Although it has been six years since the 30 June 2013 Revolution, one may still wonder what things would have been like without it. This is an important question and not just for Egyptians alone, but also for the entire Middle East.
In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that the question should concern the international community and major world powers as well.
The 2013 Revolution was not just an uprising against a regime or a domestic political group. It was a revolution against a global political project that transcends the boundaries of the Egyptian state and that seeks to upend the concept of the nation-state which is still the central unit on which the global order is based.
In other words, the question as to what would have happened had the Egyptian people not risen up on 30 June is not just an Egyptian question and not just a hypothetical one either.
The domestic and foreign policies of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt from January 2012 (when the organisation dominated both houses of the Egyptian parliament) to 3 July 2013 (the first major result of the revolution, namely the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power) prove this point.
Many changes would have taken root had the Muslim Brotherhood remained in power or had the June Revolution failed. I will focus on what I believe would have had the most dangerous impacts both domestically and internationally given the interplay between the two.
Domestically, the gravest threat was the Brotherhood’s design to reclassify citizens in terms of faith. It would have preceded in two stages, the first being to rank citizens as Muslims versus non-Muslims, “Muslim” in this case being defined as Sunni Muslim specifically. Accordingly, there would have been two classes of citizens: Sunnis and then Christians and Shia.
The classification would not just have affected matters related to doctrine and the practices of the religious community, however. It would have had consequences in terms of discrimination in political rights justified on the basis of historical schools of Islamic jurisprudence which ruled that being Muslim was an essential requirement for holding public office.
This would not just have applied to chief positions of authority in the state, such as the president or caliph or whatever the Islamist movements want to call the head of state.
It would also have extended from the appointment of the neighbourhood mukhtar (mayor) to banning non-Sunni Muslims from holding the post of school principal on the grounds that, as the Islamists would put it, a school is one of the chief institutions “responsible for raising Muslim youth.”
The second and even more dangerous stage would have involved reclassifying (Sunni) Muslims on the basis of their degrees of piousness. In other words, it would no longer be sufficient for a person to be Muslim.
One would have to be “pure” in faith. In fact, this sifting process had already begun during the Brotherhood’s time in power when it abandoned the principle of power-sharing and shifted to a policy of majoritarianism shored up by means of alliances with other Islamist organisations, including Salafi and jihadist Salafi organisations such as Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and Al-Jihad.
In the decades that preceded its rise to power, the Muslim Brothers insisted that they stood apart from others on the ideological map of Islamist organisations by presenting themselves as more of a sociopolitical group than a “religious” one.
Had that truly been the case, they would have pursued more collaborative approaches, from coordinating politically to forming coalitions with civil or liberal political parties and groups. But they did the opposite.
They shunted liberal and civil political forces aside and allied with other Islamist groups and above all with the more radical ones in a choice informed by two factors.
Firstly, they were naturally inclined in that direction since, contrary to how they marketed themselves, they were in reality a religious group.
Secondly, they had already begun to reclassify society on the basis of religious “purity,” which led them to align with allies among “the pious” and to exclude “rivals” among “non-believers” and the “insufficiently devout.”
It is a tendency inherent among groups that subscribe to religious political ideologies to divide society on the basis of degrees of religious purity, to set “Muslims,” “the faithful,” “fundamentalists” and “true believers” in opposition to “heretics,” practitioners of “corrupt creeds” and “non-believers” of all stripes.
The Muslim Brotherhood is no different in this respect from Salafi jihadist, takfiri and other Islamist movements except perhaps in the degree to which it implicitly or explicitly views the “other” in the state and society as religiously “impure.”
In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, “group” itself is of central importance to its ideology and political positioning.
The Muslim Brothers have long seen themselves as a religiously pure group in confrontation with the state and society at large, even if they have not overtly condemned the state and society as heretic or ascribed them to the inferior rungs on the ladder of religious purity and hence the scale of political rights and prerogatives.
The organisation continued to adhere to this outlook after coming to power. It refused to subordinate the “group” to the concept of a “political party” and to the concept of the “state” as an institutionalised framework for organising human activities.
While the Muslim Brotherhood had an official political party after January 2011, that party never truly dissociated itself from the Brotherhood organically in terms of structure, ideology and policy.
The chief reason for this was that the Muslim Brotherhood could not bring itself to relinquish the concept of affiliation with the group as the essential credential for religious purity and a basic criterion for social stratification.
Naturally, affiliation with the group was also a criterion for political loyalty, trustworthiness and obedience and, hence, a basis for political stratification.
One of the most explicit exponents of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological/social creed was Brotherhood leader Sobhi Saleh.
Saleh was vehemently opposed to the idea of Muslim Brotherhood youths marrying outside the community of Muslim Brotherhood sisters. Speaking at a Muslim Brotherhood conference in Alexandria, Saleh once stressed that Muslim Brothers must marry within “the group” especially since female Muslim Brotherhood members were “better” than Muslim women outside the Brotherhood.
He held that intermarriage within the organisation was crucial to ensuring that future generations belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The reclassification of society in the two stages mentioned above would have redefined citizenship. Instead of being defined on the basis of national affiliation in accordance with the principle that all are equal under the law, citizenship would have been redefined on the basis of religious affiliation and “degree of faith.”
Citizens would have been ranked from “true believers” to “Muslims” and to dhimmi, or non-Muslim, and rights and privileges would have varied accordingly.
This Islamist classism and its domestic practices would have been carried over into foreign policy. Had Muslim Brotherhood rule continued, Egypt would probably have espoused more radical foreign policy outlooks and aligned with the Turkey-Qatar-Iran axis and its affiliated non-state entities such as Hizbullah, Hamas and the Houthi movement in Yemen.
In addition to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has traditionally opposed the major Arab Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in particular has long had strong ideological and organisational bonds with the present ruling party in Turkey and its Islamist predecessors.
One of the most potentially dangerous repercussions of such an alliance would have resided in its pursuit of a transnational project opposed to the concept of the modern civil state, namely the empowerment of Muslim Brotherhood or kindred organisations in Syria, Libya, Yemen, the Gulf countries and elsewhere and the consequent application of its religion-based concept of citizenship and rights in these countries also.
*The writer is an expert at the international relations department of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Without the 30 June Revolution?