Islamic victory in Egypt, or an appropriate semblance?
Egypt and the Muslims at large, at least those with Islamic sentiments are celebrating today; after years of persecution of an Islamic group, it has finally gained Nusra (victory) or has it?
Doctor Muhammad Mursi has made headlines by becoming the first President of Egypt from the Muslim brotherhood, a movement which was founded in Egypt around 1928. In this piece we will scrutinise the recent accomplishments (or lack thereof) not through the lenses of a pragmatic Islamist appeasing rhetoric but rather through a more strategic and principled lens.
To understand the issue at hand without falling into rhetoric about conspiracy and remain rational we must understand these recent gains under the following three premises;
This victory, in line with the political atmosphere of Egypt and the wider scaremongering of Islamists and Islamist politics in the West, is by intention, either a means to an end or the end itself.
Ideologically speaking one system of ruling can never be naïve enough to allow another to take control and power, through it, if the latter system were to pose a real and serious threat to its own existence. In this case the Military law that is ruling Egypt, whose authority is nothing less than dictatorial, would not have allowed the brotherhood to gain power if they saw it as a threat to their way, i.e their goals were to Islamise Egypt. This is a legacy of true change, be it revolutions or coups, the Communists didn’t seek to dismantle (if this is the aim of the brotherhood) the system from within, Khomeini did not barter with the Shah to change the constitution etc. Moreover if the Brotherhood, and the world, as seems apparent have accepted this as the victory in itself then it is surely doomed to failure. This is because the Muslim Brotherhood is not synonymous with the Islamic model if it adheres to pragmatic politics, thus its appointment is not in itself a victory.
- Thus if this is the means to an end then this itself cannot be a deemed a victory for anyone, not alone for romantic pragmatic Islamists. The aimed victory must be specified by the Brotherhood, so that we can accordingly determine to what extent the gains are progress or regressive, what do they seek to achieve? Will they stick to the principles laid out by the founder of the group, Hassan al-Banna? Or will they adhere to pragmatism? If substantial reform (the level of which is never determined by them) is the ends, which seems highly likely, then the recent move is regressive because they have legitimized, controlled, and preserved the very same system which perpetually produces economic and political inequalities (internally and externally). Thus remaining Islamic only by name and historical definitions and not bringing or aspiring to bring an end to the dictatorial Mubarakan regime.
- If it is the end itself then we are left with three dilemmas; firstly, power for the sake of power is illegitimate from any conceptual and principled perspective (it does not serve a greater ‘good’) therefore the argument of the ‘lesser’ good is little but futile, because if no change is bought then the ‘lesser good’ does not exist. If the definition of the lesser good is shallow enough to mean face value and vague labels, then this has been achieved.
Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood replaced the desired ends set by its founder and the ‘ends’ which justifies (from a shari’) perspective their participation (not to mention that a movement is determined by its end) therefore we cannot expect the humble and sincere aims of Hassan al-Banna to be actualised after 84 years, because the Brotherhood has now abandoned the model adapted by the scholar.
Thirdly, if the ends is ‘power’ then all they have attained is the paradoxical “power” to be neutralized by formal institutions (Parliament, and Presidency) both of which preserve a status-quo and do not serve to change it and thus they were forced, following their victories to resort to informal channels of politics; Tahrir square, in protest of the subtle military coup. And lastly, declaring it as a means begs the question as to whether or not these secular-capitalist institutions are legitimate in themselves for if they are not, then abolishment of these institutions becomes an ends in itself and hence, once again, the recent “gains” are extremely regressive.
The political platform of Egypt is such that real power lies with the military. Egypt’s history is testament to this and those who had control of the military were ( at least worldly speaking) in an infallible position of power. Even before the appointment of Mursi as the president, such debates of discussing the limit of the president’s power were surrounding media outlets. This is something Mursi himself has recognised early enough to comment on:
“I will keep the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, on the basis of mutual respect… A nation [Israel] of five million people cannot be a threat to a nation of 95 million people [Egypt].” (CBC TV, 9 May 2012)
“We are not declaring war on anyone, and we do not intend to sever ties with anyone in the future, except with those who stand against the Egyptian people or attack Egypt.” (Al-Arabiya TV, 23 November 2011)
Finally we would like to mention that the victory of a perceived ‘Islamist’ group is not as new as the mass hysteria is making it sound. Such victories have taken place in Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, Turkey, and Gaza. Those who considered these micro victories of naïve Islamists to be victories created the same hysteria as is created today, but the hype was slowly dismantled when it was realised that these victories were allowed to occur by the institution because either these parties were pragmatic enough to be democratised, or their power could be controlled to the level of face value. Arguably each scenario is as disheartening and insulting to the hopes of a sincere Muslim as the other.
In conclusion as the actual power in Egypt lies with its Military Council and the Brotherhood have not gained power through toppling the status quo institutions and systems, and thus not guaranteed root change, the victory of Mursi is no victory at all. What it is, is a shot of morphine for Egyptians disheartened for decades over deprivation of choice in their own political destiny. Here they are given the illusion of choice but change must be less than expected. What we can expect is for the Brotherhood to further reform into a moderate, pragmatic party and to search for its Islamic lineage we must return to the ends originally espoused by Hassan al-Banna.
Umm Hafsa is a Graduate from the University of Manchester and an Islamic Activist in the United Kingdom.