Given everything Egypt has been through, can the Muslim Brotherhood continue to imagine that it can direct the Egyptian Revolution to its benefit?
Although the Muslim Brotherhood were not one of the groups who called for protests on 25 January, it soon entered into the fray and participated with nationalist forces in demonstrations which morphed into a popular revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood youth played an effective and vital role in the revolution with civic forces from across the political spectrum to formulate the “mood of Tahrir Square”. The Muslim Brotherhood did not take part on the first day because of how the group views itself and nationalist forces. The group believes it is the only organised force in the country, and if it does not take part then the most that other forces will manage is a few hundred followers since the Muslim Brotherhood is the only one that can mobilise protests with hundreds of thousands of participants.
Since the call to demonstrate on 25 January was not made by the Muslim Brotherhood, it decided not to take part. The preliminary verdict was that the protests on 25 January would fail and that they would be like previous ones, which were not attended by more than a few hundred demonstrators. As soon as 25 January was a success and gained strength, the Muslim Brotherhood decided to participate so that they were not left behind at this critical political moment.
During the first few days of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood was unable to impose their presence or control or slogans in the square. It was a truly Egyptian scene and only the flag of Egypt was raised high. The youth of the groups and movements that called for the 25 January demonstrations testified that Muslim Brotherhood youth were critical in igniting the fire of revolution, and actively participated in defending the youth of the revolution. But problems began when victory seemed within reach and the fruit of their labour became apparent.
When Omar Suleiman called for a dialogue with political parties and forces, the Muslim Brotherhood was quick to leap out of the square and into dialogue to be the first to reap the rewards. This was followed by frequent media engagements and attempting to control events in Tahrir Square, especially on the Friday after Mubarak stepped down. Although nationalist forces tried to caution the Muslim Brotherhood to hold back until the fruits of their labour ripen and are ready to be shared, the group continued to work unilaterally under the impression that they were the only organised force. Power seemed close at hand for the group, which was an opportunity they could not pass up, causing many fractures among their ranks.
The Muslim Brotherhood youth conference was an important indicator of the gaping differences among Muslim Brotherhood ranks. The youth took decisions on issues that the older generations had long stalled, such as the role of Copts and women in national work. The Muslim Brotherhood’s unilateral tendency was most evident during the referendum on constitutional amendments, whereby they sided with fragments of the National Democratic Party (NDP) or its fleeing remnants, the Salafis, Gamaa Islamiya, Jihad and the preference by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to approve the amendments.
This is all within their right, but the problem is that they defined the issue of the referendum in religious terms. They crowned this by complete agreement with the Salafis in describing a vote against amendments a sin, casting doubt on the intentions of those who disapproved of the changes and making the referendum a purely religious issue.
Amid these developments, and as the Muslim Brotherhood is embattled over its revolutionary youth, an invitation was sent out to Coptic youth for dialogue. The aim was to reassure Coptic youth about their future as if the Muslim Brotherhood were in control of the country and its people, which will never happen for one simple reason: “He who does not possess something cannot deliver it.” A group that does not have a vision to incorporate a young generation that is interested in national issues will never have anything to offer the same generation of Copts.
Meanwhile, young Copts differ in their views with older generations within the Egyptian Church. They are fed up of the relationship between the state and the Church, and hate the game of the Church of asking for what they see as their rights from the state. They want to break away from this formula and demand for themselves what they believe are their rights.
While it is acceptable to deal with naturally occurring developments and interactions, it is absolutely unacceptable to continue this policy after the scene has become so much more complicated and began negatively affecting the impression of Egypt and the Egyptians after the splendid images of the 25 January Revolution. What the Salafi groups did in Qena, Menoufiya and later Qalubiya have gravely tarnished the revolution of the Egyptian people, causing increasing sectors in Egyptian society to “denounce” the revolution and the day it started.
Many Egyptians are terrified that Egypt will become another Afghanistan or worse if things get out of hand and weapons are used to impose political views. In such a scenario, anything would be possible, which we do not want for our country. And here lies the question that is the theme of this article, which is: at this critical point for Egypt, and with the dangers besieging the country, can there still be those who want to pluck the fruits of the revolution and monopolise them without the involvement of other revolution forces?
I fear that the same policies will continue and they will prematurely pluck the fruits of revolution and in that way neither benefit from them nor wait until they are ready to serve all society. The Muslim Brotherhood must decide where they stand regarding what is taking place in Egypt and attempts to cooperate with forces that want to transform Egypt into another Afghanistan. They must declare their positions and relationships and how they are connected to forces that want to enforce a Taliban plan in Egypt, or Talibanise Egypt.
