The Muslim tyrant puts himself higher than the prophet Mohammed, who was democratic in his dealings with others.
In this way, the Muslim tyrant indirectly claims the status of a god beside the One God. Moreover, dictatorship is also opposed to justice, which is the basic aim of all the divine messages of God. Justice is the basic foundation of Islamic laws. This means that democracy, taken as an aspect of justice, is a central part of the Islamic faith and should be considered one of Islam’s ritual commandments.
Democracy in Islamic Ritual: Commandments
In a sura, or chapter, named Al-Shura, or democracy, the Quran describes Muslim society as one in which individuals respond to their Lord, observe their prayers, whose affairs are by consultation among them, and from whose provisions they donate.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Allah SWT says in Al Qur’an: “And those who answer the Call of their Lord [i.e. to believe that He is the only One Lord (Allâh), and to worship none but Him Alone], and perform As-Salât (Iqâmat-as-Salât), and who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them.” (Al Qur’an, Surah Ash-Shura, Verse 38)
In this verse, the commandment of shura, or consultation, appears between the two famous commandments of prayer and charity (salat and zakat). Like every ritual commandment in Islam, shura is a personal duty, which no one can perform on behalf of another. Put another way, no one can represent anyone but himself. Shura represents the kind of direct democracy in which all the people participate in the meetings held to discuss community affairs. In addition, Muslims are urged to practice shura in their work and family lives, much like they are exhorted to pray five times a day.
The chapter on shura was revealed in Mecca, where Muslims were persecuted by the Quraysh tribe but continued to hold secret meetings in the home of Al Arkam in the spirit of shura. And they continued to practice it publicly in their new state of Al Madina. Yet the tradition of attending open meetings with the prophet and discussing their affairs was a new one for the inhabitants of Al Madina. Some of them left the meetings with or without excuse. Because it is a ritual commandment in Islam, God strongly warned Muslims that He would punish them in this life and in the hereafter if they abandoned their meetings.
God Almighty Allah says in Al Qur’an: “Only those are Believers, who believe in Allah and His Messenger: when they are with him on a matter requiring collective action, they do not depart until they have asked for his leave: those who ask for thy leave are those who believe in Allah and His Messenger; so when they ask for thy leave, for some business of their, give leave to those of them whom thou wilt, and ask Allah for their forgiveness: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (62) Deem not the summons of the Messenger among yourselves like the summons of one of you to another: Allah doth know those of you who slip away under shelter of some excuse: then let those beware who withstand the Messenger’s order, lest some trial befall them, or a grievous Penalty be inflicted on them. (63) Be quite sure that to Allah doth belong whatever is in the heavens and on earth. Well doth He know what ye are intent upon: and the day they will be brought back to Him and He will tell them the truth of what they did: for Allah doth know all things. (64)” [Al Qur’an, Surah Al Noor, Verses 62-to 64]
Allah SWT says in Al Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Hujraat, Verse 13)
Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberty to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition. (90)
Fulfil the covenant of Allah when ye have entered into it, and break not your oaths after ye have confirmed them; indeed ye have made Allah your surety; for Allah knoweth all that ye do. (91)
And be not like a woman who breaks into untwisted strands the yarn she has spun, after it has become strong. Nor take your oaths to practise deception between yourselves, lest one party should be more numerous than another: for Allah will test you by this; and on the Day of Judgment He will certainly make clear to you (the truth of) that wherein ye disagree. (92)
If Allah so willed, He could make you all one people: but He leaves straying whom He pleases and He guides whom He pleases: but ye shall certainly be called to account for all your actions. (93)
And take not your oaths to practice deception between yourselves, with the result that someone’s foot may slip after it was firmly planted; and ye may have to taste the evil (consequences) of having hindered (men) from the path of Allah and a mighty Wrath descend on you. (94)
Nor sell the covenant of Allah for a miserable price: for with Allah is (a prize) far better for you, if ye only knew. (95)
Al Qur’an, Surah An-Nahl, Verses 90 – 95.
Egyptian military coup: “Democracy is not for Muslims?”
A Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad tweets that Mr Morsi is under house arrest. He says other senior party members are also under house arrest. “Morsi is under house arrest at Prez guards club. Most members of presedential team hv also been put under house arrest.”
“Egypt enters another military coup cycle. Will the ppl of #Egypt take it, AGAIN !!”, he tweets again.
Meanwhile in a letter posted to Facebook, top Egyptian official Essam el Haddad, an adviser to President Mohamed Morsi, warns that an overthrow would send the world the message that ‘democracy is not for Muslims.’
