Democracy in Egypt needs the Brotherhood

Help! The Muslim Brotherhood is coming to power. After years of oppression by the secular military rule of Hosni Mubarak, the Islamists are now the most important political force in Egypt. At least, if their presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi manages to defeat felool (Egyptian slang for someone who was part of the old regime) candidate Ahmed Shafiq. And even if Morsi wins it is no guarantee that the Brotherhood can defeat the army – but it is the only chance on some form of democracy along the Nile.

Tensions in Egypt have risen sharply this week. The Supreme Court ruled that Shafiq, although part of the regime of Mubarak, is allowed to run in the presidential elections. The court also ruled last year’s parliamentary elections to be invalid and as such dissolving parliament.

Those “invalid” parliamentary elections last year were won outright by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. Their block received 47 per cent of the vote. Furthermore, a fourth of the votes went to a block of Salafists headed by the Nour party: 70 per cent of the seats in parliament are currently occupied by Islamists.

Fresh elections are great news for the felool. Shafiq and the remnants of Mubarak’s Egypt will insist that after seventeen months of turmoil only they can restore order and prosperity. They will also play into existing fears among seculars and Copts about an Islamic takeover of Egypt by the Brotherhood.

This is one of the standard tricks of the savvy anti-democrat: monopolising all political and economic power under the guise that this is necessary to guarantee the stability and security of the nation. Simultaneously, the anti-democrat sows fear about its opposition, arguing that they are out to gain power only and will push the country into utter chaos.

In recent weeks, Shafiq has been executing this strategy. In a recent TV interview he said that the Brothers, and not the regime, were the ones responsible for the killing of protesters during the revolution. A completely ridiculous assertion as the corrupt security apparatus was responsible for the deaths of the 846 “martyrs” in January and February 2011.

But false rumours need not be true to still be successful. When it is repeatedly said by political leaders that a certain group cannot be trusted, a part of the population will perceive the rumour to be truth. There are plenty of examples of anti-democrats who utilise this political strategy effectively – such as the Nazi party in Greece.

These developments elucidate that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) are still consolidating power and are slowly trying to break down all democratic changes. Only if Morsi manages to defeat Shafiq there is a chance that the struggle for democracy can continue.

Democracy in Egypt can only succeed if a party emerges that can pressure the SCAF to loosen its grip over political and economic power. With Shafiq as president, the military junta will certainly survive effectively killing all revolutionary ideals.

The only chance for some form of democracy to emerge along the Nile is if the majority of the people will not fall for the devious tricks of Shafiq and vote for Morsi instead. Certainly, this is not an easy choice for seculars and Copts, but unfortunately the only chance to defeat military dictatorship.

The advantage of having Islamists in power in a democratic system is that they will slowly start losing their “holiness”. Once the Brotherhood is part of the elite they will no longer be opposition fighters but merely politicians and administrators.

The Brothers will face though choices on the economy and other pressing issues and for their policies they will be judged by the electorate. During the first round of presidential elections, secular candidates such as Hamdeen Sabbahi did surprisingly well. In Cairo and Alexandria, Sabbahi defeated Morsi with a strong majority – a clear signal that support for the Muslim Brotherhood will decrease as they become part of the political system.

There are more signs of Islamist politicians losing their holiness: MP Balkimy of the Nour party received the scorn of the nation when he lied about undergoing plastic surgery. He claimed to have been beaten up by a gang of thugs when in reality he had received a “nose job”, something Salafists consider to be “haram”.

Until now, the Islamists have a fairly clean slate due to their decades-long opposition to dictatorship, but as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood gains power the Egyptians will see that even they are “just people” making mistakes. Or worse even, politicians.


A version of this article originally appeared in Dutch in De Volkskrant

One comment

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