Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Anatomy of a revolution

The Muslim Brotherhood, though grabbing power, are shakier than they seem, while the revolution — opposed by nature to theocracy — will continue, writes Nasser Abdel-Hamid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The anniversary of the Egyptian revolution is an occasion to take stock of what happened, of where we’re headed, of who are the main players on the scene, and what the possible implications of the ongoing power struggle are.
To assess the psychological impact of the revolution, one must attempt to read into the mindset of the advocates of political Islam. One must try to interpret their words and deeds over the past two years. My contention here is that the practices of the old regime and its security apparatus have left a deep mark on the hearts and minds of many of those in the Islamist camp.
You may have noticed that many of the Islamists who collaborated with the old regime have become preachers on satellite television stations that were created and licensed by the regime to achieve a number of goals.
One goal was to corrupt the minds of the nation and distract it with the ritual superficiality of religion, so as to keep people from facing their real problems and considering the fate of the country that was being pillaged, robbed and offered — like the spoils of war — to the heir apparent. When people are focussed on the afterlife, their interest in mundane matters, the regime reckoned, would considerably shrink.
A second goal was for the regime to use those preachers, after elevating them to stardom, in performing the tasks that the regime itself couldn’t accomplish; namely, to make the nation accept its bitter fate without complaining too much.
The third goal was to create a populist religious discourse that would rival that of the Muslims Brotherhood, thus depriving the latter of its religious appeal. The regime also needed someone to speak against the Brotherhood’s tendency to mix religion with politics.
The security apparatus kept a close eye on Islamists up to the January Revolution. Consequently, the Islamists owe their freedom to a revolution in which they didn’t take part. You may have noticed that the spectre of going back to prison came back to haunt the Islamists during the crisis of the constitutional declaration.
As for the proponents of a civil state, those who dread the prospect of another Iran-style theocracy unfolding in this country, they operate under the impression that their only hope for survival is defeating the other side once and for all. The fact that neither side can annihilate the other hasn’t yet been fully appreciated by any of the adversaries. Perhaps it is time for the Islamist current to admit that there are many among the civil state proponents who believe in the objectives of the revolution; namely, human dignity, freedom and democracy.
The revolution has been a shock to the Muslim Brotherhood, forcing it into a new ball game, one for which it was not totally prepared. Before the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood knew exactly where it stood. It managed to strike a balance between succumbing to repression and communicating with other activists, and between withdrawing into its own cocoon and engaging in public work. After the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood was forced into broad daylight, the price it had to pay to accede to the highest echelons of government. The psychological impact on its members was immense.
For one thing, the Muslim Brotherhood feel entitled to some kind of reward for the years they spent on the run or in prison. Their head-on encounter with power was not one they handled with finesse.
Another change, which hit the Muslim Brotherhood like a bolt of lightning, had to do with all the ideas the group had long entertained about violence, mobilising allies, winning votes and controlling the state apparatus, ideas that once put to the test were blown to smithereens, as the experience of the constitutional declaration and the referendum show. The Muslim Brotherhood knows now that it is not the only group capable of violence, not the only one that can mobilise supporters, and not the only one that can win votes at the ballot box.
The only remaining hope for the Muslim Brotherhood is to control the state apparatus, but that too, if past experience is anything to go by, is likely to be short-lived. The dismantling of these ideas, these articles of belief, has shaken the Muslim Brotherhood to the root.
The third change the Muslim Brotherhood is yet to acknowledge is that the connection between its members and the rest of the nation has been poisoned. Work and family relations are not as they used to be for Muslim Brotherhood members, who can no longer rely on the compassion and indulgence they once had.
The fourth change is that all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood — without exception — have turned into hawks. Gone is the reformist face that the Muslim Brotherhood once presented to the world, to be replaced by an exclusionist discourse approaching if not exceeding the hardline views of Sayed Qutb.
Now let’s consider the Muslim Brotherhood’s hope of controlling the state apparatus, or what is commonly referred to as tamkin, a word that can be translated loosely as “takeover”. This endeavour, if you ask me, is just as naive as it is doomed to failure. The whole idea of tamkin was geared towards slow change from within, or a gradual reformation of the state. Those who developed this concept weren’t thinking of general uprisings, let alone revolution; all they hoped for was to embed members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the important institutions of the country: the army, police, judiciary, etc. This is a task that could have taken forever to accomplish, for the regime was careful to banish any Muslim Brotherhood presence in its ranks through periodic purges, surgical strikes if you wish, not unlike what Israel does to Hamas in Gaza.
The implementation of tamkin at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood has a president in power is ludicrous. When the Muslim Brotherhood tries to get its members into the army or the prosecution office, with the blessing of the president, it loses more than it gains. This country has changed and it cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour, but the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t seem to realise that.
If the Muslim Brotherhood is so keen on power, then it has to accommodate the mood of the people and understand the changes that happened in society and culture. The Muslim Brotherhood must understand that the people are opposed to the use of religion for political advantage. The nation is becoming increasingly aware that the constitution matters and that no group should be allowed to dominate the scene.
The power struggle involving political Islam is going to shift at some point. The polarisation is likely to continue, but the general public may show signs of impatience with both sides of the conflict: the National Salvation Front (NSF), and the followers of political Islam.
The nation is not going to accommodate sweeping statements and overall simplifications for long. This is something that all of our politicians must understand. They have to learn to become more specific, and not dwell too much on the basics. People don’t need general views, but will be glad to see some detailed programmes and alternative solutions. I am also convinced that you cannot demonise your adversaries without diminishing your own popularity in the process.
If the NSF wants to become a serious contender, it has to realise that a major part of the population sympathises with it not because it is the formula they wish for, but because it was the only attempt at unity in the civil state camp so far. In other words, detesting the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t lead automatically to supporting the NSF.
The revolution proved its mettle when it withstood the violence directed against it under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But to survive, the revolution must meet two conditions. One is that the fight for the ideals of the revolution must continue, preferably with more people joining its ranks. The second is that the revolution must stay on the right track.
We keep our eyes open. We must have whistle blowers to keep the game honest. And we must listen when someone blows the whistle.
The very idea of the Egyptian revolution contradicts that of the religious state. Egypt is not ripe for theocracy, and never will be. Yes, there are obstacles ahead, but the momentum of the revolution is too strong to be reversed.

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