Egypt under the Islamists: Acquisition or Partnership?
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Monday, June 25, 2012
The Muslim Brotherhood won the Egyptian presidential elections. Previously they gained a majority of parliamentary seats, and they will wield the most influence over the new government. Even if the parliamentary elections are re-run, they are unlikely to lose their control of the legislature. From now on, their influence will gradually grow in every state institution, from the government and civil service to the public sector economy, and from education and the media to the security forces and army – even if this entails clashes with other forces and groups in society and the state, including the military.
We must all now proceed on the basis that the Islamists are in control of the government of the biggest Arab country. We must wait for the priorities of this group, which has been kept out of politics and government for decades, to transpire.
In the meantime, we would do well not to start thinking from now on about how they can be deposed, or predicting that they will fail in running the country because of their record of failures and setbacks elsewhere. Better that we accept the reality that this group of Islamists dominates the Arab street, particularly in Egypt and North Africa, and is engaged in a major struggle to attain similar status in the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant. This will entail confrontations and battles of a different kind.
The obvious questions facing the winners relate to the Egyptian people’s domestic and external concerns. The toppling of the former regime’s leaders has not produced real change. Indeed, efforts are being made to ensure the revolution does not go beyond the replacement of the ruler by someone else to fill the same seat. This is a recipe for further decline, not only in economic, political and security terms, but also in Egypt’s strategic importance and ability to recover its Arab and international standing.
Therefore, if the Islamists do not come up with a plan of action that shows they understand the underlying causes of the popular uprising, they will be setting themselves on an unwinnable collision course with the people of Egypt. Those who have taken to the streets so forcefully over the past two years do not look as though they would take the betrayal of their aspirations and dreams lightly.
So far, the Muslim Brotherhood has given the impression of being exclusionist and acquisitionist. In other words, it only sees its own members as possessing the necessary skills to hold the top state jobs. By reneging on its promise not to participate in the presidential elections, and then going on to win them, the group reinforced the fears of many sectors of Egyptians society that it does not want partners in running the country.
If these suspicions are confirmed, the Islamists will disregard their comrades in the revolution in order to strike a deal with the military, under foreign sponsorship, over the administration and governance of the country. Such an arrangement would turn Mohammed Mursi into a front-man for Khayrat al-Shater, who in turn would become an Islamist version of Gamal Mubarak.
In the coming days, therefore, people will be watching how the new government is put together, and keeping a lookout for signs of any understandings that may be reached with the army.
These could cover a whole range of issues and dossiers.
Domestically, Egypt faces the test of popular democracy. The country’s new rulers need to reinforce the underpinnings of its political and intellectual pluralism and freedoms. That means, for example, strengthening the independence of the judiciary and cleansing it, and abandoning the notion of subjecting the media to moral or other censorship. If the new rulers act to assert their control over the state media and impose restrictions on the private media, we will end up with an Islamist replica of Mubarak’s regime.
In economic policy, post-revolutionary Egypt needs to rehabilitate the role of the state, and impose real curbs on the free-for-all that geared everything to the interests of “business.” That means taking radical measures to bolster Egyptian domestic industry and production, which would help preserve the country’s independence as well as addressing unemployment.
Politically, Egypt needs to regain its role in the region, and put an end to the farce of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) control over it and over the decisions made by the Arab League. This would entail taking steps with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and also playing a role in preventing the collapse of other Arab states – as happened in Libya and is now happening in Yemen and Syria. If Egypt’s new rulers strike a neutral posture on the pretext of being preoccupied with domestic affairs, that will not gain them domestic or external support. Rather, the new regime will find itself facing the same combination of opposition at home and major challenges to face up to abroad.
It is now an Islamist era for Egypt. That may not be good news for half the Egyptians, nor half the Arabs either. But what matters is that this group obtained its legitimacy to rule through elections. That represents a turning point for our Arab world, and a bright aspiration of the Arab uprisings which have been underway these past two years. Those who won’t accept Islamist rule should imagine their reaction if the roles were reversed, and their opponents refused to accept the legitimacy of their own mandate.
Let us wait and see.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.