Post-revolution tensions between Islamists and secularists in Egypt are the product of long years of segregation under the ousted regime. For decades, the country has been living a dual public sphere phenomenon that defined both the political and socio-religious domains.
The first sphere is that which the ousted regime vocally encouraged and used as an international façade —the secular-liberal public sphere. It is a sphere that feted diversity, was dominated by elites who supported the retreat of religion from both the political and civic domains into the personal domain, endorsed universal declarations of human rights as a frame of reference, and encouraged Egypt’s full integration into the global economy, and perhaps into global culture.
While close to ruling circles, these elites had only a minimal impact on the regime’s policies and politics. Their human rights discourse was fully discarded, and only their anti-Islamic sentiment was highlighted by the regime to justify its assaults on Islamists. While these elites were regularly hosted on talk shows and TV programmes, their street presence was close to nil.
Mubarak’s regime subtly encouraged the emergence of another public sphere —one that endorsed a rigid and rather superficial Islamist discourse. Only minimal diversity was allowed in this sphere, which provided an Islamist one-size-fits-all blueprint for reform, making minimal —if any —distinction between the political, civic and personal domains. It rejected the integration of civil components into its rhetoric, and constantly failed to provide an inclusive, intellectually sound manifesto or roadmap for reform that would not fully alienate those who oppose it.
This public sphere was largely dominated by Wahhabi thought. It dominated in mosques (especially those not run by Al-Azhar scholars) and domestic communities. Recently, the mushrooming of satellite religious TV channels (including Al-Nas and Al-Rahma) has contributed to detaching this latter domain from the former.
Nonetheless, this segregation was not complete, for a handful of individuals managed to keep some connections by having a foot in each of the two independent public spheres. Significantly, the crème-de-la-crème of Al-Azhar scholars (well immersed in both religious and social sciences) were able to construct a reconciliatory discourse that was relevant to both spheres; one which emphasises the role of religion in both personal and civic domains, and promotes a culture of tolerance and inclusion based on intersections between different layers of affiliation that create identity.
In short, they presented rather sophisticated and broad guidelines for the incorporation of religion in the public sphere whilst maintaining the latter’s inclusive civil nature. Nonetheless, the century-long institutional and academic disempowerment of Al-Azhar meant that only a few scholars were qualified for the job; particularly people like Grand Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and Mufti Ali Gomaa.
Attempts to reconcile public spheres in the political domain only resembled those in the socio-religious one. The independent (rather isolationist and exclusive) religious public sphere emerged in the 1960s due to Al-Azhar’s disempowerment coupled with the rise of Qutbism and Wahhabism; both capitalising on distinguishing themselves from society to assert their identity. Towards the second half of the 1970s, a mixture of both schools departed from peaceful proselytising and embraced violent attacks.
Over the course of the 1980s and early 1990s, a multitude of factors transformed the religious public sphere from being politically violent to being apolitical. During these years, the Muslim Brotherhood was used as a reconciliatory force due to its willingness to participate gradually and peacefully in civic politics while still preaching in mosques and engaging in developmental and philanthropic activities.
The terrorist threat was marginalised in the second half of the 1990s, with most radical groups renouncing violence and their members being arrested or fleeing the country. Consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood was no longer viewed as a necessary buffer between civil actors and terrorists. Sceptical towards the group’s overwhelming popularity and its possible impact on the polity, the regime fiercely pushed the Muslim Brotherhood out of the shared domain and into the religious public sphere.
This is not to suggest that both political public spheres were totally autonomous. In fact, reconciliatory efforts applied in the social domain were only mimicked in the political one. The regime allowed for the existence of a weak reconciliatory body; a role that was assumed by the (then) extralegal Wasat Party, reformist individuals from within the Muslim Brotherhood and a handful of independent intellectuals on both religious and civil sides.
In both socio-religious and political domains, strengths and scope of reconciliatory forces were carefully calculated. The regime realised the necessity of keeping these channels open so as not to risk acute and incurable social division. It also realised that such channels should be boxed in, for its transformation into a mainstream movement would inevitably undermine the classic “divide and rule” strategy employed by the regime to retain power and control.
Ousting Mubarak’s regime means the emergence of an all-inclusive polity that reflects societal diversities. That in turn requires the emergence of an inclusive public sphere —one that transforms reconciliatory efforts into a mainstream movement. It is primarily the role of Egypt’s civil society to focus on building broad societal consensus on foundational aspects of the country’s polity and society.
Mature political movements and politicians —both Islamist and secular —should realise that despite their disagreements, Egyptians are destined to share a homeland, and this realisation should crystallise in their rhetoric and alliances in the months to come.
