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Good and bad lessons from the Brotherhood’s crisis in Egypt

There seems to be a consensus in the debates that I have heard recently regarding the current Egyptian issues. Many seem to believe that the revolutionaries made a critical mistake when they failed to completely uproot links with the former regime. Many accuse President-elect Mohammed Morsi of failing to address the issues that led to the counter-revolution. These same individuals argue that any future attempts at a revolution must first cut off ties with the past.


Perhaps the biggest mistake made by Morsi and his supporters specifically (and the revolutionaries generally) was their failure to reach a consensus on the ultimate goals of the revolution, which should have been to build a stable and democratic political system. There are well established concepts of fault and where fault lies that can be traced back to the history of the French Revolution and its revolutionary terror as well as the Marxist ideologies that it inspired, which was dedicated to establishing a firm understanding of the revolution and its aggressive tendencies. These same ideologies are reflected in our understanding of the Bolshevik Revolution and Maoist mania that often serves as an extension of Marxism. All of these ideologies seek to explain the somewhat puzzling yet charming nature of violence.

If we are to avoid jugging Marxist concepts after witnessing how they have been manifested in Arab radicalism we would find that belief is what makes a doctrine out of the concept of a revolution. Rebels become like priests in a temple as they recite incantations and make offerings to the alleged God of the revolution. For revolution against tyranny and oppression in turn destroys the very foundations and symbols of a tyrannical structure. The people are then left to decide and choose what type of government they want. This has been the ideology fuelling revolutions from the time of the American Revolution to the Arab Spring.

Perhaps the irony lies in the fact that Sayyid Qutub was greatly affected by this ideology when he said Islam liberated mankind from the shackles of tyranny and that people should be free to choose what it is that they want from religion. Qutub was often labelled as a radical for his beliefs. According to Qutub and Mawdudi, the goal behind jihad was not to spread Islam by the sword, as some would argue, but to free mankind from the constraints that deprive them of making free choices and this is based on the concept that there is no compulsion in religion. Ironically, many claim that they have been negatively affected by Qutub’s ideology and this is due to their backwards understanding of his ideas. These individuals believe that jihad’s goal is not to free people from human enslavement but to enslave everyone to those who consider themselves jihadists.

By the same token, there are “revolutionaries” in Egypt who believe that they have the right to impose their beliefs on others, sometimes by means of weapons and sometimes through other means. They believe that they have come to liberate people from tyranny and expect the masses to bow down in gratitude to them. What is the point then if you destroy one statue only to build another on the same ruined platform?

The goal behind a revolution is not to create a class of Brahmin [someone who, because of wealth and social position, wields considerable social, economic, and political power] who call themselves revolutionaries and convince people that they have come to liberate them. At the same time, the goal is not to create a new dictatorship under the false disguise of a revolution. Furthermore, the goal of a revolution is definitely not to create militias that kidnap, sabotage, spill blood rape under the cover of a revolution. A democratic revolution’s goal should not be to reiterate the Khmer Rouge’s experience but instead to leave the people free to decide and choose for themselves. A democratic revolution should implement the rule of law and establish accountability instead of throwing everything up in the air.

From this standpoint, the beliefs that the Muslim Brotherhood failed to truly implement the revolution’s goals or even the idea that they did not have military capabilities can both be considered false claims. If the Muslim Brotherhood had truly joined the rebels’ ranks then the military’s lies and justifications regarding the Brotherhood’s supposed inaction would have been credible, as this has happened before. Time after time, the Muslim Brotherhood’s position has been the right one because they left others to lead the revolution. Yet, when the time came to prove how strong they were as an organisation, they exhibited a sense of power that no other group around them possessed. If the Muslim Brotherhood did not choose to take the back seat when the revolution began and had they instead decided to sit in the front row then both the revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood would not have succeeded.

At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to avoid a confrontation with the military is a true testament to the organisation’s wisdom. They stood by their beliefs regardless of the fact that many people were encouraging them to finish the revolution by uprooting the military apparatus. Ironically, these same individuals are among the primary supporters of the coup today. They are the ones who stand in the way of achieving a true democracy. Extremism always ends up leading to the opposite intention.

The true lesson that we have learned from the Egyptian revolution as well as all other Arab revolutions is that the Arab street must be unified in order to confront dictatorships. Political organisations and the masses must then agree on how they want to govern the country so that competition between political factions and parties is conducted along this basis and so that people will be able to decide which party is best equipped to lead the country. The goal of a democratic revolution is not to eradicate members of the authoritarian regime, as happened in Egypt, nor should it be to execute mass numbers of people, as during the Chinese revolution when 700,000 people were killed within the first year alone. The goal of a democratic revolution should be to eradicate the climate that allowed the dictatorship to survive and that sustained it. What forced Hosni Mubarak to bow down to the will of the people was the belief that the people were united against him.

The first step to re-establishing the dictatorship was to divide the people and create a sense of fear among the different sects of Egyptian society. Everyone was conditioned to fear the other so that they may run to the dictatorship to protect them. Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood helped promote these beliefs when they decided to impose their views and by doing so they facilitated the military’s objectives by creating divisions among the Egyptian people.

I do not want to repeat what I and others have said about the mistakes that were committed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s government because the problem now does not lie in what happened in the past but what is happening today. The rifts between the different factions of Egyptian society have deepened and many appear to function as though they live in different nations and each of these nations speaks its own language. Anyone who is following the Egyptian state’s official media and news sources will see that their stories contradict those of the opposition and both of these narratives are being depicted by the international media, although the international media tends to be more in line with the opposition.

According to official news sources, Egypt is unified and stands behind General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and the police and military are allegedly protecting the people from outside terrorist and violent organisations. Yet, according to the opposition, the coup and its establishment are the product of Zionist sponsorship and have nothing to do with Egypt and its interests. Perhaps what is ironic is that in both cases, these groups blame outside groups for what is going on in Egypt. The discourse that has been adopted by those who support the coup is the belief that any event taking place in Egypt is the result of a “Brotherhood-led conspiracy” and that Obama and the American embassy are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. To be labelled a Brotherhood supporter in Egypt these days is the same as being called a Jew in Nazi Germany. Just a the Nazis believed that every negative event was the result of a “Jewish conspiracy”, many of the coup’s supporters claim that every conflict facing Egypt is the result of a Brotherhood-led conspiracy, which is no doubt sponsored by Qatar.

These divisions in discourse are what cause civil wars and pave the way towards genocide, as we have seen in Yugoslavia and now in Ukraine, Burma and Central Africa. If we do not change our discourse then what was previously alluded to, in terms of Egypt’s “Somalisation”, is actually a bright outcome compared to the potential alternative. We have had enough of the news we are hearing today, reports of collective executions. Indeed, the news coming from the state’s official media outlets is quite frightening.

Translated from Al-Quds Al-Arabi, April 28, 2014

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

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