Some seven years ago Watani hosted the renowned secular intellectual and writer Sayed al-Qemani on its cultural seminar Watani Forum. Among the issues strongly debated in that
Some seven years ago Watani hosted the renowned secular intellectual and writer Sayed al-Qemani on its cultural seminar Watani Forum. Among the issues strongly debated in that seminar was the conflict—more like an under-the-surface war of attrition—that was in full force between the ruling National Democratic Party and the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group. The MB was then legally banned from the political arena since the pre-25 January 2011 Revolution law prohibited religious-based movements or parties from going into politics. Since the MB violated that law, the matter was dealt with as a security and police problem; MB members and supporters were caught and imprisoned. This had the effect of earning the MB public support, since it cast them in the light of victims, and depicted the entire matter as persecution of Islam at the hands of an apostate regime. It reached the point where the conflict was depicted as a struggle between the “national party” and the “party of the mosque”. While the seculars called for a civic State based on democracy and freedom, the MB raised the mass-appealing slogan “Islam is the answer”.
On that day when Dr Qemani was guest of Watani Forum, the man who always dedicated his efforts to promote and defend the idea of a civic State said something I will never forget, and that has been steadily proved correct since the January 2011 Revolution. He said: “It worries me that Egypt may not learn from the Iranian experience how dreadful a religious State can be. In which case Egyptians will have to go through the experience first-hand before they can free themselves of it.”
The conflict between the secular revolutionaries and the political Islamists led by the MB came out into the open in the wake of the January 2011 Revolution. The future and destiny of this country hinges on the outcome of this conflict. The violent confrontations which have constantly taken place between both sides since the revolution will continue to take place as each side works to gain ground with the public.
At the end, it is the Egyptian citizen who has to make the final choice between the two sides. And here materialises the full meaning of the remark by Dr Qemani. Will the Egyptians who sympathised with political Islam during the years the Islamists were ‘victimised’ still desire a religious State ruled by the MB? And are they still persuaded that, should the MB come into power they would fulfil their pledge of peace, justice, and prosperity for all? Are the methods adopted by the MB to manage their struggle with the other political forces since the revolution reassuring to mainstream Egyptians where credibility, transparency, and acceptance of the other is concerned?
Answers to these and other questions along the same line reveal that Egyptians are still considerably divided between preference for a civic or a religious State. The coming days will see who the winner will be; this is the real challenge that faces Egyptians. I am optimistic that the conflict will be resolved in favour of the civic State, not because the secular forces in Egypt have consolidated their ranks sufficiently for them to achieve an unqualified win—this appears like a far-fetched dream right now. Rather, my optimism rests on the fact that in the wake of the revolution the policies, efforts, and coalitions of the Islamist forces—led by the MB—all indicate a notorious intention to extend their hegemony over the Egyptian scene, an intention that does not sit well with Egyptians. Once the revolution erupted on 25 January 2012 and all indications pointed to the potential success of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the Islamists rapidly overran it, and monopolised the political address to the exclusion of all others. They turned the 19 March 2011 referendum on changes to the constitution into a vote on Islam, thereby polarising the nation into Islamists versus non-Islamists. They insisted on holding parliamentary elections before an entirely new constitution was written, hijacked the constituent assembly charged with drafting the constitution, and viciously demonstrated in Tahrir to threaten to “burn Egypt” should Mursi not win the presidential elections. When Mursi, himself a MB member, became president a series of efforts to Ikhwanise (Ikhwan is Arabic for Brothers) the State took off; almost all top-ranking State posts were given to Ikhwan. Finally, the violence they exercised last Friday against the secular demonstrators in Tahrir Square culminated in a march to the House of the High Court in Downtown Cairo to terrorise the prosecutor-general out of office. All these events have been self-defeating for the MB.
I now say: “Thank you, MB. You have done so much damage to yourselves. You have managed to make many Egyptians anxious—if not outright horrified—at your intentions for Egypt. I can now bet that Egypt will be no Iran; it will free itself of the Islamist trap.”
21 October 2012