What follows is the text of an impassioned public statement posted to Facebook by Egyptian official Essam el Haddad, a top adviser to President Mohamed Morsi.
For Immediate Release, July 3, 2013: Essam el Haddad says: “as I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page. For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup.”
It has been two and a half years after a popular revolution against a dictatorship that had strangled and drained Egypt for 30 years. That revolution restored a sense of hope and fired up Egyptians’ dreams of a future in which they could claim for themselves the same dignity that is every human being’s birthright. On Januray 25 I stood in Tahrir square. My children stood in protest in Cairo and Alexandria. We stood ready to sacrifice for this revolution. When we did that, we did not support a revolution of elites.
And we did not support a conditional democracy. We stood, and we still stand, for a very simple idea: given freedom, we Egyptians can build institutions that allow us to promote and choose among all the different visions for the country. We quickly discovered that almost none of the other actors were willing to extend that idea to include us.
You have heard much during the past 30 months about ikhwan excluding all others. I will not try to convince you otherwise today. Perhaps there will come a day when honest academics have the courage to examine the record. Today only one thing matters. In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizeable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?
I am fully aware of the Egyptian media that has already attempted to frame ikhwan for every act of violence that has taken place in Egypt since January 2011. I am sure that you are tempted to believe this. But it will not be easy.
There are still people in Egypt who believe in their right to make a democratic choice. Hundreds of thousands of them have gathered in support of democracy and the Presidency. And they will not leave in the face of this attack. To move them, there will have to be violence. It will either come from the army, the police, or the hired mercenaries. Either way there will be considerable bloodshed. And the message will resonate throughout the Muslim World loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims.
I do not need to explain in detail the worldwide catastrophic ramifications of this message. In the last week there has been every attempt to issue a counter narrative that this is just scaremongering and that the crushing of Egypt’s nascent democracy can be managed. We no longer have the time to engage in frivolous academic back and forth.
The audience that reads this page understands the price that the world continues to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Egypt is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. Its symbolic weight and resulting impact is far more significant. Demonstrators at Cairo University supporting the President were fired upon using automatic weapons. Twenty people died and hundreds were injured.
There are people in Egypt and around the world that continue to try to justify the calls for early presidential elections because of the large numbers of demonstrators and the validity of their grievances. Let me be very clear. The protesters represent a wide spectrum of Egyptians and many of them have genuine, valid grievances. President Morsy’s approval rating is down.
Now let me be equally clear. Since January and again in the last couple of weeks the President has repeatedly called for national dialog. Equally repeatedly, the opposition refused to participate. Increasingly, the so-called liberals of Egypt escalated a rhetoric inviting the military to become the custodians of government in Egypt. The opposition has steadfastly declined every option that entails a return to the ballot box.
Yesterday, the President received an initiative from an alliance of parties supporting constitutional legitimacy. He discussed it with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense and all three of them agreed that it presented an excellent path for Egypt out of its current impasse. The initiative called for a full change of cabinet, a prime minister acceptable to all, changing the public prosecutor, agreement on constitutional amendments, and a reconciliation commission.
And let us also be clear. The President did not have to offer all these concessions. In a democracy, there are simple consequences for the situation we see in Egypt: the President loses the next election or his party gets penalized in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Anything else is mob rule.
In the last year we have been castigated by foreign governments, foreign media, and rights groups whenever our reforms in the areas of rights and freedoms did not keep pace with the ambitions of some or adhere exactly to the forms used in other cultures. The silence of all of those voices with an impending military coup is hypocritical and that hypocrisy will not be lost on a large swathe of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims. Many have seen fit in these last months to lecture us on how democracy is more than just the ballot box. That may indeed be true. But what is definitely true is that there is no democracy without the ballot box, Essam el Haddad concludes.
Who is who in Egypt’s latest “coup”
The head of Egypt’s armed forces, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has been in the post for less than a year, and has now been instrumental in the downfall of the man who gave him the role When President Mohammed Morsi appointed Gen Sisi as general commander of Egypt’s armed forces and defence minister on 12 August 2012, it was seen as an attempt to reclaim political power from the military, which had seized control after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
But it was Gen Sisi who warned Mr Morsi of another army intervention if the government failed to respond to “the will of the people”, following nationwide protests. And two days later, on 3 July, he announced on state TV that Mr Morsi “did not meet the demands of the masses”.
