Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ikhwan Heading For A Cross-Road

Models for an Islamist political party

As the Muslim Brotherhood prepares to enter the political process openly and in an above-board manner, its leadership might consider three models for an Islamist political party, writes Hossam Tammam

Of all the Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood will probably be the most affected by the profound social and political changes that are being ushered in by the 25 January Revolution. The revolution has brought the Brotherhood face-to- face with a number of urgent issues, after having brought down the Mubarak regime whose 30 years in power coincided with the history of the Brotherhood's participation in the political process.

The first thing the Brotherhood will have to resolve is the question of the relationship between the political party it plans to found in the coming weeks and the mother organisation. One of the key questions that will be discussed by its leadership and among concerned observers is whether the Brotherhood will emulate the experiences of other Islamist groups in the Arab and Islamic world, or whether it will seek to forge a course of its own in the light of the current circumstances in Egypt.

Certainly, this unique juncture in Egyptian history will put the Brotherhood to the test. It will need to address such crucial questions as the full and equal citizenship of all, especially as applied to women and Copts. It will also have to contend with its relationship with other political forces, which still eye the Brotherhood with suspicion, accusing it of dissimulation and political opportunism as regards its alliances, its participation in the democratic process and its commitment to democracy.

For the first time in contemporary history, the Muslim Brotherhood faces the challenge of participating in the political process openly and in an above-board manner. Brotherhood candidates will now run in elections not as independents, as they used to do under Egypt's previous regime, but as part of a legitimate party created to engage in politics and to compete electorally alongside other political parties. This brings to the fore many questions that thus far remain unresolved, not only for the rank and file of the Brotherhood, but also for the Islamist movement as a whole at a time of democratic transformation.

On a larger level, such questions converge upon the relationship between proselytising and politics and which activity or mode of operation is best suited for a movement of this sort in the context of its immediate environment and in the framework of the democratisation process. This dilemma has been thrown into bold relief during the course of the political experiences of Islamists in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco and elsewhere since the early 1970s, all such groups being heavily infused with religiously-based ideologies, identity politics and campaign sloganeering.

Perhaps it would be best to begin with the approach that seeks to differentiate between proselytising and politicking, as this has been espoused by Harakat Al-Islah wal-Tawhid in Morocco (the Movement for Unity and Reform, or MUR). I first attempted to tackle this subject five years ago, when I was drawn to consider the theoretical discourse generated by this Islamist movement, which entered the party political fray and scored a landmark success in Morocco's 2002 legislative elections and went on to become the second largest parliamentary bloc after the country's 2007 elections.

What particularly inspired this theoretical work was the need to address the mounting controversy over the right to employ religious terms of reference in the political discourse and rhetoric of a party in a predominantly Muslim society whose government also has a strong basis of religious legitimacy.

Although MUR, the largest of the Islamist groups to have agreed to engage in the Moroccan political process, is virtually a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood project, it has refused to join the global Muslim Brotherhood umbrella movement that was founded in 1982 and has preferred instead to remain independent. Its political wing -- the Justice and Development Party (PJD) -- arose from the historic understanding the movement reached with Abdel-karim Al-Khatib, leader of the Moroccan Popular Democratic and Constitutional Movement Party (MPDC) in 1996. Following a process of restructuring that began in 1997, the party became the movement's political wing.

In 1998, in the light of its first successes in participating in the electoral process, the MUR began to clarify its relationship with the party. From this point onwards, the MUR leadership displayed an increasingly strong tendency to regard proselytising and religious education as its responsibility, leaving matters pertaining to the conduct of public affairs to the PJD, which was essentially a political organisation.

The 2003 Casablanca bombings and their various repercussions set the movement more firmly on course in terms of this functional differentiation, which soon evolved into a strategy that was explicitly laid out in a policy paper. Unveiled in 2006 after years of debate within the movement's organisational structures, this document, called Political Participation and the Relationship between the Movement (MUR) and the Party (PJD), topped the agenda of the MUR conference held in summer 2006 to mark the tenth anniversary of the movement's founding.

