Democracy in Egypt needs the Brotherhood

Democracy in Egypt needs the Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood is coming to power. After decades of oppression by the military rule of Hosni Mubarak, the Islamists are now the most important political force in Egypt. And even if the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi wins the presidential elections – which looks almost certain now - it is no guarantee that they can defeat the army.

Tensions in Egypt have risen sharply in recent weeks. The Supreme Court has ruled last year’s parliamentary elections invalid and dissolved the governing body. At the same time, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is setting up new rules to limit the power of the president and make it easier to arrest and detain protestors.

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 percent of the vote. Furthermore, a fourth of the votes went to a block of Salafists headed by the Nour party. Seventy percent of the seats in parliament were occupied by Islamists before it was dissolved.

Fresh elections are great news for the “felool” (Egyptian slang for anyone associated with the former regime). Presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Shafiq, and the remnants of Mubarak’s Egypt, will insist that after seventeen months of turmoil only they can restore order and prosperity to the country. They will also continue to play into existing fears among seculars and Copts about an Islamic takeover of Egypt by the Brotherhood.

This is one of the standard tricks used by the savvy anti-democrat: monopolizing all political and economic power under the guise that it is necessary to guarantee the stability and security of the nation. Simultaneously, the anti-democrat sows fear about its opposition, arguing that they are only out to gain power 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, 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 of 2011.

But false rumors 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 rumor as truth. There are plenty of examples of anti-democrats who utilize this political strategy effectively - such as the Nazi party in Greece.

These developments elucidate that SCAF are still consolidating power and are slowly trying to break down all democratic changes. Therefore, it is good news that Morsi seemed to have defeated Shafiq so that the Brotherhood can challenge the SCAF.

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 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 tough choices on the economy and other pressing issues. Their policies will surely 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.

Anno Bunnik is a political analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @Eurabist and on his blog