In the months after his appointment, Gen Sisi maintained a calm public persona. Far from a stern military figure, he is a charismatic presence, often seen smiling and known for delivering speeches on emotive topics. During an address at a concert in April, some of the artists on stage with him broke down in tears. After his ultimatum to the government and its opponents to resolve the country’s crisis within 48 hours, army helicopters threw thousands of Egyptian flags over protesters in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square. The cheering crowds responded with chants of “the people and the army are one hand”.
His popularity among anti-Morsi protesters is evidence of a significant shift in Gen Sisi’s public image. In April 2012 he hit the headlines after issuing a statement intended to defend the behaviour of the armed forces during protests in Tahrir Square in 2011.
When soldiers violently cleared Tahrir Square on 9 March, 17 women were detained, beaten, prodded with electric shock batons, subjected to strip searches, forced to submit to “virginity tests” and threatened with prostitution charges. Gen Sisi said “the virginity-test procedure was done to protect the girls from rape as well as to protect the soldiers and officers from rape accusations”, according to the state-owned newspaper, al-Ahram.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) quickly distanced itself from the comments, but the incident remained a stigma for the military. Later, during a meeting in Cairo in June 2012, Gen Sisi promised the human rights group, Amnesty International, that the army would no longer carry out the controversial tests. He said people alleging human rights abuses at the hands of the army should complain to the military prosecutor and stressed the importance of ensuring social justice for all Egyptians.
Born in Cairo on 19 November 1954, Gen Sisi served in the infantry corps after graduating from the Egyptian Military Academy in 1977. Despite never gaining any combat experience – like Field Marshal Tantawi and other Scaf members – he nevertheless rose up the ranks in the army, occupying various senior positions, including commander of the mechanised infantry battalion and head of information and security at the general secretariat of the Defence Ministry. He also served as Egypt’s military attache in Saudi Arabia.
Later, Gen Sisi served as chief-of-staff and then commander of the Northern Military Zone, headquartered in Alexandria, before being appointed director of Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance.Prior to being promoted to head of the armed forces, he sat on the Scaf as the former head of Military Intelligence, and was one of its youngest members.
Strong US ties
Following his appointment as defence minister and armed forces chief, many commentators in the Egypt media asked questions about Gen Sisi’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Morsi hails. The pro-military owner and leading presenter of the TV station al-Faraeen, Tawfiq Ukasha, accused him of being “their man in Scaf”, and reports also emerged that his wife wore the niqab, a full-face veil worn by some Muslim women. (Here is a photo of US President Barack Obama discussing the events in Egypt with his national security team in the Situation Room).
However, the Scaf insisted that its members had no partisan or ideological affiliation to any political forces in Egypt.Mutaz Abdul Fattah, a professor at Cairo University, also said Gen Sisi did not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, writing on Twitter: “He is not a member of the Brotherhood; he is just a religious man.”
In August 2012, the newspaper al-Tahrir also reported that Gen Sisi had “strong ties with US officials on both diplomatic and military levels”. He had studied in Washington, attended several military conferences there, and engaged in “co-operation with regard to war games and intelligence operations in recent years”, it said.
Mohamed ElBaradei Urges Army To Step In
The Dostour Party of key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has urged the army to step in to stop the bloodshed. Mr Morsi “has lost his mind” and “incited violence”, it said. Dostour is one of the parties which make up the opposition National Salvation Front coalition. The National Salvation Front (NSF) is an opposition coalition formed amid the recent political crisis which has engulfed Egypt.
It has successfully brought together the country’s fractious and divided opposition factions, who are now united in their resistance and rejection of what they see as a power grab by the president and his Islamist allies. On 22 November, President Mohammed Morsi issued a constitutional declaration in which he granted himself far-reaching powers. It stated that his decisions were “final and unchallengeable” until a new constitution had been ratified and fresh parliamentary election held
The declaration also said the constituent assembly could not be dissolved by the judiciary, pre-empting an expected ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on its legitimacy. Liberals, Christians and secularists had complained that the assembly was dominated by Islamists. The president portrayed his decree as an attempt to protect the transition to a constitutional democracy, but many Egyptians were outraged by the apparent power-grab and there were widespread protests.
On 24 November, a number of political parties and leading figures formed a coalition to force the president to rescind his decree; form a new, more representative constituent assembly; and issue a transitional justice law that guaranteed fair retrials for those responsible for the deaths of protesters during the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
The NSF includes a wide range of liberal, secular and leftist groups, such as the Egyptian Popular Current, al-Dustour, al-Tajammu, Free Egyptians, New Wafd, Democratic Front, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Nasserist Democratic Party and the Conference Party. Its three most prominent leaders are Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League; and Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist politician who came third in the presidential election.
