Government by law or ideology?
The Muslim Brotherhood faces a number of tests of its commitment to democracy and rule of law. Will it pass and prosper, or fail and fade, asks Azmi Ashour
The significance of Mohamed Mursi's presidential victory lies not so much in his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood as it does with the fact that he was the first Egyptian president to be elected in accordance with the rules of free and fair democratic elections and the unfalsified will of the people. But will the government over the next four years administer the state and society in this same spirit, which champions justice and the rule of law, or will it let group ideology prevail over these fundamental principles and values? There are a number of indicators that will enable us to gauge which way the government is heading.
- The "ikhwanisation" (from ikhwan, meaning Brotherhood in Arabic) of the state apparatus: Public agencies of every sort, from the Education Ministry through the national press and the judiciary are rife with fears and rumours that the Muslim Brotherhood will gradually fill their hierarchical ranks with Muslim Brotherhood members or supporters. If this turns out to be the case, then the new president will not just have broken one of his pledges; he will be actively undermining the very value of justice that elevated him to the presidency. President Mursi was not elected because he was the most competent of the contenders. His victory was the result of a variety of circumstances and factors, among which were his Muslim Brotherhood affiliation and the attitude of the revolutionaries towards his rival in the run-offs, Ahmed Shafik, who lost by only one per cent of the votes cast. Therefore, the new president's first duty should be to activate the values of the rule of law and justice in accordance with which skills, competence, dedication and commitment to serving one's country prevail over party or religious affiliation. To ignore these values will only reproduce the situation that existed under the old regime, which chose its elites on the basis of personal and party loyalties at the expense of objective professional and performance standards. That self-serving approach was a major cause of the deterioration of government performance over the past several decades.
A drive to "ikhwanise" government would be the beginning of the end of the Muslim Brotherhood. Effectively that organisation would be pitting itself against the realities of Egyptian society, which consists, firstly, of a 200-year-old state apparatus that was established on the premise that it should remain neutral in its political allegiances. It will simultaneously be pitting itself against liberal and civil political forces which have the potential to become a powerful voice if they unify and organise themselves effectively in the face of a threat to their marginalisation and elimination under a Muslim Brotherhood scheme to purge the state bureaucracy and fill it with Muslim Brotherhood loyalists. Such an exclusionist policy would create a host of other problems for the Muslim Brotherhood, both at home and abroad, for it would be perceived as a radical organisation bent on political hegemony and inimical to the values of democracy that brought them to power, as opposed to an ordinary political force willing to play by the rules and principles of the peaceful rotation of authority.
- Attitudes towards the Egyptian judiciary: It is vital that the president and his government respect the long-established heritage, prestige and authority of the judicial establishment, up to and including the Supreme Constitutional Court. The head of this institution is the third highest authority in the country, after the president and the speaker of the People's Assembly, which is why the president elect took his oath of office before this body in the absence the People's Assembly which had been dissolved on the basis of a court ruling. President Mursi was the first to reap the benefits of the probity of the judiciary whose members supervised and ensured the integrity of the presidential elections. It would be unprecedented if the executive, today, perpetrated something akin to an assault against this establishment which even the former president, for all his authoritarianism, was unable to defy in two similar cases when the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the People's Assembly in 1987 and 1990 on the grounds of the unconstitutionality of the electoral law. President Mursi is facing a crucial test. Will he respect the court's ruling to dissolve parliament even if his party is the most damaged? Will he act on the realisation that this short-term damage will be much less severe than the long-term damage that will accrue to the Muslim Brotherhood from the erosion of its credibility in the eyes of the public should it choose to ignore the rule of law and persist in its defiance of the judiciary?
- The new constitution: The second constituent assembly charged with drafting the new constitution is very similar in composition to the first assembly, which was dominated by Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Nour Party members and which was ruled illegitimate. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis' obvious determination to assert overwhelming control over the drafting the constitution flies in the face of an important pillar for any constitution and, indeed, any legislation intended to serve the public, which is that it should promote the common good, not the narrow interests of certain individuals or groups. The ruling FJP would earn considerable credit if it accepted a court ruling nullifying the second constituent assembly and agreed to let a neutral party select a new assembly. The best candidate for that neutral party is the judiciary, which supervised the elections that brought Islamist victories in the legislative assemblies and the presidency. A selection committee consisting of judges and representatives of all the diverse political and social forces in society would guarantee a high degree of integrity, impartiality and public legitimacy in the eventual outcome.
President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood face three crucial tests. The way they act in the foregoing areas will tell us whether they are sincere in their pledge to work together with others to build a truly democratic society in Egypt. If so, they will be one of the foremost beneficiaries. If not, which is to say if they are set on imposing the Muslim Brotherhood's political and ideological hegemony, they will usher in the beginning of the end of this organisation that has preoccupied public opinion for the past 50 years, not just in Egypt but in many other countries of the world.
The writer is managing editor of the quarterly journal Al-Demoqrateya published by Al-Ahram.