“Political Islam is faced with a major setback; it is not just about [ousted president Mohamed] Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood, who admittedly failed to run the state,” Kamal El-Helbawi, former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has said. He added: “This public dislike is bad enough to the extent that Islamist leaders have to worry about walking down the street lest they will be attacked."
Once a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood overseas, El-Helbawi defected from the oldest political Islam group in the late 1990s, a decision he told Ahram Online he never regretted — especially after he could finally come back to Egypt in the year 2011 following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak whose regime was persecuting him.
Following the news of upcoming Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations scheduled to start at dawn Friday, 30 August, El-Helbawi seems most saddened by how things have turned out for an organisation he argues was built on noble ideals offered in the 1920s by its founder, Hassan El-Banna — ideals “overlooked down the road” to a point where whatever is left of El-Banna’s thought, in the performance of the current Brotherhood leadership, is barely recognisable.
“How did we get to this point? Well, it is very obvious. Islamist leaders made promises to the people and they never kept them. The people felt that once in power the Muslim Brotherhood was looking down them and that they were deviating from the principals they had carried during their long years in the opposition — especially the concept of partnership, over majority rule,” El-Helbawi said.
Still an Islamist, and still committed to the letter and spirit of the "Godfather" of political Islam, whose volumes are hard to miss all over his bookshelves, El-Helbawi continues to lament the decision of the Muslim Brotherhood to field a candidate for the presidential elections of 2012.
Mohamed Morsi, El-Helbawi argues in lamenting tone, is “probably a lot more knowledgeable and better educated, and indeed a lot more honest” than many other presidents, especially in Egyptian history. But “when it came to run the country, he was simply a failure.”
Morsi’s failure, El-Helbawi repeatedly, cannot be blamed on what the Muslim Brotherhood — and even some of the group's critics — qualify as the "defiance of state bodies" to bow to the rule of a civilian and Islamist president. “What is this? How could someone who is the head of state complain that the state is not bowing to him? It does not make sense to me,” he argued.
To the contrary, El-Helbawi is convinced that it was Morsi who went astray from the state when he tried to sideline the government by assigning “a whole set of advisors in what was basically an attempt to create a parallel system of loyal ones, rather than ones with experience in respective fields."
“Morsi seemed to be trying to put the elephant (meaning the state) in a bottle (under control of the presidency). But things don’t work this way. He should have known better,” added the former Brotherhood figure.
El-Helbawi argued that it was Morsi who actually picked fights with all state bodies, one after the other: “The army, the police, the judiciary and Al-Azhar; what was that all about?" he asked.
El-Helbawi is dismayed that Morsi as president tolerated his followers surrounding the High Constitutional Court, in winter 2012, to prevent its meetings, while chanting slogans like, "Give us a sign, Morsi, and they will all be piled up and delivered to you." He is equally unforgiving about Morsi’s tolerance of the decision of Salafi figure Hazem Abou Ismail to take his followers, around the same time, to surround Media City to intimidate TV anchors and satellite channels opposed to Morsi and the Islamist agenda. “How could a president allow this?” he lamented.
As far as El-Helbawi is concerned, these "unfortunate" images, along with the failure of Morsi to deliver, are not things that Morsi only would be blamed for, but rather things for which the entire Muslim Brotherhood — and for that matter the entire political Islam trend — is being judged by and rejected for.
Today, El-Helbawi is saddened that the ill-fated legacy of Morsi’s presidency is haunting all Islamists, including the younger and brighter generation of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is disturbed at the tendency in society to discard Islamists only for being Islamists.
“Things cannot go this way. Those who are charged with wrongdoing should be sent to trial for justice to be done. But those who have done nothing should not be blamed for the mistakes of others. We should not slip into a new phase of repression of Islamists, because it is not only the Islamsits who stand to lose, but the entire society — which also would have to face, a few years down the road, a more radical and much more underground, angry and militant political Islam group,” El-Helbawi argued.
According to El-Helbawi, there is only way forward: “The Muslim Brotherhood have to apologise to the people for having let them down. But at the same time, the state should make sure that justice is applied away from any violations of human rights, and that the anti-Islamist incitement comes to an end. This is in the interest of the entire society, in my opinion.”
He added that these two steps are “prerequisites” for society to pass the crisis it is facing.
As for political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood and its fate, El-Helbawi answers with a deep sigh, followed by “Oh, well." He argues that organisational errors within any organisation or party, including the Muslim Brotherhood, can be rectified. “The Muslim Brotherhood could go back to El-Banna’s [guidelines],” he suggested. However, he added that the loss of public confidence, “the harsh way it happened,” might be very difficult to reverse.
“What I really think it would take is for Islamsits to first agree amongst themselves about what they really mean by the ‘Islamist project’ that has meant so many things for so many people so far. If this could be done, and I doubt it because there are so many different and at this time conflicting views within the Islamist camp, then maybe there could be a cohesive and realistic project that could be offered to the people,” El-Helbawi said. He added that post-Morsi, the public would be scrupulously critical of any Islamist-made proposal, and would be no more willing to follow a catchy slogan, because it was tried and proven to be a failure.
Meanwhile, El-Helbawi said, the Muslim Brotherhood might wish to retain its social preaching role that has been much overlooked in favour of competing on the political level.