The Brotherhood in power: Governance kills the project

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby , Wednesday 31 Oct 2012

Egypt's new rulers have abandoned their Islamist political project for change under the pretext of the realities of governance

A Muslim Brotherhood leader whose views did not change after the group reached power said he is more worried about the Brotherhood  being tainted by power than the state being tainted by the Brotherhood.

This accurately expresses the dilemma of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamist movements in general, after ascending to power in the past decade.

Since their creation and politicisation, Islamist movements became the alternative to ruling regimes that advocate a different project than their goal of an 'Islamist political project.' The Islamist project advocates a dream of unity that brings the nation together, an independence that liberates its territories, ends cultural and knowledge subjugation to others, and a renaissance that will lift it up from poverty and restore its control over its resources to be used in a just way that would lead to overall public prosperity.

Over the past decades, Islamist movements were able to maintain their structural cohesion by not specifying the details of the project to avoid disagreements about the definition of Sharia (Islamic Law), and the infrastructure of political, economic and social systems.

In the case of the Brotherhood, this resulted in deep rifts among members about legislative as well as political outlooks:  the group today has four conflicting currents, namely the Azhar heritage; Salafists; the Qutb school; and modern Islam. On the political level, there are disputes over the state’s religious and social responsibilities, the state’s economic responsibility, foreign policy, etc.

This means that maintaining the unity of the group has come at the expense of the political project’s intellectual clarity and political maturity.

Islamist movements are no exception in terms of having incomplete political projects, just like all other existing political entities, but this movement’s organisational skills and popularity has brought it to power after the Arab revolutions. Thus, its projects for change are being put to the test.

The Brotherhood reached power in Egypt through a parliamentary majority and then won the presidency, which has forced them to face a different challenge other than the trials of repression that they are used to. They are up against the challenge of governance which is accompanied by pressure from interest groups to maintain the status quo.

On the domestic front, the challenge is in the form of interest networks of the security agencies and businessmen; and on the foreign front, in terms of regional alliances that Egypt has orbited in recent decades – most prominently, the 'moderate axis' that combines Washington, Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Cairo.

These are the challenges that the Brotherhood faces because it reached power before its political projects reached maturity. They are facing these challenges in the absence of a vision that regulates their stands on these issues, and therefore the position of the political leadership is reactionary, making the gauge of success how 'steadfast' they are in facing challenges – essentially staying in power.

The same happened when the group’s existence became a goal in itself, although the causes then were beyond the powers of the Brotherhood (suppression). The causes for this while in power, however, come from within the group, namely lack of vision, because there is no room to claim excuses about outside challenges since they would be the same for anyone in power.

In the absence of vision and existing pressure from reality, political leadership has taken positions that contradict the fundamentals of the 'project' that the Islamist movement promotes. Seeking a loan from the IMF and declaring there is 'no intention' to revise the QIZ agreement contradicts the goal of economic independence.

The president’s friendly discourse towards his Israeli counterpart and the 'silly' explanation for this conduct by the presidency, accompanied by a continued siege on Gaza, destroying tunnels (the last resort for Gaza residents), as well as continued reassurances to uphold the peace treaty, completely undermines any rhetoric about independence of territories and the nation’s unity.

Continuing Mubarak's neo-liberal economic policies (which some close to the presidency have defended by saying the problem was corruption) keeps wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, and this leads to expanding poverty (making any solutions dependent on temporary charity and civic action without any intervention to reform economic structures).

Talk about Sharia is fading and there is no vision defining it or the purpose of applying it, while neo-liberal culture dominates all aspects of life (consumerism, world, market, human being, product, consumer), which also strips any talk of civilisational or knowledge independence of meaning.

Having Islamists reach power in this context does not empower Islam as referenced in Islamist literature or as aspired to by supporters. Instead, it is the empowerment of political groups who reached power and are seeking to hold onto power by appeasing those they view as powerful players in the political arena.

Adopted policies indicate that the leadership believes there is a need to reach an understanding with the web of interests and corruption within state agencies and the businessmen linked to them. With and through them, it would maintain stability of the political and economic system (with lesser degrees of corruption).

On foreign policy, it fears clashing with the interests of any of the superpowers in the 'moderate axis,' making a return to Egypt’s foreign policy in the 1990s the aspired goal with a small margin of independence under the domination and acceptance of the Camp David regimen.

In the final analysis, this means that the rulers have abandoned the project for 'change' that their movements were based on and promised to the public, under the pretext of requirements for governance. If it continues, it means that, in the medium- to long-run, these movements and their project will be destroyed.

If the Brotherhood wants to sustain its 'project,' it needs to uphold it, even at the expense of governance. It must also challenge the compromises made by the incumbent political leadership, in the same way it would have objected to the powers that be if they were from outside the group.

At the same time, it needs to actively pursue the maturation of its project by relying on experts in various fields and honestly admitting to the people the mistake it made by claiming it has a ready-to-go comprehensive project for renaissance.

I have spoken my mind, and God is my witness.

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