International Affairs Middle East — 01 October 2012
Beyond the Mursi Effect – Holding the Egyptian President to Account

Ali Harfouch

Debate, discussion, and consultation are essential if Islamic activists are to draw and develop and elucidate a programme of liberation for the Muslim world following the tumultuous revolutions which toppled the long-standing Arab despots. However, consultation lacking objectivity, and discussion lacking a distinct orientation are both regressive and counter-productive, ending usually in conflicting and exacerbating tensions between contending Islamic movements. Our criticism and objections to the methodology and politics employed by Mursi was met with ill-defenses based on either rash sentiments or fallacious counter-attacks. A ‘Mursi Effect’ has left many unable to look beyond rhetoric and critically appraise the actions and policies of Egypt’s new president. And thus we found it essential that we re-orient the debate by pointing to the common fallacies committed when defending Mursi’s politics followed by providing our respected brothers and sisters an alternative requisite response conducive to a healthy debate. Lastly, we re-examine key questions on his political programme.

1- Appeal to Motives

A critique of Mursi’s discourse and politics is often countered by an appeal to Mursi’s motives (or intentions). The fallacy lies in the fact that the actions of Mursi are in conformity with Islam or lack thereof independently of his motives. While his motives might be Islamic in that they are actually in pursuit of a particular Islamic ends, his actions are not.

Required Response: A proper response to criticism waged on Mursi’s politics must entail a defense of the Brotherhood’s adoption of Parliamentary democratic participation as their political methodology and their subscription to the parameters of the nation-state from an Islamic framework—meaning that the means adopted are Islamic means.

2- ‘Wishful Thinking’

Appeals to what defenders-of-Mursi wish will happen as opposed to appealing to normative or historical references is another common fallacy. In other words, the truthfulness of the defense lies simply in that he wishes it to be so.

Required Response: The desired Islamic ‘ends’ however must be proven to follow progressively and directly from the political methodology employed by Mursi. It also follows, as noted in the above fallacy, that the ‘means’ employed is Islamic as it seems nonsensical that an Islamic ‘ends’ will emerge from un-Islamic ‘means’. A retort to ‘Wishful Thinking’ only makes the defense and counter-argument all the more difficult.

3- Appeal to Accomplishments

Despite having only spent a few weeks in office, defenses of Mursi are made by an appeal to some of his minimal accomplishments such as the release of several Islamist detainees, a proclamation against the Syrian regime during the Non-Alignment Summit in Tehran, and others. While these accomplishments are worthy of credit and indicative of Mursi’s character, they do not legitimize Brotherhood’s pragmatic politics, nor their reformist methodology involving compromise and concession. Accomplishments do not legitimize a particular action unless one adheres to pragmatism or utilitarianism as a philosophical school of thought.

Required Response:  While these accomplishments can be alluded to in order to defend Mursi’s motives or his character, a defender of Mursi’s politics must (1) appeal to an Islamic-framework to justify the action under scrutiny and (2) prove how these accomplishments or ‘gains’ incrementally move us towards an Islamic ends as opposed to regressively away from it. For example, is Mursi’s presidency in itself an accomplishment which legitimizes a Colonial political system or does it incrementally and progressively move us towards its dissolution and delegitimization?

4- Special Pleading

Among them is (many) a man who says: “Grant me exemption and draw me not into trial.” Have they not fallen into trial already? and indeed Hell surrounds the Unbelievers (on all sides).

Most recently, following the raids and military operations in Sinai and the ill-fated loan with the IMF, many “Islamic” activists across the political spectrum pleaded that Mursi was exempt from the previous judgments casted on those who carried out the very same raids and relied upon the trangressive Capitalist loans. On what normative grounds however is Mursi exempt from the same criticism? An appeal to his motives would only lead to another fallacy, as would an appeal to his accomplishments? What is furthermore problematic in this fallacy is that an Islamic normative judgment, while being Absolute and of necessary value, is rendered subjective and contingent.

Required Response: And thus, the only legitimate justification and defense in regards to Mursi’s “exceptions” will either include (1) explaining how Mursi was coerced (mukrih) or (2) proof that the nature of the loan and the raids in Sinai have changed to the extent that they have gone from illegitimate-prohibited to legitimate-permissible from an Islamic perspective or lastly, (3) explain how and why such acts are beneficial under Mursi’s governance but not under his predecessors despite the continuity of the very same political system and hegemonic power-relations which exert influence over Mursi’s policies.

5- Appeal to Circumstances

Similar to the above fallacy, an appeal in defense of Mursi’s questionable (to say the least) policies is often justified by claiming that the surrounding circumstances dictate such. However, from an Islamic perspective,‘circumstances’ are not legitimizing unless these circumstances involve coercion. The hegemonic power-relations and the matrix of power-structures in which Mursi’s government is embedded do not legitimize his policies because his policies are in fact a direct product of these power-relations and structures which the Brotherhood strategically chose to participate within, meaning that these circumstances are self-imposed. Discourse and political-activity must be in harmony with the ideological foundations and the value-laden institutions (i.e. the circumstances), and similarly, a preservation of international accords and agreements is inevitable when one chooses to gain control over a political system which is in itself a proxy regime and of significant geopolitical interests to regional and international hegemonic players.