Movements stemming from either domain that will choose an alliance with or a rhetoric that empowers those on the margins at the cost of the mainstream will be betraying one of the basic objectives of this revolution (building an all inclusive Egypt), and will jeopardise long-term national stability for the sake of short-term electoral success.
The writeris a freelance columnist and researcher focusing on Islamic movements and democratization.
I never once imagined that the day would come in Egypt when women would be stopped in the street, chastised and threatened because they are not wearing the veil. It never crossed my mind that the time would come when the lives of Christians would be threatened and the ear of one of them would be cut off because of his faith. It never occurred to me that any Egyptian would dare to destroy the shrines of holy men who blessed millions by calling for righteous conduct.
But this all took place in the past weeks amidst a heated revolution to uproot corruption while a greater vice is occurring on our streets, in our districts, villages, in rural and urban areas. It was not what we imagined at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, whether their call for a civic state was genuine or not. Some Islamic groups claimed to have revised their fanatical ideas while they were behind bars. After their release from prison, the leaders of these groups came out as if they had not repented or revised their ideas about killing the president —Sadat —who liberated our land. The arms of the media are wide open to listen to them without questioning their extreme fanaticism and irreverent rage.
As if this wasn’t enough, 3,000 mujahideen dispersed across the world in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Iran vowed to return to Egypt. In this manner, the forces of fanaticism have united not to create a democracy or a compassionate society, but to establish in Egypt, and against Egypt, a replica of societies that have suffered the pains of division, fracture and confrontation.
I don’t know if the youth of the revolution are aware of what is taking place or not, or if they may want to stay away from “horrors” that would keep them and their “million man” gatherings from focusing on uprooting the old regime. The real danger now cannot be ignored or disparaged, or put aside on the basis that it will distract from major issues. The terrorising of women and Christians is not a passing statement against moderate Islam. The return of fighters will not be a sojourn of a warrior returning from abroad.
Our country is truly in danger and we may need at least a “million man” gathering to confront it.Catitan Sut
3 artikel ini saya turunkan daripada akhbar Al-Ahram, Masir. Apa yang dibincangkan dalam artikel-artikel ini hampir sahaja mewakili pandangan 'man on the street' di mana-mana negara ummah Islam. Ianya sesuatu yang waqi'ie, bukan di ada-adakan.
Penghayatan Islam pada peringkat masyarakat kini tergambar seakan paksaan tanpa kerelaan, penguat-kuasaan bukan kefahaman. Keindahan Islam telah digambarkan dalam tulisan dan ceramah, tetapi keindahan itu semakin sirna dalam kehidupan yang sebenar. Janjian hukuman dan tindak-balas kekerasan lebih terserlah daripada pujukan dan rangkulan kasih-sayang.
Di mana silap kita?.
Mungkin kita mula dibenarkan untuk bertanya: "apakah anasir yang telah merubah masyarakat yang fasad bertukar menjadi masyarakat beriman dalam sejarah ummah ini?". "Apakah ciri-ciri yang perlu kita hayati untuk membuka pintu tilikan rahmat dari Allah?". "Apakah bangkitnya Rasulullah Sollallahu 'alaihi wasallam semata-mata untuk menyempurnakan akhlaq yang mulia itu telah digarap dengan baik fahamnya dan usahanya oleh kita?". "Apakah implikasi pegangan kita yang tiada daya dan tiada upaya kecuali Daya dan Upaya Allah dalam usaha-usaha kita mengislahkan masyarakat?". "Di manakah letaknya tarbiyyah dan tazkiyyah diri kita dan kelompok kita sebagai pra-syarat pengislahan masyarakat?". 'Apakah benar terdapat dalil dan hujjah untuk kita meminggirkan kemurnian laku dan keheningan munajat kepada Allah demi menegakkan Negara Islam?". "Bagaimanakah konsep yang jelas tentang Negara Islam yang kita impikan vis-a-vis perlaksanaan oleh Rasulullah Sollallahu 'alaihi wasallam serta para khulafa ar-rashidin terdahulu?".
Ya Allah, beningkan mahabbah kami serta ikhlas kami serta asyiq kami kepada-Mu, sibghahkan faham kami, pandangan kami mengikut agama-Mu Hadirkan ingatan kepada Rasul-Mu pada hati kami tanpa henti , dalam tidur dan jaga kami. Ya Allah, jadikan kehidupan kami sebagai pengabdian kepada-Mu semata-mata. Ya Allah tunjukkilah kami Jalan Kebenaran walaupun ketika manusia ramai tiada melaluinya.... kami mengharapkan Rahmat Rahim-Mu Ya Allah ...