Brotherhood rennaisance: Little space for ethical reform

Samer Soliman , Wednesday 5 Sep 2012

While the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party appears to view the cause of Egypt's chronic problems as improper institutional frameworks, the party's platform – surprisingly – makes little mention of ethical reform

The issue of renaissance is a key question that has occupied main intellectual circles in Egypt since the 19th Century. Why did we fall behind?

This question is posed in several different ways. 'Were we not a great nation that tamed the river and constructed giant monuments such as the pyramids using science and technology?' is the perspective of the liberal national current. 'Were we not a benevolent nation for the people and created an empire that stretched from Spain in the West to China in the East?' were the assertions of the Islamist current.

Everyone seemed to begin at the same point, a sense that Egypt’s stature and/or that of Egypt and the Muslims is well below where it should be. The answers are many; the nationalist trend of liberal tendencies is biased towards modernisation and learning from the West, and sometimes the East (Japan, for example).

The Islamists, on the other hand, are partial to a religious revival as a gateway to renaissance, arguing that anyone who truly desires a revival should rely on the inherent capital in Egypt, which is the Islamic identity. Egypt fell behind, they add, because it abandoned its identity, culture and religion, and tried fruitlessly to adopt imported systems unsuitable for the character of the people.

These were their arguments, and their Islamic revival project was politically translated into several slogans such as 'Islam is the solution' and 'Let’s rectify the worldly with the religious.' These slogans complemented the broad popular notion that Egypt was suffering a crisis of morality; a common phrase being 'If every person kept God in mind while taking care of work, family and country, then all would be well.'

These choice words, which we hear every day, embody the general perception of the crisis in Egypt, and correspond with the thinking of the Islamist current – especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

This current’s approach to reform is based on reforming the individual, then the family, then society, then the state, until we take the lead on the world stage as promised by Sheikh Hassan El-Banna. This moral approach to reform is what we know of and have experienced with the Islamist trend and the Muslim Brotherhood over the past decades, and this is where we disagree with them.

While we agree that Egypt is suffering from a problem of ethics – widespread dishonesty, lower work standards, rampant cronyism, corruption and bribes – we disagree on the interpretation of the morality crisis.

Islamists believe that the ethics crisis is the ailment and starting point for reform, but we, on both the left and the right, believe it is more likely that the breakdown of morals is a symptom, while the disease is corruption and backwardness of institutions and the parameters within which people operate – most notably, of course, the despotic, corrupt and classist political system.

Our folly at this point is that we thought strong ethics would automatically emerge by reforming institutions and political frameworks, which made us ignore the morality crisis when talking about reform and view it as an issue that will take care of itself once political and economic reform is achieved.

These were the two views. So what happened? Why did the Muslim Brotherhood approach wane?

One need only read the platform of Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which neglected to seriously address the ethics crisis or reforming morals. In one paragraph the platform states: 'Over the past three decades there have been several economic reform programmes in Egypt, but the absence of proper institutional frameworks to embrace these reforms and rampant corruption in all corners of the economic system undercut the ability of these reforms to achieve their goals.'

As we can see, the FJP platform leans towards viewing the cause of the disease as improper institutional frameworks, which is a noteworthy development in Brotherhoodthinking, which I naturally agree with. But there is no mention of ethics or reforming morals.

The Muslim Brotherhoodand Salafists could respond to this by saying that reform of the education system and application of 'God's Sharia' are enough to restore morals; but doesn’t this just postpone dealing with the problem?

Evidence of this is clear: President Mohamed Morsi’s top five priorities (traffic, fuel, sanitation, security and bread), on which he was elected, did not include combating corruption. And here we are steadily marching towards the end of the president's first 100 days without him or his new government offering any signals that combating corruption is a priority.

I, of course, do not mean that the state led by the Brotherhoodshould be re-teaching us how to behave well, but that the new powers should focus on cleansing the state of corruption.

What happened? Did the Muslim Brotherhoodabandon its doctrine during its long march to reach power?

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