Egyptian Political Islam: Engagement or Marginalization?

Published on political affairs pa, by Mohammed Nosseir, oct. 01, 2009.

Six Arguments in Support of Disengagement:

Political Islam is a concept that has existed in Egypt for almost a century. It emerged in 1920 as a reaction Egypt’s occupation by the United Kingdom and the lack of resistance of this occupation on the part of the ruling monarchs of the time. The concept of political Islam in Egypt was embodied in the organization known as the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ that is still active today and managed to obtain twenty percent of the parliamentary seats in the last parliamentary election in 2005.

The question often raised by Egyptian and Western scholars is whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be granted legal permission to establish a political party? Those who support the idea of allowing the Muslim Brothers to set up a political party justify their view by stating that the Muslim Brotherhood is a large and active political organization that should not be marginalized from the political sphere. The majority of the people who maintain that the Brotherhood should be disengaged from Egyptian political arena argue that since the Muslim Brotherhood is not a democratic organization, there is no doubt that it will put an end to democracy in Egypt should it come into power. 

Although I agree that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a democratic organization and will never become one, I believe that the Muslim Brothers must choose between politics and religion. The Brotherhood must decide whether it wants to be a political organization (political party) or a religious one. Merging religion and politics is not good for Egypt. Allowing the Muslim Brotherhood, as it now stands, to run as a political party will set back Egyptian political development, pulling the country centuries into the past.

As defined by democracy scholars, democracy is not only about fair and free elections; it is also about what happens before and after each election. In the context of the Muslim Brothers’ political enrollment, I will argue further that democracy is about competing politically on an equal basis. Bringing the religious element into politics in a country like Egypt would mean giving the Muslim Brotherhood a significant edge over all other political parties.

The Muslim Brotherhood is competing in a different path, with different motivations. The Brotherhood is addressing different issues, has a different mission and a different agenda than those of ordinary political parties. My position in support for disengaging the Muslim Brotherhood from the political field is based on six fundamental arguments:

1. The Broader Mission of the Muslim Brothers: …

… 6. The Egyptian Government’s Support of the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt is living in an era that is defined by a lack of justice. Corruption is widespread, the government is inefficient, and furthermore, the State prohibits the establishment of new political parties. The government has designed the Egyptian political sphere to provide Egyptians with two alternatives: the ruling party or the Muslim Brotherhood. Joining the ruling party will enable people to widen their business opportunities, enhance their personal power and develop better career paths (for the one-third of the Egyptian workforce employed by governmental organizations). Meanwhile, joining the Muslim Brothers through its slogan “Islam is the Solution” provides an ideal alternative for Egyptians to uphold Islamic principles and attain a better life in the hereafter.

Finally, I believe that although the official membership of the Muslim Brotherhood is a tiny fraction of the Egyptian population, the real challenge lies in the empathy Egyptians have for the organization. The misinterpretation of Islam that has succeeded in creating this kind of popular empathy, continuing to imprison Muslim Brotherhood members, promoting government inefficiency and widespread corruption. The proponents of this overall lack of justice are all elements that indirectly support the Muslin Brotherhood.

In conclusion, the pre-requisite to engaging the Muslim Brotherhood in the political field is the abandonment of the religious aspect of its status. This will ensure that it will abide by the same rules of the game as other political parties. There is no doubt that dropping the religious element will prevent the organization from maintaining its present purpose of existence and its present mission, and I presume that they will completely reject any such proposal. However, this step will bring the organization into par with political parties. Without this development, it would be useless to recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as a legal political organization. (full text).

(Mohammed Nosseir chairs the Secretariat of International Relations at the Democratic Front Party, Egypt).

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