Opinion | Columnists

Arab public opinion divided over Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood lives in the past. It is very good at knowing what it doesn’t like, but has no idea in which direction it wants to lead societies

  • By Mohammad Alrumaihi | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 August 24, 2013
  • Gulf News

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The whole Mideast region is in despair, wherever you look you will find something deeply unpleasant happening- the obvious is the bloodshed, which appears uncontrollable in Syria and lately in Egypt. The focus in the last few weeks shifted from Syria to Egypt, as most commentators believe that whatever happens in Egypt has more of an impact on the whole region, than events elsewhere.

The Egyptian crisis has divided the Arab public opinion. Some wholeheartedly support the deposed president, Mohammad Mursi, while others are supportive of his opponents. Both sides of the argument have strong supporters, even outside Egypt. Here in the Gulf countries, there is heated debate on the issue, even within the same family, and the social media (Twitter and Facebook) are the most active in debating the Egyptian crisis in inflammatory words.

Those supporting Murse argue that he was the legitimate elected president, and as such he should not have been removed but only thrown out at the ballet box, whenever the election was held. The opponents says that the people of Egypt, or the majority of them had demonstrated, by the millions on June 30th that either an early election or a mass referendum should decide if Morse was to go or stay. But their demand was rejected by the government at the time. The reluctance of ’s administration to take into consideration that demand led the military to interfere, and was removed, with a very clear objective that there will be a new election, a new parliament, and a new precedent, or what the new administration terms, The Road Map.

This was severely opposed by Muri’s supporters, mainly Muslim Brotherhood and their allies from the fundamental Islamist groups, who took to barricading themselves in Rabia Al Adwia and Al Nahda square in Cairo. They brought women, children and supporters from the farming community from outside the capital, and stayed there for the whole month of Ramadan. That was not acceptable for the new administration, backed by the military, resulting in the government’s decision to clear the barricade in an operation that witnessed the loss of hundreds of Egyptian lives during the standoff.

The Muslim Brotherhood administration in Egypt , which lasted for almost one year, from 30 June 2012 to 30 June 2013, differed from all other Islamist governments in the region. While Iran and Turkey both have Islamistgovernments, Turkey has only one head of state, an elected government, and difference active political parties. Iran on the other hand, has a spiritual leader ( Murshed ) but he has some official status in the framework of government. In the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, on the contrary, the Murshed has all the authority within the council of the movement, and the head of state (in this case, ) has to obey the instructions coming from the Murshed. In fact ranked sixth or seventh in the hierarchy of the Muslim brotherhoodood movement.

This kind of duality gave rise to multiple confusions and tensions during the one year stint of the Brotherhood government. There was almost anarchy, as the government was not able to convince the liberal segment of Egyptian society to agree to their polices. As a result they turned to more radical groups, like the Gehadi, and Fundamental Salafists to support them. This was not without paying a political price, as instead of bringing those groups to the platform of Muslim brotherhood, who are basically moderate, the Brotherhood become Salfists and adopted far more radical polices, just to keep the radicals onboard. So the only avenue open to them was to hastily take quick steps to go on what become known in Egypt (Brother-ing the Egyptian State) which means putting their members and supporters in every layer of the state hierarchy -- Ministers, Governors, Ambassadors, and the like. This hasty move alerted other segments of society that took to the street demanding a correction, by either early elections or referendum. The rest of the story is now well known.

Assembling large number of people in the squares and streets of Egypt is not a big deal. Some of those are members of political groups and a good number of them are spongers and out of work youngsters or simply people brought from outlying areas who know nothing of what is going on, and they probably were killed in the clashes between the police and the sit-in groups.

The stand of American and European governments toward what is happing in Egypt is amazing, and it shows either a lack of information or understanding. Those governments have announced that they will cut off financial aid and other help to Egypt unless the violence is stopped. I may look good on the surface but what they do not understand is that they have played in the hands of the fundamentalists. As the radicals started the disturbance, the government reacted to maintain peace and violence automatically accrued. It could become a vicious circle. The more the western governments insist on the authorities to concede to their conditions to stop violence the more Muslim political groups will strengthen their resolve to sit-in and demonstrate, with the intention to provokea violent reaction by the authorities, even to the extent of innocent people getting killed.

The core of the issue is that Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, like their affiliates in Tunisia, live in past times, not related to modernity. Since both came to power (in Egypt and Tunisia) commentators have beensaying that they lack the tools to adapt themselves to modernity. They are very good in knowing what they don’t like, but have no idea where they want to lead societies to. The golden age for them is the glory of Muslim civilisation a few centuries back, but they do not have the capability to understand that the glory of that period was built on tolerance,hard work and acceptance of differences and not by defiance or marginalising other citizens. Hopefully the new constitution in Egypt will draw a clear line between politics and religion. This will mark the new era of what I term the post Iranian syndrome which intruded into the region some 30 odd years ago, with its dangerous mixture of politics and religion,and which proved a complete failure.

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

Gulf News
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