With Islamic politics gaining ground in Egypt, what seems to be in store for the future?
“When regimes are authoritarian and lack the backing of the people,” al-Sayed Yassin, consultant with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says, “they tend to use religion as a tool to acquire legitimacy.”
Dr Yassin has harsh criticism for the Islamic movements, particularly those that pretend to be moderate such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). “The political programme of the MB has shown that the group is opposed to a civil State,” he says. “Their idea of forming a Majlis al-Fuqahaa’ (council of jurists) that would approve presidential decisions and laws passed by the Peoples’ Assembly is a replica of the Welayat al-Faqih (governance of the jurist) system now prevalent in Iran,” Dr Yassin adds. He points out that Islamic currents have offered no solution for current woes such as unemployment and inflation.
“The Constitution,” he stresses, “should remain the frame of reference.”
The brutal attitude adopted by the State against the Islamists has earned them the sympathy of the public and rendered them more violent and extremist,” Osama al-Ghazali Harb, deputy chairman of the Democratic Front Party, says. “The Egyptian regime failed to put an end to the influence of the extremists while managing to undermine civil parties and political forces.”
Nigad al-Boraei, head of the Society for Development of Democracy, says the argument that the presence of MB MPs in Parliament enriches political life is inaccurate. MPs in the Egyptian Parliament, who belong to the MB but were elected as independents, have performed poorly, he says, and have failed to prevent the passage of undemocratic laws. “This could be attributed to the MB’s poor experience with respect to lobbying and forming alliances,” he adds.
Amr al-Shobaky, a consultant with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says the relationship between the MB and the Egyptian State is complicated, and has gone through consecutive stages of tolerance and confrontation, but none of the two managed to negate the other. The dilemma of the relationship between the two, he says, should be resolved through integrating the MB into the political system as a legitimate political group.
Politics and religion
Political parties in Egypt are very weak, Mustafa al-Fiqi head of parliamentary International Relations Committee remarks. Over the past decades none of the current parties was able to gain public acceptance, except for the old party of al-Wafd which was founded during the 1920s.
Dr Fiqi points out that the ‘inflammation’ on the Egyptian street is unprecedented. Political parties, he says, face two main problems. The first is the rampant confusion of religion and politics, leading to extremism, violence, and further postponement of real democracy. The second is the intimate relation between wealth—as embodied in private business—and authority, leading to the by-now infamous corruption. Dr Fiqi believes this predicament may be easily managed through monitoring, regulating, and implementing the law.
The issue of religion and politics, however, is much more complicated, he says. If political Islam rules, he stresses, it could change the form of the society in a manner that may take decades on end to reverse.
Wahid Abdel-Megid, deputy manager of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, held an even more ominous view. “Liberal principals are made to appear contradictory to Arab traditions,” he says. “Parties never paraphrase liberal concepts in the language of the street. Arab culture is at its worst and the people on the street do not normally interact with multi-faceted or liberal views. This is why the slogan “Islam is the answer” gained such wide backing. It is too wide, too vague, and more or less refers every problem to divine intervention. The main success of the Islamist’s tides is that they deal with the poorer classes in a sense which addresses their sympathy.
Abdel-Megid believes that we need political reform that would generate new parties and a new democratic climate. He warns, however, that the process of democratisation must be home-grown; any foreign intervention is bound to backfire.