Short Essay 33
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The Muslim Brotherhood: Victory and Challenges
Muhammad Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last presidential election in Egypt, and millions of his followers have every reason to celebrate his victory when it was announced by the authorities yesterday. Finally, despite the systematic suppression through assassinations, executions, arrests, tortures and long term imprisonment of its men and women by successive Egyptian military dictatorships since 1948, the Muslim organization has reached the top of Egyptian political hierarchy through popular vote.
The hardships and hard work have paid off because the organization, by the victory of Mursi, has proved the quantum of public trust it has earned during its eighty years of struggle for the establishment of social justice. When the chance came, the majority of Egyptians preferred its party – the Freedom and Welfare Party – to the old order. The victory, however, has come with many challenges. Mursi must now be scratching his head trying to figure out how to meet them. It will not be an easy task because they are many and complex.
On the surface are the immediate political challenges. There is the unfinished battle for supremacy between the military that wants to retain the levers of power and the civilian revolutionaries that want to divest it of any such influence. Unless it is settled in favour of the civilians, Mursi’s authority and success will be limited in many ways, if not undermined completely by the military and their civilian collaborators. It would not be easy for the military to give up power after commanding it for over sixty years. Navigating these waters is the first test of President Mursi’s political dexterity.
To tame the military in the next few days and succeed during his tenure, Mursi will need to preserve the public spirit of the revolution and earn the confidence of other players in the political scene. He has started talks with other parties and personalities in his effort to form a government that will be all-inclusive, thus allaying the fears of political instability. Good move. Thanks to its long experience in opposition, the Brotherhood would not be in a hurry to undermine its victory. It is likely to make all the compromises that are necessary to make the best use of it.
Then we come to the long-term challenges that are largely ideological. Would the Muslim Brotherhood be able to prove its long-standing campaign slogan - Islam the answer – in the modern world? Would it be able to show an exemplary leadership that will not only respect the rights of citizens but also those of the disadvantaged in the society? Would it champion the rights of women and the minority Coptic Christians or it would it try to emasculate them?
What would be the attitude of the brothers to multiparty democracy after its ascent to the Presidency and likely dominating the parliament? Would it respect difference of opinion and allow a level ground for competition between it and other parties or would it try to implement the ‘one man, one vote, one time’ dictum that Islamic groups are accused of implementing, like in Iran?
The questions on the international scene are not different or less difficult. Would Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood tread the path of Turkey to maintain a somewhat cordial relationship with the West and fulfil its obligations with Israel under the Camp David Accord or would it take the cause of confrontation like Iran and the Taliban?
Though world leaders from different divides are congratulating Mursi, one can hardly miss the scepticism in the atmosphere. The future of Egypt remains uncertain to many of them. The reason for the widespread uncertainty in lies basically in the ideological orientation of the Brotherhood. If it were a salafi movement, many would say the answers to the above questions are pretty obvious: It would be another Taliban that will transfigure Egypt back to the 7th Century. However, for many decades, the Brotherhood has cut for itself the image of a moderate movement that will be capable of taking a middle course on most issues thugh it is difficult to say how their salafi partners would influence its stand on some of these issues.
I am optimistic that the Brotherhood is more likely to value the hard earned opportunity than squander it. Power has a way of softening ideologues. The Muslim Brotherhood has spent many years discussing most of these issues. It is also aware that it is the mother of Muslim revivalism in the Sunni world. So it has the duty to practice the dynamism of Islam that it has been preaching since the 1930s. On the one hand, its failure can have disastrous consequences on the political outings of Islamist parties in other Middle Eastern countries. On the other, any success would go a long way to support the assertion of such parties that only Islam is the answer to the problems of governance in their countries.
I can bet that the long history of the Brotherhood has accorded it the intellectually capacity to handle such ideologically driven issues just as its long struggle has enabled it the political maturity to handle a complex society like Egypt. The entrenched plurality of the Egyptian society will also discourage it's drift toward religious extremism and political intolerance. The Brotherhood has championed the cause of women education and participation in public life for decades. The presidency gives it the opportunity to harness that further. Its intellectuals have also expounded the tolerance of Islam to Christian and Jewish minorities so it is less likely to infringe on their rights.
In a nutshell, on all these matters, Egypt under the Brotherhood is likely to be closer to – though less liberal than – Turkey, more moderate than Taliban, and more tolerant to the West and Israel than Iran. The Brotherhood will keep at the back of its mind the fact that it has just a quarter of the Egyptian electorate as its core supporters as reflected by the votes it got during the first round of the elections. It will not also overlook the fact that unlike Iran, it did not come to power through an Islamic revolution but through a secular one engineered by social media at Tahrir Square and elections that were hotly contested by its rivals. It also did not come to power through war, unlike the Taliban. These considerations are likely to make the Brotherhood eager to retain its moderation than shift it to any extreme position.
On the Palestinian issue, the Brotherhood is likely to prefer negotiation to confrontation. In the former it will be tough, as it will do its best to avoid the latter except where Israel deliberately proves stubborn. The same would apply to the United States. Hardly would the Brothers be interested in severing relationship with America, though they will definitely be less enthusiastic than Mubarak and Sadat. They will continue to welcome American assistance especially given the fact that they are likely to constrain tourism by abolishing un-Islamic practices.
I will not be surprised if Mursi takes steps to assure the Americans of his desire for the cordial relationship to be maintained. Where the two would differ is likely to be on the Palestinian question, Iran and the fight against terrorism. Yet, on all the three, Mursi will neither be an advocate nor a militant opponent of American position. My predictions are based on the fact that from the perspective of ideology, the Muslim Brotherhood is many times more moderate on most issues relating to the West and its civilization than most Islamic organizations.
Given its Islamic ideological leaning towards welfarism, the Brotherhood will most likely discourage wholesale privatization of government services and assets. Here, it is likely to reflect Nasserite Egypt than Mubarak’s. This policy will be pursued without much risk to concessions already made especially in the areas of communications. Tourism will remain a contentious area. The Brothers are more inclined to discouraging some of its aspects than promoting it. That will leave them with the challenge of finding an alternative source of hard currency.
Where the Brotherhood will impress the world most, however, will be the strong exception it will take on corruption. Mursi, in collaboration with other revolutionaries, is likely to sanitize government by prudent management of resources. If the Brotherhood will bring its long-standing experience in managing the welfare services it offered the Egyptian public through its scarce resources when it was in opposition, it will face little difficulty in utilizing public funds optimally.
The election of Mursi is a life-time opportunity for the Brothers. I have no doubt that they understand that and they will make the best use of it. If they do that, Hasan al-Banna, their founder in 1928, would smile from his grave. They would also have honoured the blood of their martyrs and the suffering of their followers. More importantly, they would have served as a good example to other Islamists and proven to a sceptical world – beyond the pages of the books they have published and the sermons they have delivered – that Islam, as the final religion, remains not only relevant today but also suitable for the management of human affairs in every place and time.
From his initial steps and language, Mursi sounds promising especially if he would not be restrained by the military. May God help them.
24 June 2012