The irresistible rise of political Islam
It is widely argued that the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi by a coup means the implosion of political Islam. And accordingly not just in Egypt, but in the entirety of the Muslim world. An Emirati commentator even tweeted that Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak all tried to get rid of the Brotherhood and only Morsi succeeded. Well, is this really the case?
With the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the region’s newest exemplar of political Islam lost his chance to prove the adequacy of political Islam as a mode of governance. The pan-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by the Islamic scholar Hassan al Banna in opposition to a monarchy largely controlled by Western interests, had been the pillar of political Islam in the region. It started as a religious social organization with its “model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work” and has engaged in political violence in its past. In time, however, they have announced their acceptance of democracy, acknowledged political pluralism and the peaceful use of power.
Yet, once in power last year they seemed unable to govern in a liberal democratic fashion. Loyalty rather than meritocracy and accountability proved to be the currency of their rule. Morsi misinterpreted his victory as a mandate to consolidate his power and ruin the Arab world’s most important democratic transition. He mistook the religiosity of ordinary Egyptians for submission to a religious one-party government. This incompetence and clumsiness is mainly due to the fact that the movement had been suppressed by monarchs and military-run governments over the decades time and again. Hence the immaturity of their democratic practices.
Still, the uprisings of the Egyptians do not mean that they want to get rid of political Islam or that political Islam has expired. Political Islam is the ideology that dominates the whole country. Egyptians still want a religious government with an Islamic identity and agenda, but combined with democracy. Their clear message is that Islamism is no replacement for democratic governance and Islamic parties cannot count only on religious identity to govern. They want universal democratic values to be absorbed. Their slogan “neither sharia, nor coup” speaks for itself. In 2011 they had revolted against despotism for democracy. This time they are out there against authoritarian democracy. So now they don’t ask only for democracy, but for more democracy.
And here lies Egypt’s biggest challenge ever. The Muslim Brotherhood needs to urgently reform and transform itself, complying with the demands of the masses on the streets. Similarly, on the other side of the coin, the Egyptian political system needs to reintegrate the Brotherhood into the political process. Since the movement is the strongest political force in the country, democracy requires their inclusion in any case and Egypt could never become stable unless they are represented in the government.
My title is inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s famous play named “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”. You must have noticed the difference in the adjective.