Opinion | Columnists

All is not lost for young Egyptians

The Mursi saga showed what happens when religion influences governance; it is up to younger Brotherhood members to focus on development, not ideology

  • By Mohammad Alrumaihi | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 July 13, 2013
  • Gulf News

What is happening in Egypt is historic by all means. The revolution is correcting itself, but the amazing thing is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party — its political arm — and its supporters, on the one hand and the liberals on the other — mostly young and energetic Egyptians — are all claiming credit for the January 25, 2011 revolution that ousted the Mubarak regime. There is a battle to decide who the sole keepers of the revolution are.

The Brotherhood wants Mohammad Mursi’s regime to be representative of the January 25 revolution while the liberals want to cast the regime as its hijackers! No wonder that this has resulted in violence and bloodshed. This is the third time that Egypt tried to enter the modern age. The first coincided with Japan’s revival, during Mohammad Ali’s era, in the early 19th century and the second coincided with South Korea’s rebirth during the Nasser regime in the early fifties. Both times, Egypt failed because of the mixing of politics and religion in the public sphere. Unless both issues are separated, the crisis will continue.

The battle lines have been drawn. The Muslim Brotherhood terms June 30 and its aftermath as a military coup while the liberals call it a correction as they believe the Brotherhood hijacked the revolution.

Whatever the final outcome may be, the recent events in Egypt will impact not only Arabs states, but even Iran and Turkey.

The Brotherhood messed up policy formulation and implementation despite the people reposing trust in them in the beginning. Egyptians elected Mursi not because they supported his movement, but becaus they where afraid that his opponent, Ahmad Shafiq, will do what Mubarak did. Alas, this simple fact was not realised by Mursi’s regime.

The Brotherhood’s policies ignored and marginalised other political players in Egypt while empowering its own people. Most of Mursi’s cabinet members belonged to the Brotherhood. Regional governors, most with no previous experience, were also Brotherhood members.

In addition, neither domestic policies nor the foreign policy were upto mark. The Mursi administration took on the Egyptian Judiciary, the oldest legal institution in the Arab world and the media. To make things worse, the administration ignored the basic needs of ordinary citizens, like electricity and fuel, igniting dissatisfaction among the masses, which took to the streets by the millions.

Arabs were astonished when Mursi insisted that Iran had to be part and parcel of the solution to the Syrian crisis. This was against the Arab League’s policy and contrary to most Arab governments’ wishes. Such a policy created an opening for Russia, and Mursi went out of the way to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin twice — in Russia and South Africa.

Such a policy made other Arabs suspect the shaping of what they saw as a new Egyptian foreign policy. Similarly, Mursi’s domestic policies ignored all political groups except the religious ones. Even some religious political groups where at odds with him. A Salafist group’s offer to resolve the deadlock between Mursi and his opponents was also rejected.

The structural problems faced by Mursi had may aspects. One was dual decision-making. Mohammad Badie, the mentor of the Brotherhood, held power over Mursi and decided the policies. Mursi had to obey what Badie and the small group around him decided. This meant that Badie ultimately had complete control on power with no responsibility and Mursi was burdened with responsibility without the power to take decisions.

Such a dual power structure makes most political setups shaky, contradictory and hesitant. Soon the Egyptian people realised that they had bet on the wrong horse and their dissatisfaction grew to the extent that young men took to the streets collecting signatures to oust Mursi. This group called itself Tamarod (Rebel), and collected millions of signatures, demanding an early presidential election. While their call was rejected by Mursi, it was the military that stepped in, siding with the majority, The fall of Mursi and the Brotherhood regime altogether was inevitable.

The question is what this means for other Arab countries as the Brotherhood branches are almost everywhere. While it retains a strong and powerful presence in countries such as Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Syria, in other places it retains a small, but influential say in local politics. So the dramatic downfall of the Brotherhood regime in Egypt is bound to have an impact on its branches all over.

Mursi was the face of the Brotherhood movement, and its short-lived administration reminded me of Turkey’s Necmettin Erbakan, a fundamentalist who made most Turkish people nervous during his short rule. He eventually lost power, but the political movement based on Islam in Turkey later moderated its tactics, brought in the younger generation and gave a new look to its politics. Having satisfied the economic needs of the masses, it came to enjoy power based on modern democracy, administrative efficiency and power sharing.

Shall we see some young Egyptians break away and try to imitate Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies in moderation and compromise? This remains to be seen, although I feel that this is a difficult task unless younger Brotherhood members learn a lesson from the recent impasse. The good news is that a small group has already broken away from the mother movement, and time will tell us if that is good news.

 

Mohammad Alrumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University.

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