The MUR's strategy for separating religious proselytising from politics is based on the premise that the movement is an Islamic component of Moroccan society whose aim is to promote the faith. It exists together with other components of the society, and it cannot therefore present itself as an alternative to existing political and social forces. It follows that if the movement is to perform its central mission effectively, it needs to differentiate between the primary functions that form its raison d'ĂȘtre, namely proselytising and inculcating Islamic values and moral formation, and what the policy paper termed its "specialised functions", including political activity, even if both functions are part of an overarching Islamic frame of reference.

In practice, such a differentiation entails the complete separation of the movement and the party at the organisational and operational levels. PJD members do not necessarily have to be MUR members or vice versa, and each organisation has its own decision-making bodies and institutions. As mentioned above, the MUR engages in religious education, and its conditions of membership and internal promotion are largely inspired by moral considerations. The party's organisations on the other hand design policy, develop and mobilise party membership, and take political stances. Accordingly, commitment to the needs and aims of the party take precedence over moral considerations where matters of membership and promotion are concerned, as they do with other political parties.

The Moroccan Islamist movement has succeeded in resolving important issues connected with the presence of an Islamist player in the political domain. It has, for example, been able to show that political discourse can change according to the pragmatic needs of the world of politics. It has instructed its preachers and proselytisers not to put themselves forward for election or to come out in support of PJD candidates or participate in PJD electoral campaigns, arguing that these things would demean the MUR's Islamic frame of reference, the property of all Moroccan people, by embroiling it in political competition.

As a result, there has been a growing tendency in the MUR to concern itself with identity issues, leaving it to the party to focus on practical matters and people's daily and more immediate concerns. As a general rule, according to this outlook an identity issue should only be allowed to become a political issue backed by both the movement and the party in concert if there is a broad trend in support of that cause in Moroccan society as a whole. This has the advantage of helping to identify areas in which identity matters and questions of public morals intersect in political affairs.

The MUR has also made use of political practice in order to implement a hierarchical distinction between the movement and the party. It has argued that a separation between the religious leaders in charge of the MUR and the political leaders in charge of the PJD is the best guarantee of the party's continuity and political efficacy. The resignation of PJD leaders including the secretary-general and members of the secretariat from their posts in the MUR came as an affirmation of this principle of differentiation.

There are two other models that have a bearing on the relationship between an Islamist movement and the political party that might be formed from it should the movement take the decision to take part openly and legitimately in a pluralistic political party system. The first is to transform itself in its entirety into a political party, as has occurred in Algeria and Yemen, whereby the core of the movement becomes the core of the political party, modified only by the addition of some other public figures, whether tribal leaders or prominent businessmen.

However, this model is laden with risks for the party, especially in the event of an alliance between government and movement that might erode the latter's political and social assets, as occurred with the Movement of Society for Peace (HMS) in Algeria, or in the event that it finds itself faced with having to side with the regime, becoming an instrument of it, as occurred with the Yemeni Congregation for Reform in the 1970s.

The second of these two other models is furnished by the Jordanian case. Here, the Islamist movement has stressed its need to retain unity and cohesion as a religious organisation, while at the same time forming a political party, in this case the Islamic Action Front, which acts as its political wing and takes part in the electoral process. There is no attempt to draw a clear functional or organisational distinction between the mother movement and the political party.

The drawbacks of this second model are that the movement's religious work can make itself vulnerable to political dictates, given the vagaries of the social structure and an international climate that is averse to the religious frame of reference of the Islamist movements. This has been the case with the Jordanian movement, especially in the light of that country's relationship with Israel.

Yet, in spite of such drawbacks, I believe that the Jordanian model is nevertheless the closest to the thinking of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the one it will most likely opt for. There are two reasons for this. First, the Moroccan model is already quite remote from the political imagination of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and emulating the Moroccan model is even more remote to its way of thinking, given the Brotherhood's self-conception as the sole historical representative of the Islamist frame of reference by virtue of its political longevity and its identity as the first of all the Islamist movements.

The second and related factor has to do with the difficulty of implementing a differentiation between the movement and its prospective political party at the membership level, let alone at the functional and operational levels, as the Moroccan model demands. It is, therefore, difficult to envision an effective separation between proselytising and politicking in the political domain in terms of the figures involved, the rhetoric used and the campaign strategies employed.

