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The Muslim Brotherhood must reassure everyone

January 25, 2014 at 3:59 am

Revolutionary Egypt is at a crossroads, with the revolution itself under threat, requiring all factions to reconsider their positions, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamic group must be alert, ready to mobilise its supporters and prepared for self-denial.

Let’s not forget, though, that Egypt is on the coat-tails of an authoritarian regime which killed meaningful politics in the country and thus distorted hopes for the future. We are taking our first steps on a democratic journey and should not expect an easy transition to full democracy. One of the first rules, for example, is to accept and respect election results, as long as the process was free and fair. I also know that this is the first time in Egyptian history that the president is being appointed through the ballot box.

I appreciate all of this and cannot ignore it, but I also cannot ignore the result of the first round of the presidential election which puts before us an unforeseen challenge. While we participated in the election to choose a candidate who will carry the revolution forward, the result was a surprise. The choice we now have is between the continuation of the revolution and a pillar of the counter-revolution who had been hidden behind revolutionary banners.

There is no doubt that we are, and should be, concerned about this development. However, we should not be disheartened, or even scared. As bad as it is, it is not all evil. We can have a positive result if we open our eyes and learn a lesson that will strengthen our determination and turn the crisis into an opportunity.

In summary, consider the following:

  • The outcome revealed to us that members of the counter-revolution still have the ability to influence the masses. Putting aside the numbers involved, it is clear that the old regime did not disappear with the fall of its leader. Thirty years in power embedded its influence deep in society and the corridors of power.

    Those people played an undeniable role in promoting the counter-revolutionary candidate in some areas. This claim is supported by the fact that his team and propagandists are from the former regime; some, indeed, are former senior security officials, even post-revolution.

  • The election outcome has challenged national groups and political powers in Egypt to move towards consensus, about which they were reluctant. There is a realisation that without it the winds of the counter-revolution will devastate all of them. What was an option before the election has become essential after it.
  • The votes of the masses demonstrated that they are aware of what they’re doing; they are not an easily-persuaded mob, as the media portrays them, but very consciously punished the Brotherhood for their positions voted for those deemed closer to them and more able to express their needs. This cannot be ignored.
  • It was clear that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis were not one and the same thing, as rumoured. It even became clear that the Salafis themselves were not one thing, with some supporting Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and others supporting Dr. Mohammad Morsi. Some may even have voted for Hamaden Sabbahi. Thus, from now on, “Islamists” should not be dealt with as a single voting bloc. It should be noted here that although the leaders of the Salafist Al-Nour Party acted with a striking degree of maturity and responsibility in suggesting support for Dr. Aboul Fotouh as being in the national interest, that does not hide the gaps on other points.
  • Perhaps most important of all is that the vote sent a warning to the Muslim Brotherhood; it expressed public dissatisfaction about the organisation’s political behaviour and performance, most notably on two issues: the Brotherhood went back on its word not to put a candidate forward for the presidency and in respect of the number of seats it wanted to win in parliament; and it changed its position on the Constitution Committee, which it said should be based on the simple majority and not according to capability and community representation. I believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has got the message, not least after losing nearly five million votes in the presidential election compared to the legislative elections. This is a positive point that needs to be considered.

Last week I said that fear prevails in the presidential election; a fear of Islamists and fear of remnants of the former regime. The first is more important and more dangerous because it reflects on the future, but fear of the remnants of the previous regime keeps the country wedded to the past. This is attributed to the counter-revolution, which stands in stark contrast to moves towards national unity.

To be fair, a fear of Islamists does not come from the behaviour of the Muslim Brotherhood alone, but was contributed to by the behaviour and speech – and perhaps the looks   of some Salafis. Such fears were exacerbated by the media which spared no effort to distort the image and focus on errors, blowing them out of proportion. It’s the same media which did not change after the revolution, but stuck to its traditional vocabulary of scarecrow rhetoric ranging between Islamophobia and brotherhood-phobia.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the Brotherhood bears the greatest responsibility for such fears because it is the largest political force in the country and enjoys a majority in parliament.

The term “acquisition” (of power) has stuck to the Brotherhood, and those using it have gone so far as accusing the organisation of recreating the role of the National Party, which was dominant in all key positions in the country, from the head of state to institutions and the appointment of ministers, governors, high councils, ambassadors and university administrators, etc.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood has been taken aback by its huge support and imagined that the majority it has will see its candidates assume the leadership of the parliament, the Shura Council, the government and the Constitution Committee, along with nominating a candidate for presidency, it did not realise that society is not prepared for this image. The public are not ready to see the party fill the horizon and the most important positions in the state, ignoring other political groups. Added to that should be the common concerns for the rights of women, Copts and creative thinkers, as well as the talk about government interference in people’s private lives. You can imagine the fear that ordinary people have about what they consider to be the predominance of the Muslim Brotherhood which has raised their scepticism and apprehension.

Thus, reassurances by the Brotherhood to gain the confidence of the people and other political forces have to be a priority. This can only be achieved by self-analysis to uncover the organisation’s weaknesses and overcome them quickly.

There is a good example in the consensus in Tunisia between the Islamic Renaissance Movement (Al-Nahda Party) and the Conference Party and the Secular Bloc, in addition to a number of left-wing and other national parties. I have provided previously a summary before of the outcome of the October 18 Board of Rights and Freedoms which began in 2005 to prepare several papers to interpret consensus on some basic issues pertaining to coexistence in the management of community affairs. This consensus lay in the background of what happened after the revolution, where Al-Nahda took the presidency of the government, while the Conference Party took head of state, and the Chairman of the Secular Bloc took the office of Chairman of the Constituent Committee closest to the Parliament.

I have also pointed out that Al-Nahda did not include the word Shari’ah in the Tunisian Constitution and only referred to Islam as the religion of the state. Shaikh Rashid Ghannouchi agreed to this in order to preserve the unity of the national community and to avoid causing any division in society.
I mention this in order to support my call for the Muslim Brotherhood to take seriously the need to reassure the community and other political forces and eradicate their fears. However, such a proposal would be incomplete if secularists and liberals are not asked also to declare a ceasefire with regards to the Islamists, even in the form of a truce, until everyone manages to go through the current critical stage. It is unreasonable to demand that the Muslim Brotherhood offers concessions to placate others, while the others continue to snipe day and night and call for the group to be eliminated in various ways.

Thus, I call upon the Muslim Brotherhood to make a declaration on a number of issues, including the following:

  • If the Muslim Brotherhood candidate succeeds in the second round of the presidential election, then the next Prime Minister will be an independent from outside the group.
  • A Brotherhood President will appoint one of the Vice-Presidents from amongst the youths of the revolution.
  • A confirmation that the group is committed to democratic values, at the forefront of which is political pluralism and devolution of power.
  • Copts, women and young people will be represented in the President’s Consultative Council.
  • The Brotherhood undertakes to respect personal freedoms and creative freedom, and it is also committed to respecting human rights, including freedom of thought and expression.
  • The group is committed to putting the value of citizenship in place and is committed to fighting discrimination based on religion, opinion or gender.
  • True Prosperity can only be achieved through social justice and commitments to help the poor.

If the Muslim Brotherhood is prepared to do this, it may manage to assuage people’s fears and reduce their anxieties. This will not happen unless and until words are translated into deeds.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.