Friday, December 02, 2005

Calling on the Muslim Brotherhood to Share in Political Power

Will Democracy Survive?

(Part 1 of 2)
By Magdi Khalil *

For the last twenty-five years Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian human rights activist, has committed himself to the issue of social and political reform. His relentless efforts have, undeniably, made a strong impact on the Arab community.

A founding member of the Arab Organization for Human rights (AOHR), Dr. Ibrahim played an instrumental role in raising pubic awareness with respect to human rights and civil society concepts

He dedicated himself to the cause of minorities, sponsoring a conference entitled, “Sects, Ethnicity and Minority Groups” in the Arab world in 1994, as well as writing a book of the same title - both of which are well acknowledged. Ten years earlier, Dr. Ibrahim’s request to hold the founding conference of the AOHR was firmly denied by all Arab countries, an incident that recurred in 1994, forcing him – in both cases – to hold the conference in Cyprus to escape the Arab authorities’ harassment.

Dr. Ibrahim’s research and advocacy efforts were mostly consistent with the international community’s reform trends and agenda, and he has been working diligently to pass these ideas on to the Arab communities.

The International Community: Current Trends and Agenda

Since the events of September 11, 2001, the international community has been greatly concerned with the situation in the Islamic world, and most importantly with the issues of religious reform and the renewal of Islamic discourse, as well as the prospect of Islamists sharing political power in the Islamic countries in general, and the Arab countries in particular.

Dr. Ibrahim and Ibn Khaldun Center have also devoted great attention to those same issues.

The reform of Islamic discourse has been the subject of wide, local and international interest. It has been openly discussed in newspapers, research centers and decision- making institutions, with very little or no controversy. However, the case is different with the second issue. Calling on Islamists to share in political power is –understandably- a thorny topic that would spark extensive and heated debates.

Comparisons are made between the Iranian, Taliban and Sudanese models on one hand, and the Turkish, Indonesian and Moroccan models on the other hand.

Recently, members in the American administration have enthusiastically acclaimed the “Turkish” model, expressing their wish to see it mirrored in the Arab world. The American approval of Turkish policies was clearly demonstrated a few months ago, when the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan received a fervent welcome in Washington while visiting American research centers and decision-making institutes.

There is an almost unanimous agreement on the necessity of religious reform, but doubts and fears are highly provoked by the prospect of a rule shared by Islamists. Both issues have the potential to change the entire political, social and cultural map of the Arab world, either to propel it forwards towards reform or to hurl it back into a bottomless pit.

A fierce opposition, inspired by different reasons, is to be expected. Some fear that the well-established alliance between the military institutions currently in power and the traditional religious authority will collapse, and others –including civil society advocators who call for the unrestricted right of political participation- fear the disastrous repercussions on freedom and democracy, if those changes come to pass.

Dr. Ibrahim has equally endorsed both issues. In an article entitled “Reclaiming Democracy … the Participation of Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian Political Life,” published in newspaper on Oct. 7, 2004; Dr. Ibrahim noted that the Muslim Brotherhood should be allowed to share in political power. My name was mentioned among others who are dismayed by this prospect, on the basis that - without adequate safeguards - the Islamists would use the democratic system to further their own purposes, and when no longer needed, reject democracy - a fear that Dr. Ibrahim admits is well founded, and that he himself shares.

Dr. Ibrahim and I agree that all citizens, alike, should enjoy the right of political participation, engage in political activities and hold all types of political posts including presidency. On the other hand, we are also in agreement that adequate safeguards should be put in place to prevent the manipulation and abuse of the democratic system.

Dr. Ibrahim is specifically interested in the Muslim Brotherhood movement as he mentioned them in his article’s heading. Actually, the Muslim Brotherhood represents the major Islamist faction in Egypt, as well as in a number of other Arab countries. Given Egypt’s influential role in the Arab world, most Arab countries would, predictably, follow the Egyptian example as regards the integration of Islamists into political life.

Two important questions come to mind in this regard:
First: What is the basis for this sudden optimistic call? In other words, did the Muslim Brotherhood have a recent change of heart that justifies such confidence?

Second: What type of measures should be implemented to safeguard the political and institutional system, in case our confidence proves later to have been misplaced?

In response to the first question, there has been no substantial changes in the attitudes and agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood; and nothing at any rate, that could justify this surge of optimism; only marginal changes that have not touched on the main vision of the Muslim Brotherhood, namely to establish a Muslim state.

