A country divided
So long as some appear allergic to the Muslim Brotherhood, diehard adherents will continue to proliferate at a time when Egypt needs national unity, writes Mohamed Mustafa Orfy
Once elected the president of post-revolutionary Egypt, Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, promised that he would be the president of all Egyptians, no matter their political, religious or cultural affiliations. Not only this, but also Mursi resigned from his then post as the head of Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood group that was for long decades banned, sanctioned, and even suppressed by successive regimes in Egypt from King Farouk to Hosni Mubarak.
Yet as important is his victory, by a slight majority, the win of Mursi should not be interpreted as if there is overwhelming acceptance or support for the project or ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt. In a nutshell, the controversial history of the group and allegations, whether true or false, that have always overshadowed it still influence the image of the group in the collective psyche of Egyptian society. Suffice it to say that Mursi only got around 5.7 million votes in the first round of the presidential elections, and this is, in reality, a more true reflection of the popularity of the group nowadays in Egypt. If he got more than 13 million votes in the second round of the elections it was for a number of reasons, among which is that a large sector of Egyptians refused to allow the other candidate, Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Mubarak, to win lest it signal the death of the 25 January Revolution once and for all.
At the current stage, what has to be fully recognised is that the Muslim Brotherhood group has obtained long-awaited legitimacy to rule Egypt, at least for four years to come. This new reality can be ascribed to the fact that it was the only organised political force in society, since the state itself failed in recent years in assuming its main duties in many spheres, especially in poor and marginalised areas. The arena was empty and ready for those who were smart and organised enough to fill the vacuum and hold out a helping hand. Certainly, the former regime deliberately weakened political life in order to promote the equation "either us or the Islamists" in order to intimidate and terrorise the elites or Copts and scare the West over its vital interests in the whole region.
However, this should not obscure the fact that there is deep division about the group in Egyptian society, bearing in mind that the 12.3 million who voted for Shafik did so in fear of the trap of a religious state after having gotten rid of the Mubarak regime. What pours more fuel into this tense atmosphere is the long standing debate, some even called it an intellectual war, between advocates of the religious current and supporters of a liberal modern civic state based on rule of law and democratic norms.
So, not surprisingly, mixed feelings and conflicting ideas have been wandering in the collective mind-set of the Egyptian people. There two groups need to be defined accurately, and isolated from each other so calm thought could prevail and fears might dissipate in our long endeavour towards building the second republic.
The first group, the vast majority, in the light of what has been revealed by the electoral process, wants to stick to the basic pillars of the modern Egyptian state founded by Mohamed Ali nearly 200 years ago. They are against mixing religion and politics, knowing the disastrous results that could be brought about by this policy. While, they were against the despotic practices and widespread corruption before the revolution, they are willing to usher back in the same formula of the civic state, provided that serious reform and corrective measures are undertaken. They oppose any attempt to create a theocratic state in Egypt. Some segments of this group go so far as rejecting every action and even statement made by religious factions. They appear to suffer a phobia to the Muslim Brotherhood, similar to attitudes that exist in the West.
The second group combines members, supporters and advocates of the Muslim Brotherhood who are willing to vehemently support whatever action is taken by the group, no matter the consequences. Ideological adherence surpasses, sometimes, political expediency and smart calculations on the vital interests of the state itself. In order to preserve homogeneity within the group, the leadership could seek to increase the presence of its members in various Egyptian bodies, and this might cause great worry for the first group.
What renders the situation even worse is the undefined mixing between the ruling party and the Muslim Brotherhood group itself, and the fact that the group's practices in recent months have shown it willing and eager to monopolise all positions of power, whether in parliament or the Constituent Assembly, as if the group was a clone of the dissolved National Democratic Party that dominated all spheres of political life in the Mubarak era.
So Egyptians are now two: the first dismissive of the Muslim Brotherhood, but perhaps ready, in certain circumstances, to consent to a certain extent while harbouring a degree of phobia on the group's alleged intentions. The second is unconditionally loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership.
Both trends are wrongheaded. The national interest dictates that the Egyptian population stands united, hand-in-hand, behind the newly elected president, no matter whether they voted for or against him, in order to make the first step on the long road to democracy in Egypt a success. Also, reasonable thinking would require not severely criticising "the leadership" or continually praising it, but to evaluate every move in light of its merits and repercussions. Egyptians are in one boat that should be sailed safely. So long as some express what amounts to a phobia against the Muslim Brotherhood, dogmatic loyalty to the group will continue as its mirror. This black or white picture will constitute a negative aura for the new Egypt.
The writer is an academic.