“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” – Henry Ford
The ouster of Mohamed Morsi as President of Egypt in a coup d’état by the military will reverberate not only across the political landscape of the ancient land but that of the entire Muslim world. Morsi, whilst viewed globally as a barely acceptable face of political Islam, represented but a segment of a wider movement in the Muslim world calling for the implementation of Shariah law by the State.
Numerous polls have shown overwhelming support amongst the global Muslim populace for making Shariah the official law of the land. The latest of such research is that of the Washington based Pew Research organisation entitled ‘The World’s Muslims; Religion, Politics and Society’ which was released on April 30, 2013. The poll found that in 25 of the countries surveyed the majority of Muslims supported Shariah being the law of the land. Notable findings were Iraq (91%), Malaysia (86%), Niger (86%), Pakistan (84%), Morocco (83%), Bangladesh (82%), Egypt (74%), Jordan (71%) and Nigeria (71%). What is intriguing about these findings is not just the level of such support but the amount of diversity amongst the respondents gives pause for thought; whether one finds themselves in Africa, the Middle East, South or South East Asia, they would find a consistent political ambition amongst the people.
So why has Morsi been rejected in Egypt? To the uninitiated a bearded man from a party, whose name drips with Islamic symbolism born in the nationalistic aftermath that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate, which for many years adopted the slogan ‘Islam is the solution’ would be the realisation of anyone who desires Shariah law.
On a superficial level the Morsi government failed to address the economic malaise faced by Egypt leading to mass discontent. Yet there is also a deeper answer hiding in plain sight; the Muslim Brotherhood had not only forsaken Islamic politics decades ago but became the champion of democratisation, predicated on secular thought, across the Muslim world. Its actions subsequent to the demise of Hosni Mubarak epitomise its wandering political compass, which have compounded Egypt’s woes.
Early on in the revolution it was quick to distance itself from championing the mass movement, which many interpreted as a sign that it was projecting a moderated stance to the global media lest Western states decided to intervene against it. This was designed as much for the consumption of world as it was for the military, the real power behind the Egyptian throne.
Appropriate noises were made about wanting a civil state rather than an Islamic one which led the Brotherhood being allowed to contest the elections as the Freedom and Justice Party. Many supporters ignored this call due to a mixture of viewing it as political subterfuge and holding the idea that an Islamic state could be achieved from within a secular democratic setup by gradual implementation of Islamic principles. Once in power, rather than using this success at the ballot box as a mandate for political change, the Brotherhood ended up continuing many of the key policies and ideological direction of the Mubarak era.
Economically it was unable to address the issue of resource distribution, with the military and Mubarak era governments controlling up to 40% of the economy. As these elites moved wealth out of the country, the Egyptian Pound plummeted leading to a widening trade deficit as Egypt attempted to service its energy and food imports using a weakened currency. Out of ideas, Morsi turned to the IMF for interest based loans. All of these policies were born of the crucible of economic liberalism, with no Islamic economic policies such as the introduction of a bi-metallic backed currency, the abolition of natural resource monopolies or the shifting of the tax burden from income and consumption to capital and produce in sight.
In terms of foreign policy the army ensured that Egypt continued to support the goals of its benefactor, America, rather than reflect public sentiment in Egypt. This lead to the reaffirmation of the Camp David accords, blocking the tunnels to Gaza and mostly silence on the issue of the Syrian revolution. This ran counter to the expected dropping of national borders to unify with other Muslim countries to create a wider Islamic union and the removal of Western supported dictators in the Arab world by supplying political/military support to other revolutions in the region.
Despite unending compromise on practically every major issue to placate Western states abroad and secularists at home, the Brotherhood was still ejected from power. This will leave many supporters of not just the Brotherhood directly but the politics of gradualism and participation in a democratic process with much to think about. If democracy cannot tolerate the will of the people if it happens to be Islamic, then is it truly just a mechanism for representing popular opinion or is it a system unable to function without the values of secular liberalism being implemented? Is it really the political equivalent of Henry Ford’s choice of colour?
The ramifications of the answer to this question would be important not just to the fate of Egyptian politics but to that of the entire Muslim world. The Muslim Brotherhood has inspired many movements in the Muslim world which have espoused political participation in democracy rather than an attempt at radical change to establish an Islamic State. If the Brotherhood can be tossed aside, despite decades of work and masses of support on its home turf, how can such a system hold any hope for meaningful change?
Lessons learned from Egypt would suggest that any real change requires the backing of the armed forces rather than a conflict with them or a simple change of face on the political front. Further, it would seem that regardless of how much political Islam compromises it would never be perceived as sufficient by secular segments of society, so why try at all?
The coming months and years could see the biggest drop in adoption of democracy amongst the proponents of Shariah law across the Muslim world. Ironically, this would have been precipitated by a coup backed by secularists and implicitly by Western powers to rid one country of any influence of political Islam.
Muhammad Asim @AsimWriter is a freelance columnist