Putting aside the old records of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, I would like to focus on their recent history, going back to 1984 when they allied themselves with party, which allowed them a partial participation in political life. At the moment they have more than 15 members in the parliament, in addition to a disturbing measure of control over important segments of the Egyptian society

The Muslim Brotherhood’s reform initiative, issued in March 2004, is in fact a proposal for a Muslim state.

To quote the initiative “Our mission is to implement a comprehensive reform in order to uphold God’s law in secular as well as religious matters”; adding that: “our only hope, if we wish to achieve any type of progress, is to adhere to our religion, as we used to, and to apply the “Shari’a”. They clearly state: “Our mission is to build a Muslim individual, a Muslim family and an Islamic rule to lead other Islamic states.”

How would an Islamic identity reflect on the media, economy, politics, education, social welfare, women’s issues and culture?

The Muslim Brotherhood elaborate on these issues in their initiative:
“The Media should be cleansed of anything that disagrees with the decrees of Islam”.
“We believe in an economic system that is derived from Islam”.
“The state should have a democratic system compatible with Islam”.
About education: “To increase the number of Kuttab (a rudimentary religious school) and nurseries, and the focus of education should be on learning the Quran by heart”.

“The Zakah (alms) institutions should be in charge of distributing wealth and income”.

“Women should only hold the kind of posts that would preserve their virtue”.

“Our culture has to be derived from Islamic sources” that would also impact television “there should be a ban on improper and offensive series and television programs”.

The Muslim Brotherhood took obvious pride in their reform initiative, which turned out to be no more than a comprehensive project for an Islamist Fascist state. Is this project any different than Iran’s version of democracy, recently labeled “The Islamic democracy?”

I would like Dr. Ibrahim to take a close look at the parliamentary inquiries presented by the Muslim Brotherhood since 1984 through the present day. They have mostly pursued trivial matters, and targeted general freedoms: pursuing writers and creative thinkers, haunting young singers or requesting that kissing scenes be banned from movies, putting pressures on institution and its enlightened , confiscating books and planting the seeds of sedition. A sad history that reveals an unhealthy fixation on shallow issues, and a blatant disregard for the vital causes that are related to the development and progress of the nation they were entrusted to represent

For many years the Muslim Brotherhood have exercised ironclad control on a number of Egyptian syndicates with alarming results. Their involvement in the syndicates brought about corruption, fanaticism and dissention. The major concern of the Muslim Brotherhood was to raise funds to support fundamentalists all over the world, from Chechnya to Afghanistan and Bosnia. Terrorist groups have used those same funds to threaten Egypt’s national security, its Christian citizens, and foreign guests; giving us a small horrendous taste of what is to come should they succeed in achieving power

The Muslim Brotherhood have never condemned, verbally or otherwise, the barbaric terrorist acts that have plagued the whole world. They showed no inclination to help their homeland brothers who fell victim to the horrific violence, though they could have made use of the syndicates’ funds to offer some sort of material compensation. Sadly, the opposite is true; the majority of the Muslim Brotherhood’ statements are in support of fundamentalism and extremism, proclaiming that their objective is “mastering the world with Islam”.

The language used by the “Muslim Brotherhood” leaders clearly fosters religious fascism, as we can deduce from the following recorded excerpts:

“The application of the Islamic law “Shari’a” in Sudan was truly an act inspired by God. I believe that Sudan is now experiencing an unprecedented beatific and pure phase thanks to the application of “Shari’a” that delivered the country from the plague of secular law”. [Late Sheikh Mohamed El Ghazali]

“Nemeri has achieved our hopes, the hopes of Muslims and Sudan’s hope to apply the “Shari’a”. [Late Sheikh Salah Abu Ismail]

“The Sudanese president should not give leeway to those who criticize the application of “Shari’a”, they should be subdued and given no opportunity to proceed with their foolishness under pretext of freedom of opinion or speech”. [Late spiritual guide of the movement Omar El Telmesani]

Sheikh Youssef El Kardawi liked to call Afghanistan “an Islamic Emirate”. Upon visiting Afghanistan, he declared that, “he wanted to reassure himself that the Brotherhood were doing well in this Islamic Emirate.”

The declarations of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders all revolve around the establishment of a Muslim state, Muslim unity and Islamic . As far as we can tell, they have no nationalistic vision. To quote Sheikh Mohamed El Ghazali “A Muslim’s homeland is his faith, a Muslim’s government is the “Shari’a” and the Muslim’s homeland and those who live in it may all be sacrificed for the sake of Islam”.

The newspaper conducted an interview with the former leader and guide Mamoun El Hudeibi during which he announced that the Muslim Brotherhood’s purpose is to establish Islamic unity and Islamic <Khelafa>.