‘Seething and chaos’
On the day the NSF was founded, Mr ElBaradei said the president’s decree threatened Egypt’s transition and created a “new pharaoh”. “We will have to continue to escalate our level of expressing resistance, peaceful disobedience,” he told Reuters and the Associated Press. Within two days, Mr Morsi agreed with the judiciary to limit the scope of his decree, promising it would be restricted to “acts of sovereignty”. But he insisted on preserving his power to protect the constituent assembly.
There was further outrage on 30 November, when the constituent assembly approved a rushed version of the draft constitution to avoid dissolution by the SCC, despite a boycott by Christian, liberal and secularist representatives. Mr Morsi subsequently called a referendum for 15 December. The NSF said the president was “trying to impose a constitution monopolised by one trend and is the furthest from national consensus, produced in a farcical way”. Its leaders called for the referendum to be postponed and said they would consider a boycott if it was not.
Opposition protests were stepped up, and tens of thousands took to the streets of Cairo chanting for Mr Morsi’s downfall and even his imprisonment. There were deadly clashes on 5 December when opposition demonstrators were confronted by Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the presidential palace.
In a televised speech the next day, Mr Morsi called for a “national dialogue” to resolve the crisis, but insisted that he would not rescind his decree and that the referendum could not be delayed. The NSF rejected the invitation to talks with the president and reiterated its demands to begin an overhaul of the constituent assembly. “He has to take these steps, and I hope that he listens to us,” Mr ElBaradei said.
On 8 December, the president bowed to the pressure and rescinded most of his 22 November decree. He did not, however, agree to the opposition’s demand that he postpone the referendum. The NSF swiftly rejected the concession and suggested it was planning to boycott the referendum. Spokesman Sameh Ashour warned that organising such a vote “in a state of seething and chaos” amounted to a “reckless and flagrant absence of responsibility, risking driving the country into violent confrontations that endanger its national security”. The coalition has vowed to stage more mass protests in the coming days.
Questions and Answers
What has happened?
The general commander of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has declared in a televised address that the constitution has been suspended and the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) will assume presidential powers, effectively overthrowing President Mohammed Morsi. The Chief Justice, Adli Mansour, would oversee an interim period with a technocratic government until presidential and parliamentary elections were held, Gen Sisi said. The country’s highest Islamic authority, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, and the head of the Coptic Church, as well as the leading opposition figure Mohammed ElBaradei all spoke after the general, giving their approval.
A statement on the presidency’s Twitter account quoted Mr Morsi as denouncing the military’s announcement as a “full coup categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation”. Earlier, troops backed by armoured vehicles secured key sites in the capital, Cairo, as hundreds of thousands of opposition protesters and Morsi supporters took to the streets.
Why has the president been ousted?
Public opposition to Mr Morsi – Egypt’s first democratically elected president – has been building since November 2012. Wishing to ensure that the constituent assembly, dominated by his Islamist allies, could finish drafting the country’s new constitution, he issued an interim constitutional declaration granting himself far-reaching powers. He agreed to limit the scope of the declaration after days of opposition protests, but there was further outrage at the end of that month when the constituent assembly approved a rushed version of the constitution – despite a boycott by liberals, secularists and the Coptic Church.
As opposition mounted, President Morsi issued a decree authorising the armed forces to protect national institutions and polling places until a referendum on the draft constitution was held on 15 December 2012, which critics said amounted to a form of martial law. The army returned to barracks after the charter was approved, but within weeks it was forced to deploy in cities along the Suez Canal to halt clashes between opponents and supporters of Mr Morsi that left more than 50 people dead. On 29 January 2013, Gen Sisi warned that the political crisis might “lead to a collapse of the state”.
In late April, opposition activists set up the grassroots Tamarod (Rebel) protest movement. It focused on collecting signatures for a petition – which complained about Mr Morsi’s failure to restore security and fix the economy, and called for fresh presidential elections. It also organised mass protests to mark the first anniversary of the day he took office. On 30 June 2013, millions of protesters took to the streets across Egypt.
The protests prompted the military to warn President Morsi on 1 July that it would intervene and impose its own “roadmap” if he did not satisfy the public’s demands within 48 hours and end the political crisis.