It therefore seems most likely that the political party set up by the Muslim Brotherhood will resort to familiar religious sloganeering and attempt to mobilise the entire Brotherhood rank and file

Egypt's yes or no choice

This weekend's referendum on amendments to the constitution has polarised Egypt's political scene, with Islamists urging people to vote for and secular forces urging them to reject the amendments, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Click to view caption
This crowd of hands waiting for bread could have been a scene from last year when the country was hit by an acute bread shortage. However, the photo was taken this week in the Upper Egypt city of Qena. Caught up in the spirit of reform, many are demanding higher wages, and their strikes and sit-ins have aggrevated the general economic slowdown and could ultimately affect the country's three-month emergency wheat reserves, leading to a dearth in the one food staple Egyptians need the most.

With only two days to go to the referendum on the proposed amendments to the country's constitution, Egypt's political forces are much divided about the vote. The country's Islamist forces, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, have opted for a "yes" vote, while secular trends are sticking to a decision to vote "no".

"This is the first step on a long journey out of the bottleneck we have been stuck in for years towards a period of stability," Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Mursi told a press conference on 12 March.

The newly approved Al-Wasat Party, a moderate Islamist party with Brotherhood leanings, has also opted for a "yes" vote, with its chairman Abul-Ila Madi arguing that the constitutional amendments, proposed by an ad hoc committee on 26 February, are the best option for moving the country towards full-fledged democracy.

Even radical Islamists such as cousins Aboud and Tarek El-Zomor, members of the banned Jihad Party that masterminded the killing of late president Anwar El-Sadat in October 1981, said on 12 March, the day they were released after 30 years in jail, that the constitutional amendments proposed by a committee led by reformist judge Tarek El-Beshri were "a step in the right direction towards a new democratic Egypt."

Ironically, diehard members of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) also announced on 12 March that they would be voting "yes" to the amendments. NDP Secretary-General Mohamed Ragab said that "all the party's members are urged to say yes because these amendments are a remarkable step on the road towards a democratically elected parliament and president."

Under the 11 proposed amendments -- eight amended, one cancelled and two added -- the presidential term would be reduced to four years with a two-term limit (Article 77). Future presidents would need to appoint a vice president within 60 days of taking office (Article 139). Presidential candidates would need either to secure the support of 30 members of the two houses of the country's parliament or the backing of 30,000 eligible voters across at least 15 governorates, or they would need to be nominated by a registered political party with at least one member elected to either the People's Assembly, the lower house of parliament, or the Shura Council, the upper chamber (Article 76).

The proposed amendments also necessitate the president be at least 40 years of age, and of Egyptian parents and no other nationality, and not married to a non-Egyptian (Article 75). They state that elections must take place under full judicial supervision (Article 88), and they give the Court of Cassation -- the country's highest judicial authority -- the final say about the legality of the membership of parliaments (Article 93), while also stating that the two houses should nominate a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for the country (Article 189).

Article 179 of the present constitution empowering the president to refer civilians to military tribunals has been abolished as a step towards eliminating the 30-year-old emergency law. If they are approved in Saturday's referendum, the changes will lay the groundwork for parliamentary elections in June and a presidential vote in August or September.

However, in contrast to the "yes" vote supported by the Islamists, most secular political forces are saying that they are against the proposed amendments, urging voters to say "no" to them. These forces have been joined by several human-rights organisations, as well as judges, constitutional law professors and independent political analysts and activists, notably members of the Youth of the 25 January Revolution movement.

The country's two main presidential hopefuls -- present Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa and ex-chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El-Baradei -- have also expressed their opposition to the proposed amendments. El-Baradei has gone so far as to describe the amendments "as an insult to the achievements of the 25 January youth revolution," arguing that "an interim presidential council be tasked with drafting a new constitution within one year" instead and urging the cancellation of the present referendum.

For his part, Moussa has argued that "the best option for now is that a president be elected for only one four-year term, during which a new constitution would be drafted, a new parliament elected and the country gradually make a transition towards full democracy."

Secular political forces have charged that "personal and opportunist ends" have motivated Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces to approve the amendments. Amr Hamzawy, a senior researcher with the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told a conference on 13 March that the "Muslim Brotherhood supports the 'yes' vote because the amendments propose organising the parliamentary elections ahead of the presidential polls."

"This is in the favour of the Brotherhood because it is the most organised force and is capable of sweeping to victory in parliamentary elections," Hamzawy said.

