That other type of democracy
Ahmed Mahmoud, Thursday 11 Jul 2013
Democracy, for the Islamist current, is still linked to mechanisms of political choice, namely ballot boxes, but for most Egyptians it means the 'rule of and by the people'


In 1974, President Sadat issued a paper on developing the Socialist Union in which he suggested revising its structure and goals. In it, he rejected political plurality but agreed to plurality of direction within the single party – later known as platforms – that amounted to 40 altogether. This was the re-emergence of political parties in Egypt after the July revolution had eliminated them entirely under Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s regime.

Then Sadat decided to restrict Marxist parties and called for the creation of the National Democratic Party. Ibrahim Shukri, the minister of agriculture at the time, felt this was an opportunity to revive the ideology of Misr Al-Fatah (Young Egypt) movement, so he submitted an application to the Parties Committee to create the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and succeeded in creating a party that adopted a moderate Islamist approach.

Shukri resigned as minister of agriculture in 1978 and declared the establishment of the SLP which was an opportunity for the Islamist current to return to politics through the Labour Party, especially since Abdel-Nasser had banned the current, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and prosecuted its leaders after the infamous Al-Manshiya incident when the regime accused the Brotherhood of attempting to assassinate the president.

After visiting Israel and signing the peace treaty with the Zionist entity, shortly before his death in 1981 Sadat revised the party law allowing the Political Party Affairs Committee – created according to Law 40 of 1977 – giving the committee sole mandate to license new political parties. A key criteria for creating a new party was distinction, meaning the platform of a new party should be distinct from any existing parties. New parties must also be committed in their principles, goals, platforms and policies to the principles of Islamic sharia and the 1952 and 1971 revolutions. They must also have criteria to uphold a socialist and democratic system, as well as socialist gains.

The law banned the creation of parties based on class or religion or restoring the political scene that was dissolved in 1952. This was because of the Labour Party’s position and its rejection of the peace treaty with Israel.

Sadat was assassinated by army officers belonging to the armed Islamic Jihad group, which was a persuasive reason to continue banning Islamist political and party activism. Meanwhile, political arrests and military tribunals continued against members of this current – although Sadat himself had brought them back to political life. They continued to be persecuted until the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime after the 25 January revolution.

This ban and pursuit of members of Islamists by security agencies created serious tensions and animosity with the ruling regime and all its agencies, and perhaps even members of society who disagree with them. According to their opponents, the current’s inability to impose its radical religious views made it lust for power, political legitimacy and a mechanism to enable it to impose its principles on society which had for decades succeeded in remaining a civil and secular, albeit, religious society.

After the January revolution, political Islam succeeded in reaching power and people expected them to promote a different political model, especially since they were excluded and persecuted by the former regime. Everyone knew they would face strong and organised opposition from the supporters of the former regime, known as “the deep state.” But the government’s poor performance and rollercoaster economic crises exposed the weakness of the Brotherhood regime in addressing these problems.

Their group lacked suitable cadres for this phase of political and economic development, especially since instead of reconciling with their political foes they fell into the same trap their predecessor had, namely monopolising power. They sued their rivals and excluded their opponents which resulted in deep tensions even between them and ordinary citizens who do not belong to a specific political current, because of failing economic conditions and inability to skilfully and convincingly perform in politics whether on domestic or foreign policies.

Meanwhile, supporters of this current made unusual and sometimes disconcerting statements without a clear understanding of their connection to the ruling regime, other than they are members of the same political party the president hailed from before reaching power.

In time and as public discontent grew, the Tamarod (Rebel) movement was created by young blood on the political scene, and the group was able to collect more than 22 million signatures to depose elected President Mohamed Morsi who did exactly what Mubarak had done. Instead of taking the issue seriously, he urged his followers to launch Tagarod (impartiality) to counter Tamarod. To the people, it seemed he only cared about his followers and party, which hastened his overthrow after the army intervened against him.

Army intervention this time was not a coup as some believe, but more like a correction of the mistakes of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) after the January revolution, namely not issuing a constitution before parliamentary elections which made it illegal and led to dissolving the parliament. Then there was the need to issue constitutional declarations and granting the Shura Council – which electoral legitimacy is already dubious – legislative powers. This disrupted legislation resulted in dubious decisions on political and economic matters in Egypt, as well as a constitution that is rejected by everyone except the Islamists.

During Morsi’s tenure, anger in state agencies grew against the government’s measures of exclusion and promoting Islamists with limited or no experience to positions, which became known as 'Brotherhoodisation.' Most leaders at state agencies refused to cooperate with the elected president, especially since he adopted policies that isolated Egypt from its neighbours.

He severed ties with Syria, a country with strong and historic ties with Egypt and supported the Islamist opposition in Syria.

He met with leaders from the Islamist current to discuss Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam in a live broadcast where they talked about military operations against Ethiopia or funding opposition groups there against the Ethiopian regime. Anger with them boiled over and made them look like amateurs in the eyes of the people, as they sat there discussing national security matters in full view of the whole world.

The West may view what happened as a coup against democracy in the literal liberal definition they are familiar with, but the real dilemma for the West, and the US in particular, in understanding what happened is the fact that democracy for most people – especially the Islamist current – is still linked to mechanisms of political choice such as ballot boxes. But they forget the origin of the world democracy which is the “rule of and by the people.” This is what the Egyptian people did when they refused to allow the Brotherhood to remain in power, and compound Egypt’s calamity – especially since the country cannot withstand any more political or economic adventures.

The army needed to intervene to prevent clashes between the two sides and acted as a barrier to block anticipated battles that could evolve into a civil war. The military remains the only institution so far that enjoys the confidence and respect of the Egyptian people, and confrontations between Islamists and the army have highlighted the violent tendencies of some Islamists and their lack of political savvy.

This raises questions about how much Egyptian society needs a suicidal leadership, and how society could reject them for decades to come after seeing how many were killed during clashes outside the Republican Guards headquarters on 7 July.

A key question that strongly presents itself now is whether the military in Egypt is seeking genuine economic and political reform and advancing the political process to achieve true liberal democracy. Or are these developments nothing more than a rejection of a group that the military does not trust for security reason because of its alliances with foreign parties the army views as objectionable for national security reasons? Ending the Brotherhood era before it even began does not necessarily mean advancing genuine democratic development, but could reflect a hidden desire to maintain the political status quo under Mubarak and his predecessors.

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