Wael Awwad’s A Bloody Reckoning for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (dna, August 26) makes for disturbing reading because of the tacit assumption of the Syrian journalist throughout the article that the Egyptian army is an essential part of the fight against religious extremism represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.
This lays bare the folly of Arab nationalists and secularists in the region who feel that it is justified to repress anti-democratic and anti-modern religious reactionaries in the polity.
In a democracy, the battle of ideas is not won through force of arms because force brings in its train its own tyranny. And more than anything else it undermines democracy and individual freedoms. To argue in Kemal Ataturk fashion that it is legitimate to decimate religious conservatism gives rise to an explosive contradiction.
The democratic revolutions that broke out in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 were not against religious tyrannies but against army-backed secular regimes, which had consistently persecuted religious organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates. In the popular upsurge in Rabat and Cairo, parties professing political Islam emerged with majorities which reflected the conservatism of the Arab societies outside the urban centres.
The secular liberals and the officers in the modernised armies of these two countries as well as other Muslim-majority countries are unable to grasp the significance of the rise of conservative religious parties. From 1950s onwards, the governments in the Arab countries which at first rode on revolutionary euphoria soon degenerated into detestable tyrannies. Nasser was an icon of this secular nationalism and he enjoyed his moment of glory in the 1950s and 1960s despite the shock of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The 1973 war only partially helped to revive Nasser’s battered image.
Egyptians loved him in victory as well as in defeat. That was the man. But he was intolerant towards the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned their leaders, including prominent ideologue Syed Qutb, who was sent to the gallows. His successors, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, continued the same policy of repression towards the Muslim Brotherhood despite tactical engagement from time to time.
The unpalatable fact seems to be that Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has survived persecution and that gives its followers certain legitimacy.
Awwad rightly points out the militant Islamisation that deposed president Mohammed Morsi and his Brotherhood colleagues were trying to impose on the country. The critics of Brotherhood point out that Article 219 of 2012 Constitution framed by the Morsi government gives an absolute and unfair advantage to Sunni Islam. Article 219 states:
“The principles of Islamic Sharia include its generally-accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules, and its widely considered sources as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa.” The technical committee that interim president Adly Mansour has formed is intent on dropping this provision.
The ultra-conservative Nour Party in a statement according Al Ahram Online, the official Egyptian media organization, says: “This article (219) is necessary to reinforce Sunni Islam and stem the growth of Shi’ism in Egypt.”
It is not a polarized situation with the secularists and the army on the one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. On the secular side, there are liberals, socialists, Nasserites. And on the Islamists side, there are the moderates and there are the ultra-conservatives, the minority Christians and the conservative Al Azhar university clerics.
Following the French traditions, the syndicates of doctors, lawyers, engineers and journalists have also a political role to play, and they have been invited to be part of the committee to amend the 2012 Constitution drafted by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party of Morsi. So, it should be a keenly contested political battle. At the end of the day, all these parties will have to fight and win elections.
The army cannot be the guardian of Egyptian democracy.
There is no doubt that the United States and other European countries are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood one moment, and the army at another. But Egyptians and Arabs cannot blame the West for their internal political plight. They have to learn to go to their own people and seek their mandate.
It would appear that Egyptian secularists are not in touch with their own people in the hinterland, and it is the religious parties that are reaching out to them. Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said must be exciting urban centres where modern Egypt jostles with the medieval. But beyond the exotic spectacle of the modern-medieval conjuncture, there is the hard social and political reality of undeveloped economies and a mass of the rural poor. It is for this reason that the Islamists won in Turkey and the fanatically secular Turkish army could not resist the rise of political Islam.
Egyptians as well as other West Asia watchers have to draw the right lesson from the political changes in Istanbul.
There will certainly be a political clash between the secularists and Islamists in Istanbul and Tehran, in Cairo and Tunis. The outcome of this clash of ideas and ideologies will have to be decided by the people.
A bitter truth that Arab secularists will have to accept is that it is secularist armies that established secular tyrannies across the Muslim world. It is the Islamists who are waging the democracy battle. It is of course true that victims of tyranny soon turn into tyrants themselves.
The only way that secularists can gain legitimacy is by opposing the army-led regimes as well as the religious parties. And they also have to learn to accept the religious reactionaries as legitimate participants in the democratic politics of the country. The sweet temptation to throw out obscurantist religionists in politics has to be resisted.
The author is editorial consultant with dna.