Required Response: Little defense or mending can be done with such a devastating fallacy. At best, it must be shown that the political and ‘ideological’ circumstances which influence, if not completely shape, Mursi’s politics are not self-imposed through the Brotherhood’s participation within the mechanisms which sustain the longetivity of these Colonial structures and their recognition of the state’s legitimacy or national parameters of the state. Claims to necessity (darura) as an Islamic jurisprudential justification would have to conform to the strict requisite conditions set in regards to what constitutes necessity and what does not– the condition being the inevitability of death. [1] And as we noted, are they the structural contradictions which led to the very same circumstances in which the Brotherhood involved products of political and economic dependency? Immersing a nation’s future into a deeper abyss of dependency will only perpetuate a state of dependency and its consequences—hunger. After all, one of the conditions of the IMF was a cutting back on public spending on food subsidies. It would have been wiser for those claiming to represent “national interests” and defending Mursi to invoke the principle “that which leads to Haram is Haram” as a conceptual counter-justification to the flimsy fallacies given in regards to the loan.

6- False Dilemma

An appeal is made to the either/or situation or a false dilemma which supposedly justifies Mursi’s pragmatic policies [or the Brotherhood’s rush to fill an illusionary political vacuum], often claiming that it would have been otherwise left to Mubarak’s ex-Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq. Dubiously, this claim ignores the blatant fact that a revolution had, months earlier, proven that such an either/or dilemma does not exist and that a third-way involving informal political activism through mass-based revolutions or civil disobedience can bring about an alternative political result. A particular action is Islamic or un-Islamic based on its conformity or unconformity to Islam, not to the actions of ‘the Other’, and thus another fundamental error made is the legitimization of Mursi’s actions by comparing or contrasting them to the potential actions of Shafiq. In other words, the criteria by which the legitimacy or illegitimacy of Mursi’s political program is based on a subjective comparison to those of Shafiq as opposed to using an independent Islamic normative framework to appraise both.

Furthermore, this raises a fundamental question in regards to Islamic activism and change:  Is reality a subject-matter to be critically appraised and changed accordingly or is ‘reality’ an epistemic base which one passively accepts and works according to its constitutive structures and defining concepts? Was revelation sent in order to change a particular reality or to accommodate the vicissitudes of subjectivity and experience – worse yet legitimize and illegitimate politic-economic and social reality? Revelation is thus stripped of its absoluteness and divinity while a particular contingent and relative reality is naturalized and rendered immutable; henceforth, ushering in the biggest obstacle to change—its impossibility.

Required Response: Accordingly it must be shown that a third-way, or in other words a continuation of the revolution towards an alternative political reality, was not possible despite the lessons learnt from the Arab Spring. Furthermore, it must be shown that the politico-economic reality accommodated by the Brotherhood and Mursi was in conformity with Islam’s politico-economic vision.

Critical Questions

Two fundamental questions must be rectified if the Islamicity and legitimacy of Mursi’s political programme is to be properly assessed;

1- The desired ‘Ends’ or vision of Mursi’s Political Programme.

If one is to argue that we should give Mursi “more time” then it should be made clear what exactly he is working towards. A clearly articulated ‘Ends’ has rarely been elucidated by the Muslim Brotherhood which continues to espouse an Islamic rhetoric while claiming to acknowledge and accept the Secular status-quo. A call for an Islamic Khilafah has gradually been replaced by a call for a “Civil State with an Islamic Reference”. And the implementation of Shariah law continues to remain an issue of ambiguity as even Shariah law has gone from a manifest set of divine laws to a set of abstract vacuous principles which are capable of accommodating different political realities. If the desired ‘Ends’ of Mursi does not involve radical break of discontinuity with the current Political architecture, on what grounds is the externally imposed political architecture in conformity with Islam’s political vision? This is made all the more problematic when the origins of the current politico-economic architecture emanate from a Eurocentric Secular worldview and are imposed on the Muslim world through colonization.

2- ‘Means’ and Actions or Mursi

‘Means’ cannot be separated from ‘Ends’ for while the latter remains theoretical and not part of one’s immediate politico-historic reality, the former constitutes one’s practical activity or lived-experience. It is the means which over time shape ones ends. The lack of harmony between ones ends and means—in that both are products of the same underlying principles—leads to the eventual collapse and dissolution of a movement’s distant character. It thus follows that the ‘Means’ employed by Mursi in the Brotherhood must be in harmony with the “Islamic ends” which defenders-of-Mursi wishfully assume exists in some distant future. Both critics and defenders of Mursi are united on the existential obligation of al-Amru bil-Ma’ruf wal-Nahi ‘an al-Munkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil) which fundamentally demarcates the Ummah and defines its primary obligation as a cosmic embodiment of divine will. Justifications for political participation often involve claims that positions of power provide “Islamists” with a wider scope for enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, but this only begs the question as the rejection and disavowal of the illegitimate political order is in itself an ends [i.e. an-Nahy ‘an al-Munkar al-Akbar – being, the taghouti political system]. It seems nonsensical to enter and instrumentally utilize a taghouti system which is itself al-Munkar al-Akbar, and claim that you have entered to do ((الأمر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر)) when the munkarat such as poverty and moral corruption are a product of the system.

Conclusion

An inability to put forth real and pro-active defenses for the pragmatic politics of the Muslim Brotherhood is indicative of a method-of-thinking which is unable to transcend our servile political ‘reality’ and look beyond the colonially constructed realm of ‘possibility’. In other words, the above fallacies are symptomatic of a much deeper and more serious problem, the only solution for which is a shift towards a more principled and liberative method-of-thinking whose realm of ‘possibility’ is defined by revelation and not an externally imposed political ‘reality’.

Ali Harfouch is a student of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut working in Islamic activism with Islam Policy.


[1] “As for necessity we imply the state that probably will lead to the person’s destruction, If, for example he does not eat and similarly if he fears that an illness would lead to death…..” Imam Abu Hamid Al Ghazali Al Shafi says in his Wasit (7/168)

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