Egypt without the Brotherhood

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby , Saturday 16 Feb 2013

Instead of only criticising, opposition forces should focus on what they would do if the Brotherhood didn't exist, to present an alternative the people can believe in

Some imagination is necessary to better deal with reality. So imagine Egypt without the Muslim Brotherhood; then imagine the political scene that would not only be void of the Brotherhood but of their critics as well.

There is no way to defend the political performance of the Muslim Brotherhood: blood continues to spill, there is economic recession, the legitimacy of the political regime is undermined, and other existing problems expose many defects and shortfalls worthy of criticism.

Criticising the Muslim Brotherhood as the group dominating executive and legislative powers is a right and duty, but the value of this criticism diminishes if it is not based on an alternative political agenda, and is essentially futile if it becomes the same political agenda of the critics.

It seems, nonetheless, that most opposition forces chose to limit their political platforms to criticising (and expressing hostility towards) the Muslim Brotherhood, or are at best distracted by criticising the Brotherhood, to varying degrees, instead of constructing their own agendas.

There are those who confined themselves in the personal realm and only focus on criticism of Brotherhood leaders, underlining their mistakes, highlighting their devious intentions, contradictory statements and actions — which achieves little no matter how true — without much political discussion.

Others only focus criticism on Brotherhood administrative and procedural measures, which does not reflect a different possible political context, but a belief that they would manage the very same agenda more effectively.

Yet others try to promote an alternative agenda that is not greatly different on key political issues. Some parties present themselves as more “centrist” and “moderate” than the Muslim Brotherhood in their religious outlook, while others present themselves as more “conservative” and “observant” than the Brotherhood. But neither present a vision of what this different religious identity means in terms of policies, whether economic, social or even on freedoms, which for no clear reason are always at the forefront of any discussion regarding “Islamist” forces (a very ambiguous and undefined term).

The majority of “civil” parties has also limited their agendas to criticising the Muslim Brotherhood and has constructed their political positions accordingly. Some even appear as if lying in waiting for the Muslim Brotherhood to take a position so they can criticise it, even if they agree with them. For example, some parties on the economic right oppose the Brotherhood’s neoliberal economic policies (which are identical to their own platforms) because they do not achieve social justice (as if their ideas would).

As a result of this obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood, these parties are prepared to enter into broad political and electoral alliances that bring together contradictory positions on the revolution, economy, the relationship between society and state, as well as foreign policy, only because they share the same views regarding the Brotherhood. Some parties even refuse to work with parties closer to their ideologies just because their view of the Muslim Brotherhood is “suspect” or “hesitating.”

Imagine Egypt without the Muslim Brotherhood existing to expose the political deficiencies of these political players. Their platforms, if we can call them that, would all but disintegrate once the Muslim Brotherhood disappears from the scene because they are preoccupied with the Brotherhood and evolve around it, feeding on its existence. So if the group vanishes as will they. And thus, they are incapable of replacing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Acknowledging this reality is very important in light of serious disputes within majority entities (because of the explosive situation on the ground on the one hand, and the upcoming elections on the other). The battle is between those who insist on limiting their political agendas to what would become meaningless in the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood and others trying to draft serious political platforms to address the key questions of the masses (most importantly the issues of the economy in terms of production and distribution, and security in terms of effectiveness and respect for human rights).

If the first camp wins, this would mean widening the gap between politicians and the people, because the former continue to be preoccupied with internal disputes, and not focusing debate on the interests of and benefits for the people.

There is a difference that needs to be highlighted between the role of human rights entities and social and resistance movements that are satisfied with taking a critical position opposing the regime (even if they are founded on a clear set of goals to achieve or values to uphold), and political entities that need to propose alternative agendas than the governing powers. Otherwise, because of their weakness, they are contributing not only to their rivals remaining in power, but also their poor performance, because there are no alternatives that expose this and stimulate development.

There is another difference that needs to be highlighted between the present moment and the moment of “liberation,” when all political stripes, in the absence of a clear vision for the future, demanded the departure of Mubarak once the tool of repression was (almost) removed.

Now there is less mass support for the protest movement because it is detached from ordinary hopes and suffering, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy in power is founded on winning elections, and the president has majority support on the street. Egyptians need to see projects for change that do not end at criticising what exists but present an alternative, and such projects can never happen by only focusing on criticising the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is not an appeal to stop criticising the Muslim Brotherhood or to soften this criticism. Criticism of those who sit on the throne of power is a duty, and exposing human rights abuses, and financial and administrative violations, is necessary.

Instead, this is a call to construct a serious political agenda that answers all the questions of society, where criticism is not based on the “Brotherhood” character of the Muslim Brotherhood but rather political differences. It should also include answers to key issues of the people: the economy and security, retribution, restructuring state institutions, the relationship between citizens and state, foreign policy, building the economy and engines of development.

Pointing out the faults of the Muslim Brotherhood agenda — although everyone knows they have failed — is useless if their opponents do not present an alternative political platform.

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