As the deadline approached, Mr Morsi insisted he was Egypt’s legitimate leader. He warned that any effort to remove him by force could plunge the country into chaos. “The people empowered me, the people chose me, through a free and fair election,” he said. “Legitimacy is the only way to protect our country and prevent bloodshed, to move to a new phase.”
Why did the military act now?
Following a meeting with political, religious and youth leaders on 3 July, Gen Sisi said the Egyptian people had been “calling for help” and that the military “could not stay silent”. The military had exerted “strenuous efforts” to contain the situation and achieve national reconciliation, but the president had not met “the demands of the masses”, he added.
“Those in the meeting agreed on a roadmap for the future that includes initial steps to achieve the building of a strong Egyptian society that is cohesive and does not exclude anyone and ends the state of tension and division,” the general announced. Seeking to avoid any destabilising backlash from Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and his Islamist allies, Gen Sisi warned that the military and police would deal “decisively” with violence.
What does the roadmap say?
Gen Sisi said the much-criticised 2012 constitution had been “temporarily suspended” and that a panel of experts and representatives of all political movements would consider amendments. He did not say whether a referendum would be held to ratify any changes. The head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Judge Adli Mansour, would take charge during a “transitional period until a new president is elected” and have the power to issue constitutional declarations, the general said. A technocratic government would be formed and have full powers to manage the transition, he added.
The general did not define the length of the transitional period or what role the military would play, if any. He also promised “not to exclude anyone or any movement” and called for measures to “empower youths and integrate them in state institutions”. He urged the SCC to ratify quickly the law allowing elections for the currently dissolved lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, and said a new media code of ethics would be issued.
What has happened to Mohammed Morsi?
The location of the ousted president is not known, although there are unsubstantiated rumours that he is in military detention. Travel bans have been imposed on Mr Morsi, as well as senior figures from his Muslim Brotherhood, including the General Guide Mohammed Badie and his powerful deputy, Khairat al-Shater. A statement on the presidency’s Twitter account quoted Mr Morsi as saying the military’s announcement was “rejected by all free men who struggled for a civil democratic Egypt”. He urged “civilians and members of the military to uphold the law and the constitution not to accept a coup which turns Egypt backwards”. Mr Morsi also said everyone should remain peaceful and avoid “shedding blood”.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad tweets that Mr Morsi is under house arrest. He says other senior party members are also under house arrest. “Morsi is under house arrest at Prez guards club. Most members of presedential team hv also been put under house arrest.” “Egypt enters another military coup cycle. Will the ppl of #Egypt take it, AGAIN !!”
Where Does the Muslim Brotherhood Go From Here?
Nathan J. Brown in his article titled: “Where Does the Muslim Brotherhood Go From Here?” published in Op-Ed, July 3, 2013 (This article was originally published in the New Republic.), writes the final, desperate hours of Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president ousted by the military on Wednesday, were in one sense merciful, but also pathetic. After a brief feint that called to mind the image of Salvadore Allende picking up a gun to defend his presidency, Morsi resorted instead to a series of increasingly desperate verbal signals, including ineffectual crises about his own legitimacy and attempts to grasp expired offers of compromise. The result made him seem less like a martyr than a property owner waving his deed at a wrecking-ball operator who has already destroyed his home.
Waving that deed—or, less metaphorically, attempting to fall back on constitutional text and electoral legitimacy—would have much to persuade a neutral observer if any such creature still exists. Yes, it is true that the Brotherhood did well in elections; that it was not able to govern fully but still saddled with responsibility for Egypt’s insurmountable problems; that important state actors never accepted its authority; that its opposition was unified only by a desire to make the Brotherhood fail; and that Egypt’s rumor mill transformed preposterous rumor into established fact with breathtaking speed.
But it is also undeniable that Morsi and the Brotherhood made almost every conceivable mistake—including some (such as reaching too quickly for political power or failing to build coalitions with others) that they had vowed they knew enough to avoid. They alienated potential allies, ignored rising discontent, focused more on consolidating their rule than on using what tools they did have, used rhetoric that was tone deaf at best and threatening at worst. Had they hired a consultant from the Nixon White House, they would have done a more credible job, at least by being efficient.
The Morsi presidency is without a doubt one of the most colossal failures in the Brotherhood’s history. What lesson will the movement learn from it, if any?
