Egypt today stands at a historical crossroads which, no matter which way the country chooses to go, will be crucial for her future. Three weeks ago, some 33 million Egyptians went out and, backed by the army,
succeeded in bringing down a one-year-old Islamist regime that had, during this one-year interval, turned their lives into a living hell. But it looks like felling the regime was the easy part, now comes the hard part of bringing in an acceptable alternative and working to lay the foundation for a solid future that does not allow for committing the same deadly mistakes of the past.
The 30 June Egyptians had already learnt the lesson of the uprising of January/February 2011 when the political void following the fall of the Mubarak regime allowed the Muslim Brothers (MB) to step in, in force. At the time, the MB was the only political group that was well-organised and capable of amassing public support basing on the appeal of Islamic principles; the opposition was fragmented and out of touch with the public. This time, however, the opposition joined hands with the grassroots Tamarud (Rebel) movement that led the rebellion to topple the Mursi Islamist regime, and had a plan to implement once the regime fell. This plan was endorsed by the army and the leaders of the various sectors of the Egyptian society—the opposition, the Salafis, al-Azhar, the Church, and Egypt’s women—and crystallised into what was termed the Roadmap for Egypt’s future, announced by Colonel General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on 3 July.
The following day, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court Adly Mansour was sworn in as interim president, and he directly drew a timeline for a transition process which, in some six months, would turn the country into a modern, democratic State. The first step was to amend the Islamist constitution that had been pushed through by the Mursi regime, then go on to elect a parliament and a president. In the meantime, Mansour announced in a constitutional declaration the constitutional principles that would guide Egypt through the period, expected to last some three months, till a new constitution is written and approved by the people.
All hell broke loose once Mansour announced his constitutional declaration. The 33-Article document began with an article that declared Islamic law and ‘the established sources of Sunna fundamentals’ as the major source of legislation, an article retained from the Mursi-era Islamist constitution, to appease the Islamists. It also included no article to ban the formation of religious-based political parties. The seculars, liberals, and Muslims who do not endorse political Islam were livid. “This is not what we were willing to sacrifice our lives for, and for which many lost their lives,” was the saying most heard on the Egyptian street. Mr Mansour repeatedly reassured that the constitutional declaration was only transitional, and that these much-criticised articles did not have to go into the amended constitution, but that was scarce comfort for the Egyptians who sensed that the new persons in command in Egypt might bend backwards to appease the Islamists whom the majority of Egyptians had worked so hard to topple.
Bearing in mind that the MB and its supporters absolutely declined all invitations to join in moves to draw the future of Egypt; it is only the Salafis who agreed to have a say and whose opinions are given due—or, in the majority of Egyptians minds, much more than their due—consideration.
So the question which now begs an answer is: where exactly do the Islamists stand on Egypt’s political arena? What rights should, or should not, be given to them?
There can be no doubt that political Islam has earned some place on Egypt’s political scene, and that it is here to stay. If the near past is anything to go by, the some 13 million Egyptians who voted for Mursi last year are probably willing to vote again—even if not for Mursi himself, though it must be noted that many of them would do just that—basing on ideological principles.
My personal view is that we should attempt to be absolutely impartial about the issue, the aim being to do right. Islamists were exiled from politics before; during the 1950s and 1960s they were all in the then president Nasser’s prisons. The next president, Anwar Sadat let them out and gave them freedom, but Mubarak came in 1981 and followed a tug-of-war policy with them; they were in and out of prisons until Mubarak was brought down in 2011. The long periods the MB spent in prison resulted in their going underground, and adopting thought that made politics synonymous to religion: Their president was fortified by no less than Allah’s angel Gibril, opposing him was haraam a sin, opponents were infidels…to the end of the string of Islamist notions they applied when they came to power, and which greatly embittered the lives of Egyptians. The result was the nationwide revolt against the Islamists and their overthrow, many hoping it was once and for all.
The answer: a civic State
Today, we stand before two options: either to repeat what Nasser did and have the Islamists go underground then years later replay what occurred during these last two years; or to incorporate them in the Egyptian political process.
I do not believe the first option would be the right one. Apart form the fact that it involves injustice at the exclusion of and forcing out a portion of Egyptians from the political arena, it carries ominous risks. The exclusion of the Islamists is bound to alienate them and would in all probability lead to more radicalisation in their thought and actions, meaning they will be at war with the mainstream community.
This leaves us with only the option of including the Islamists; but how can this be acceptable to the majority of Egyptians who went out on 30 June to bring about their downfall?
The answer lies in a system under which inclusion or integration does not essentially imply approval of the concepts endorsed by any specific faction. And this inevitably leads us to the civic State. Because the civic State is the only system that absolutely keeps apart religion and politics, allows different factions to co-exist and affords them the same rights and the same duties no matter their differences, the civic State is the only option for Egypt.
If we go back to the interim constitutional principles, we find that the articles under dispute deviate severely from the concepts upon which a civic State can be built; mainstream Egyptians are right to see them as appeasing the Islamists. And this is no way to go about building a modern State. A modern, civic State is not about appeasement or making one sector of the community happy at the expense of others, but is about the non-discriminatory inclusion of everyone, and about everyone following the same rules.
The photo shows Mahmoud Mukhtar Egypt’s Renaissance desecrated by the Islamists
21 July 2013