Responding to such attacks, the Brotherhood's most senior official, Essam El-Erian, stressed that the group was not aiming to achieve overwhelming victory in the upcoming parliamentary polls and that it would only be fielding candidates in 40 per cent of districts. "This clearly indicates that we are not aiming for a parliamentary majority," El-Erian said, adding that "the group does not intend to field a candidate in the next presidential polls."

However, Brotherhood statements have not been enough to dispel the fears of secularists, with liberal and leftist forces, including the Wafd, Tagammu, Karama and Arab Nasserist Parties insisting that they are strongly opposed to the amendments. El-Sayed El-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd, said that "the amendments are a kind of patchwork, and they by no means live up to the great expectations of the 25th January youth revolution."

El-Badawi proposed that "a constituent assembly be formed instead during a six-month period tasked with drafting a completely new constitution, necessary to ensure a smooth transition to real democracy."

For its part, the Tagammu Party, voice of the country's leftists, joined forces with Hamzawy in charging that the committee tasked by the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) with proposing the amendments had included members from Islamist tendencies and this in itself was reason to vote no in the referendum. "This is not to mention that the amendments fall short of stripping any elected president of his draconian powers enshrined in the constitution," said party chairman Rifaat El-Said, who argued that "under these amendments, a new pharaoh could be elected."

Over and above these disagreements, there remains the larger question of what will happen if the result of the referendum is a "no" vote. Should this happen, the Islamist parties warn, the "country will face great risks, on top of which will be the fact that the HCAF will be encouraged to stay in power, and this would not be a good thing for the transition towards democracy."

In El-Erian's words, "saying 'no' in the referendum would mean that Egypt would be placed under direct military rule, possibly for years, thus taking the country back to square one and to the situation before the 25 January revolution or to an even worse one." A no vote in the referendum "would mean greater political and economic bottlenecks for Egypt, further delaying the country's return to normality."

"To defuse chaos and disorder, the army could impose martial law to dictate discipline while the economy would be left to suffer," El-Erian added.

Mohamed Attia, head of the judicial committee in charge of supervising the poll, warned that "if the result of the vote is no, then Egypt will be in a kind of constitutional void, and the army will be forced to fill it," thus remaining in power longer than the promised six-month period. Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal also indicated that "in the case of a no vote, all the proposed amendments will be considered null and void, and the army will issue a 'constitutional declaration' for the transitional period during which a new constitution is drafted."

For its part, the army has so far kept silent about what could happen if Saturday's vote is a negative one. On its Facebook page, the HCAF has urged all political forces to rise above their differences and to put the interests of Egypt first. "When we took power on 13 February, we issued a constitutional declaration that created a favourable climate for freedom and the transition for democracy, achieved mainly in the form of drafting a number of highly cherished constitutional amendments," a HCAF statement said.

According to Amr El-Shobaki, an Al-Ahram analyst, "the HCAF's statement clearly shows that it is urging people to vote yes in spite of the fact that in the same statement it calls on people to make up their own minds in the poll and says that the result will be respected whether it is yes or no."

El-Shobaki agreed that political interests had motivated the positions of the different political forces in the country, adding that these forces would do better to recognise that the amendments had been proposed by a panel of judicial and legal experts without political axes to grind.

"The majority of ordinary Egyptians want to get out of the current political and economic crisis, and because of this the result of the referendum will be yes," El-Shobaki predicted, adding that "those who urge people to say no on the grounds that the amendments are not enough to keep 'pharaohs' out of power are simply wrong: the amendment to Article 189 clearly states that the parliament should select a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution within six months."

Nevertheless, members of the "no" camp do not see dangers in voting against the amendments in Saturday's referendum. If the result is no, the Tagammu's El-Said said, "the army will have no choice but to surrender to demands to draft a new constitution. We have the power of the people and the power of Tahrir Square behind us, and these will have to be respected by the army."

For his part, El-Badawi said on behalf of the Wafd Party that a "no vote will be respected and will not damage relations with the army. A no vote will also go down in the country's history as an occasion on which Egyptians had the right to refuse what was presented to them."

On at least the first of these two points El-Shobaki agreed, saying that "I don't think a no vote will necessarily bring greater troubles to the country or bring about chaos, because the military will respect the result and expedite the drafting of a new constitution."

(Constitutional articles in question, p2)

behind its electoral campaigns.

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