In studying Islamist movements over the last decade, I generally found that the most rewarding time to speak to leaders was about a year or so after an election. During the heat of the political battle, they made decisions like most politicians do (on the fly, often overreacting to yesterday’s headlines) and spoke like most politicians do (providing glib spin than reflective analysis). But at calmer moments, they spoke less like politicians and more openly. And there was a reason why: The movements prided themselves (justifiably) on an ability to learn.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its sister organizations represent the most successful non-governmental organizations in Arab history. No other movements have been able to sustain, reinvent, and replicate themselves over so much time and space. And there are two secrets to that success: a tight-knit organizational structure that rewards loyalty and the ability to adjust and adapt.
And those two features led to the experiment with political Islam that is now in such grave crisis. The organizational tightness of the Brotherhood made it more able than any other potential opposition force to organize for campaigns: In many countries, they were the only political party worthy of the name (even in places where they were banned from calling themselves a party). And their adaptability allowed them to take advantages of the cracks and openings that appeared in Arab authoritarian orders over the past few decades.
When the uprisings of 2011 occurred, the Egyptian Brotherhood had become sufficiently adept at the political game that it hit the ground running far faster than any possible competitor. And the organization had also evolved over the past couple decades to place politics at the center of its agenda. Founded as a general reform movement that carried out charity, self-improvement, education, mutual assistance, preaching, and politics, the Brotherhood had become a primarily political creature.
But just as its political project seemed poised to realize full success, it suddenly and ignominiously collapsed. The immediate reaction among its members will be to complain that the Brotherhood was cheated. And in a sense it was, but complaint will not substitute for reflection forever. What will be the movement’s more studied reaction? In a conversation two months ago with a Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag, I made a bold prediction that in ten years, the organization will regret having sought the Egyptian presidency in 2012. He politely disagreed. In retrospect we were both wrong: The regret will likely set in over the next several months.
And what will this reflective organization regret?
From the vantage point of this week’s events, I see three answers. The Brotherhood made bad decisions. Those arguing for such a path will have quite a smorgasbord at their disposal. But what they will likely focus on was the process in 2011 and 2012 in which the organization went from wishing to be a leading political actor to being the dominant party. They did so, I am convinced, not as part of a well thought-out strategy but because they reacted to various events—perceived slights, unexpected opportunities, and confusing signals. I saw the evolution of the Brotherhood’s thinking in a series of meetings with Brotherhood leader (and reputed chief strategist) Khairat al-Shatir in the year after the uprising. In March 2011, he spoke of governing as something that might be in the Brotherhood’s future after he had retired; by the following January he was beginning to edge toward his own presidential bid (one that he was forced to cede to his colleague Mohamed Morsi when al-Shatir’s conviction under the old regime led to his disqualification).
Those who favor this answer might wish to return to the political game but play it a bit more cautiously and judiciously. It will be a long road back, however, since the Morsi presidency will leave a residue of profound distrust and even hatred toward the organization in large parts of the society that had merely been skeptical before. As some within the Brotherhood have nervously felt, the organization did not make these mistakes by accident. The tight-knit organization built for resilience under authoritarianism made for an inward-looking, even paranoid movement when it tried to refashion itself as a governing party. In fact, the organization was led by figures (Morsi himself, al-Shatir, and Brotherhood General Guide Muhammad Badi‘) who were themselves pure creatures of the organization, but the best of them tended to be fairly inexperienced at dealing with the world outside of it.
This diagnosis might lead to the Brotherhood leaving the political game to the political party it spawned, the Freedom and Justice Party. It might even lead the movement to decide to free its members to join any party they like, a position favored by a small number of young activists back in 2011. Either path would be extremely difficult for the current leadership—raised on hierarchy, coordination, and discipline—to follow. The problem lay in the choice of a political strategy. The Brotherhood’s mistake in such a view would be that it thought it could win and govern. But the experience of the Islamist FIS in Algeria in the early 1990s (where the military intervened to prevent an Islamist victory), Hamas in Palestine in 2006 (where a coalition of international and domestic actors sabotaged the Islamists’ ability to rule) has now been joined by that of Egypt’s Brotherhood.
This diagnosis may be seem very persuasive in the long term, but it could lead in very diverse directions—to the movement abandoning political work; to individuals abandoning the Brotherhood; or to the Brotherhood determining that it will play politics but no longer by peaceful rules. Which lesson will the Brotherhood learn, and how will it apply them? The organization first needs some time to think, and it is not yet clear how the disparate coalition that has destroyed the Morsi presidency will react to the Brotherhood’s continued role. In this respect, it would be wise for those who are now victorious in Egypt to remember that the issue is not only what the Brotherhood learns; the issue is also what Islamists are taught. (HSH)
- Al Qur’an (http://www.quranexplorer.com/quran/)
- International news agencies