And it is our turn to ask: How did the Muslims actually fare during the age of Islamic ?

brief look at history indicates that the enemies of Islam did not suffer as much as the Muslims themselves did at the hand of Islamic Khalifs; in fact, the number of Muslims who lost their lives at the hand of Islamic Khalifs far exceeds that of their enemies.

During that age, three of the were murdered, and all four Imams were tortured. Dark and bloody incidents mar this age: the great sedition, the battle of El Gamal, the battle of Kurbalaa, the battle of El Hora, not to mention that the Holy was twice attacked. In brief, Muslims’ properties, honor and lives were forfeited. Bitter conflicts arose, such as the conflict between the Amawyeen and Hashemeyeen, the vicious disputes over power, the attack on El Hussein grave, the Khawareg sect, the dreadful acts of the Hashasheen.

Drinking and indulging in all sorts of immoral practices and perversions tainted that age. Brothels and gambling houses abounded in Baghdad, while Mecca was filled with male and female singers and an obscene, corrupted entourage. The Khalifa El Rashid owned one thousand female slaves, while El Metwakel owned more than four thousand, since slaves were preferred over free women. Shockingly, the khalifs publicly committed acts of depravity and infidelity (<Islamic Khelafa> by Said El Ashmawi).

One has to wonder as to why the Muslim Brotherhood wish so desperately to revisit that age.

Would the Muslim Brotherhood make good use of what democracy has to offer and later decide that it has outlived its usefulness? Would they hesitate to sacrifice democracy if it no longer served their purposes or complied with their agenda? A frightening scenario, but neither irrational nor exaggerated, since it is inspired by the declarations of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders themselves. To quote the former Guide Mostafa Mashour: “We accept the concept of pluralism for the time being; however, when we will have an Islamic rule we might then reject this concept or accept it.” (<Against Islamization>, by Refaat El Said).

The internal structure of the Muslim Brotherhood movement does not take democracy into account. Though, on the surface, it seems relentless in its quest for democracy, it is in fact, a fascist obscure movement, shrouded in mystery and secrecy. If its members are incapable of practicing tolerance, diversity and transparency among themselves, could they adhere to these principles when dealing with others? Not likely! Their partners in the “Middle” () Party (under foundation) can attest to this fact.

The Western World wishes to dampen the burning violence in the Islamic World. However, a reduced level of violence cannot, by itself, accelerate the society’s slow movement towards modernization.
approve of a religious state.

In his article, Dr. Ibrahim mentioned the Islamic countries that, from his perspective, have successfully applied democratic practices. Nonetheless, I believe that by allowing the Islamists to share in political power, these countries have only managed to reach a temporary truce, but still failed to foster social progress. Regrettably, a religious rule is a fertile ground for social retardation. While Islamic countries have experienced periods of renewal, those were the exception rather than the rule, and were only possible when the civil society forged close ties with the government, and when the state rejected isolation in favor of constructive interaction with other societies and with Western civilization.

The Coptic community, with the exception of an isolated few, does not approve of a religious state. The Copts have unanimously rejected the notion of a religious state, as well as a citizenship that is based on a religious text, since it can be as easily revoked by another text! They believe that citizenship rights and duties should be formulated on a civil, national and institutional basis rather than a religious one, thus placing national identity high above religious identity.

The image depicted in this article is seemingly pessimistic and dark; yet, reality may even prove to be worse. Though my dear friend, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, is far more optimistic than I am, he also shares the same fears. I truly appreciate his unwavering courage and how he strives to stir the stagnant water of the Arab political system. Nonetheless we have to make sure that we will not accidentally cause irrevocable damage in our eagerness to achieve the long-desired dream of democracy

A question remains though: what type of “safety measures” should be devised to protect the political system once the Islamists come to power? Would local measures be sufficient or is a combination of local and international safeguards required?

We will explore both issues in Part 2 of this article.

* Magdi Khalil is a political analyst, researcher, and author. Executive Editor of the Egyptian weekly Watani International. Columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, London. Free- Lance writer for several Arabic language newspapers. Frequent contributor for Middle East broadcast news TV. Published three books and written numerous research papers on citizenship rights, civil society, and the situation of minorities in the Middle East.


At 6:05 AM , Blogger HumZinger said...

I disagree with the basis of your argument. The very definition of Democracy is by the people for the people, and if the vast majority of the people in Egypt want the Muslim Brotherhood in power, then that is what the people want. Most Egyptians know the political platform upon which the Muslim Brotherhood operates, so if the ultimate outcome is the reinstatement of the Khilafah, then again that is "by the people" and "for the people" to decide. Majority wins.

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