Once again, issues revolving around the Muslim Brotherhood have topped the agenda of political discussion, as the “outlawed” organization won the second largest number of seats during the latest parliamentary elections in Egypt. Despite all the violations and manipulation of results, which I personally witnessed, Brotherhood members won 88 out of 150 candidates they nominated. Unfortunately, instead of seeing this as a success of the Brotherhood’s efforts to reform, many “scholars” and “intellectuals” were critical of the overwhelming success of the mainstream Islamic movement and even attacked the Brotherhood, accusing it of manipulating religion and misusing it.
Accusations started with the Brotherhood’s adoption of “Islam is the solution” as their slogan, which was regarded by some as vague and meaningless and by others as divisive. Yet the third group considered it an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to monopolize religion. The adoption of this slogan by the Muslim Brotherhood does not mean they believe it’s their exclusive right to “speak on behalf of God.” Otherwise, the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) name would be extremely offensive, since it would mean that everyone not supporting the party is betraying the “Nation”. I really do not think any member of the party could say that in public.
As for the accusation that the slogan is divisive and illegal, the Supreme Constitutional Court has already decided, for the third time as far as I recall, that this slogan does not oppose the constitution. On the contrary, it calls for reviving the second article of the constitution, which states that Islamic jurisprudence is the prime source of Egyptian jurisdiction. People who find the slogan offensive should, therefore, challenge the constitution and not the slogan. They should attempt to amend this article of the constitution, and then let the public decide who to support.
Concerning the claims that this is a meaningless and vague slogan, i would like to emphasize; the slogan, just like any others, does not intend to present a comprehensive political program; it only intends to present the ideology from which the program originates. Those who have made these claims have neglected in a clear –but failed- attempt to manipulate reality, the 27-page comprehensive political program that was presented by Brotherhood candidates. Yet, the most relevant question is: if the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan is meaningless, are other slogans any more meaningful? Let’s look at Mubarak’s campaign slogan: “Leadership…and passing to the future,” Certainly, it’s shameful that 24 years of experience have not resulted in something a bit less meaningless than this.
Yet, what is perhaps most astonishing is that some critics were attacking the slogan for being emotional. They said that because the Egyptian society is inherently religious, the slogan succeeds in attracting so many people, hence allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to win votes. One question should be asked here: What is wrong with being emotional? The Muslim Brotherhood believes that Islam is not only a religion but rather a comprehensive system that should be incorporated in all aspects of life. If the Egyptian people share this belief and therefore decide to vote for Brotherhood candidates, then nobody should have the right to reject and undermine the choice of the people by blaming it of “sentimentality”? According to the most basic democratic principles, the will and decision of the majority should be respected and implemented unless it violates the basic rights of the minorities, which is not the case with the Brotherhood.
Unlike what some critics falsely claim, the ideology the Brotherhood embraces does not undermine the rights of religious minorities or women. In fact, it is very clearly stated in their program that “all Egyptians should be treated as equal citizens regardless of their sex, religion,…”. Failure to comprehend and believe this statement comes from government propaganda aimed at portraying the Muslim Brotherhood as an obscure and untrustworthy organization which says one thing but would implement other if allowed. Furthermore, part of image-tarnishing campaign includes a gross attempt to convince people that were the Brotherhood to succeed politically, this would ultimately result in the establishment of an Iran-style theocracy which would destroy democracy by not allowing political opposition to the regime. Yet it is utterly shameful that those who spread these ideas completely disregard explicit articles and principles in the organization’s literature and political programs. Ever since its establishment in 1928 the Muslim Brotherhood has been calling for a civil Islamic state. They have made it clear more than once that they are an Islamic party and not The Islamic party, and that if they were to come to power they would form a civil government representing the Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Therefore, opposition parties would be allowed. The Brotherhood does not claim to have exclusive access to the truth.
All these accusations and others really boil up to one point. The real issue, at least the way I regard it, is that there are two major trends in the ongoing reform discourse. The first believes that reform means excluding religion from the public sphere, or at least from politics, while the second believes that reform could only take place by reincorporating Islam correctly into political affairs. Whereas I could easily see the origins of the second discourse in both our near and far history, I could only find the origins of first discourse in Western literature and history.
Western reform has always been associated with secularism. For historical and doctrinal reasons, the political role of the Church has hindered the development of the West, as the Medieval Age experience teaches us. Protesting against the power of the Church and eventually institutionalizing a new system which separates religion from politics has, unquestionably, marked the start of the political reform which paved the way for all different types of reform. This association between reform and secularism cannot be taken out of this historical context. It could not be merely “copied” from the West and “pasted” in the Middle East. Attempts to do so have clearly failed, and in fact, secularism has produced the most suppressive regimes in our region. The best examples of which are the Ba’th regime of Assad in Syria, the Saddam in Iraq, the Bin Ali regime in Tunisia and the Nasser regime in Egypt.
Personally, I could never regard departing religion or limiting its influence as reform, simply because religion was not the cause for the corruption of our political life. The real cause of corruption is that un-Islamic regimes have realized that Islam is the ideology of the people, and they have rejected it.
The real reform, therefore, is the reincorporation of Islam in political affairs and loosening and liberating the scholarly Islamic organizations. Real reform will only take place if scholars are not turned into regime employees, but are elected by the body of Islamic scholars.
The Brotherhood presents an indigenous ideology which people can easily relate to and understand. It is an ideology that fulfills their aspirations, and which stems from their innermost beliefs and principles. It is an ideology that relates to Egyptians’ social, economic and political problems, and provides solutions based on an indigenous understanding of these problems.
Westernized critics have remained unable to grasp this. They have fallen into the same mistake, again using Western paradigms to explain our “eastern” reality, therefore the success of the Muslim Brotherhood is explained by them through Western social, and sometimes, economic theory. Yet whether they can really manage to explain the reasons of success or not, whether they praise the organization and the ideology or attack it, and whether they support the Muslim Brotherhood’s right to form a civil political party or reject it, the fact remains that the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest and most popular group representing a comprehensive school of thought in Egypt.
Ibrahim El Houdaiby