Tareq al-Bishry, a prominent judge and great historian from whose books we have learned Egypt’s modern history, also subscribes, at least in theory, to political Islam.
Bishry must be aware that whenever a revolution succeeds in bringing down a regime, the constitution of that fallen regime also falls. The revolutionaries are then required to put together a new constitution that achieves their goals. As a historian, Bishry must be fully aware of this, yet, instead of advocating that a new constitution be drafted following the ouster of Mubarak, he accepted the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ offer to head a panel charged with introducing limited changes to the 1971 constitution.
Egypt’s military leaders then put the panel’s amendments to a nationwide referendum, after which they ditched the results of the referendum and imposed an interim constitution of 63 articles. Bishry’s cooperation with the SCAF has deprived Egypt of writing an altogether new constitution that was capable of putting Egypt on the right track. Instead, he helped thrust the nation into that dark tunnel which we are still hoping to find our way out of one whole year after the revolution.
How could a man like Bishry participate in such an endeavor that he knew would hamper the revolution?
Bishry wanted to guarantee an edge for the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he is a member. An alliance with the SCAF was in the Brotherhood’s interest and Bishry wanted to serve the interests of the Brotherhood, which he likely believes to be those of Egypt, too.
This notion of trumping the group’s interests above all else has guided the Brotherhood’s and the Salafis actions, specifically this past year following the revolution. Policemen and army forces committed grisly violations against protesters in many incidents, such as at Maspero, in Mahmoud Mahmoud Street and at the Cabinet of Ministers. They killed protesters with live ammunition, targeted the eyes of protesters and dragged them through the streets. The infamous photo of the veiled female protester who was stripped of her clothes and beaten by security men on her bare chest — a scene condemned the world over—strongly demonstrates the violations security forces committed.
But how did the Islamist bloc, the Brotherhood and the Salafis, respond to such brutality, specifically that encountered by the female protestor mentioned above, who was wearing the face veil? One famous preacher appeared on Television and poked fun at the scene, suppressing his laugh with difficulty. When ElBaradei issued a statement condemning the violations committed against female protesters, the same sheikh mocked ElBaradei, saying, “What a pious guy! Suddenly everyone [he means liberals] are acting pious!” “Who made her wear the veil? She may have been thrust amid the protesters to create a rift between Salafis and the army,” he added. The sheikh in question would have been extremely angry if veiled women were prohibited from wearing veils in a foreign country, for example, yet he fails to respond adequately when a veiled Egyptian woman gets such brutal treatment.
In his mind, virtue only exists within his group. You cannot claim to have a good conscience unless you are pious and to be pious you need to be a Muslim and to be a true Muslim you need to be a Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood member, he believes. Oppression that befalls people outside his tight group does not merit his attention, but everything that serves the interests of the Muslim Brothers and Salafis does. Everything that stands in the way of their rise to power is a triviality that should not be granted much attention.
In response to the beating of the female protester, women organized a spontaneous march to condemn the incident. The Freedom and Justice Party’s women’s secretary Manal Aboul Hassan, meanwhile, accused the protesters of receiving foreign funds and of having foreign agendas–the same accusation Mubarak leveled at his opposition—and further described the protesters camped out in Tahrir as “submerged in immorality.” Aboul Hassan did not feel the slightest shame in accusing thousands of protesters of treachery as long as their protests hamper the Brotherhood’s rise to power.
Months ago, I wrote an article in which I posited that Islam has outlined general principles for good rule which are the same principles of democratic rule; namely freedom, justice and equality. Islam, however, did not specify a certain form of rule, I wrote. As soon as the article was published, I received dozens of letters insulting me for penning those words. What’s more, a religious channel dedicated an entire episode to humiliating me and sowing suspicion over my patriotism, even though I was actually echoing the opinion of Al-Azhar, whose legal opinion (fatwa) committee issued an official report to the same end last month.
Several Muslim Brothers and Salafis suffer from having double standards, often choosing to side with the oppressor, either out of extreme hatred for those who differ with them or a burning desire to reach power. Some describe this as opportunism, but to my mind the problem is in how the Brothers and Salafis see themselves not only as a political faction but rather as the only group which possesses the truth.
They believe that they, alone, represent Islam and everyone who opposes them is an enemy of the religion. They believe that only they are seeking to raise the word of God and so their war is not political in nature but rather religious, and thus they believe that Islam permits the employment of all tricks at wartime. This haughty and hostile mindset explains why the Muslim Brothers have always taken positions that ran contrary to national consensus and why they have historically allied with tyrannical rule against the will of the people. This mindset explains why the Brotherhood allied with Ismail Sedqy, former Interior Minister, who was labeled “the torturer of the people”, why they supported King Farouk and chanted “God is with the King,” why they backed Nasser as he undermined democracy and abolished parties. This also explains why in 2005 the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood said he supported Mubarak and hoped to meet with him.
This is not opportunism, but rather the result of thrusting religion into politics. Proponents of political Islam will not hesitate to ally with rulers, even if tyrannical, to serve their goal of establishing what they believe is the rule of God.
One should still admit that this is not the attitude of all Muslim Brothers and Salafis. There are prominent Islamist figures, who will defend the truth regardless of their political interests and consequences, such as presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh–the best patriotic figure who came out of the Brotherhood in decades– presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abou Ismail and preacher Wagdy Ghoneim. However, all three are independent figures, are not in positions of power and do not represent anyone but themselves.
Political Islam forces you to adopt one of two options, either to use your understanding of religion to defend the truth and the oppressed even if they are of a different religion and espouse opposing opinions, or, to forgo the rights of those who voice different opinions and label them as atheists and transgressors.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has the majority of seats in parliament, currently faces this choice. They can either continue to insist that their group alone possesses the truth, in which case it will replace the goals of the revolution with a moral program–like the situation in Sudan, Afghanistan and Somailia–and instead of establishing justice it will get occupied with things like banning movies, canceling concerts and hunting down women in pants and swim wear. If they follow this scenario, they will be creating an intellectual void in order to freely forge more deals and alliances that satisfy the SCAF and undermine the revolution.
This is when Muslim Brothers and Salafis will lose all legitimacy.
Alternatively, the Muslim Brothers and Salafis may develop their views in a way that allows them to respect those who differ with them and to acknowledge that theirs is an effort to understand religion, not the only understanding of religion. They may admit that their opponents are not necessarily conspirators. At this point, they will adopt the goals of the revolution and work to achieve them no matter how much this infuriates the SCAF. If they do so, they will go down in history as the builders of Egypt’s modern democratic state. I hope the Muslim Brothers and Salafis will make the right choice in order for Egypt to build the future it deserves.
Democracy is the solution.
Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm by Dina Zafer