Few would dispute that the government in Egypt is in crisis and that hope for a way out is growing dimmer by the day with each added complication. None would deny that this crisis has become a heavy burden on the country. It is sapping its assets, hampering its progress, weakening its potential and gnawing away at its regional and international status. Such a situation naturally compels us all to search for solutions and to consider all possible approaches, even if they may initially strike one as unconventional or unfeasible.
The sources of the crisis are many. They are also familiar to all, since they are the topics of the media and the commentaries of politicians and political observers here and abroad. We know, for example, that the government in Egypt is facing very difficult, extraordinary and intricate circumstances. The current government — by which I mean all branches of government, from the executive and the cabinet to the Shura Council — assumed power at a time in which the revolution was in decline. The revolution’s demands and aspirations continued to arise, but so too now did widespread disappointment and complications.
To compound the situation, there then emerged a crisis in government plagued by multifaceted deficiencies. Some of these deficiencies, as even those in positions of responsibility acknowledge, are due to the lack of experience and expertise in a camp that clung tenaciously to its right to rule, even though it lacked a competent elite. The deteriorating state of the economy further aggravated the problems in light of the mounting economic straits of the people and mounting alarm as to what this portends.
Many among us pay insufficient attention to the psychological state of the Egyptian people when confronted with the unfamiliar and uncertainty about the future. But we should not underestimate the impact of this psychological factor at this phase in our country’s life when the gaps have expanded to unprecedented distances between reality and hope, chaos and stability, love and hate, as well as between tyranny and justice, lawlessness and discipline, lies and truthfulness, corruption and transparency, and the hidden and visible.
Let us be frank with ourselves and admit that there no longer exists a respectable and accepted centre. Many, especially amongst the middle class and the educated public in general, are inclined to leave the country if they have the means. Many more are inclined to extremism — religiously, politically, morally and behaviourally.
As I said, the causes for the current crisis are many. But not all of these do we acknowledge openly. Among those that we are reluctant to speak about is the continued existence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the nebulousness of its organisation and the ambiguous role it plays sometimes, if not most of the time.
I had imagined, as did many of my colleagues, that with the fall of the Mubarak regime, which was an extension of an order that classed the Muslim Brothers as an enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood would dissolve itself as a political proselytising entity and, like similar Islamist and non-Islamist entities abroad, transform itself into a political party that would seek political power through normal, ordinary competition in the political domain. I had based my prediction on precedents, such as when the Egyptian Communist Party dissolved itself, after which its members joined, as individuals, the fields of intellectual and media activity. It was a milestone in Egypt’s cultural, political and intellectual life that benefited greatly from the input of these outstanding energies.
I can see no reason why the Muslim Brotherhood should not dissolve itself on its own accord and declare that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is the sole agency that embodies and expresses the political ideas of the group and seeks to realise its goals. I believe that the only thing that prevents the Brotherhood from taking such a step is that there are individuals in the group who have a vested personal stake in perpetuating its current modus operandi as a trinity: a political/proselytising movement, a political party and a president. The three are one, the one is three but indivisible.
I believe religious-political movements have much to gain from dissolving their nebulous, multifunctional, multipurpose organisations and settling down as ordinary political parties. This belief derives from a conviction that I acquired after years of following the activities of political parties in Europe and Latin America that had developed out of underground or even open groups and movements. Among the many advantages is the removal of the cloak of secrecy from their practices and their members, especially those that the group has assigned to perform public functions, political roles or government jobs.
Much of the suspicion and mistrust that abound in the political arena these days derives from the mystery surrounding secret or semi-secret groups and organisations. The widespread speculation regarding their sources of funding, their internal management methods, the scale of their members’ allegiances, and the priority they give to obeying their leaders over considerations of competence, professionalism and dedication in their political, administrative and patriotic performance are neither healthy nor politically productive. The same applies to the many rumours regarding the advantages that accrue to members through their membership, and their commitment to the conditions of membership. All these questions are sufficient to cast a permanent shadow of suspicion over the relationship between political officials who hail from this group and national security agencies such as the army, general intelligence and the police. Nor are such anxieties without basis.
In addition, it is hard to picture good working and peer relations between government officials who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and those that do not. If a key principle governing senior government posts is political neutrality, what is one to make of officials who hail from an organisation whose very history, record of behaviour and current practices are characterised by secrecy, non-transparency and blind allegiance to the group above all else, including in their workplace? Surely in such cases one can only expect a fractured sense responsibility, confusion in decision-making processes, tensions in the work environment and perhaps the government and political environment as well. Indeed, evidence of these phenomena has already surfaced in relations within the presidential staff, between this office and the judiciary and the premiership, and between all of these and other agencies of the government, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic corps.
At another level, there is a phenomenon associated with these organisations that needs to be addressed in order to avoid harm to Islam. In the past few months in particular, the laws and principles of Islam have become pieces in political games being played by political parties and the media. A religious group with a political agenda may see it in its interests to play the religious card, indifferent to the social and political price this could exact from the nation as the consequence of the group’s deliberate mixture between politics, which is inherently many-sided, subject to whims and fluctuations in mood and not always innocent of ulterior motives, and the lofty principles of faith that no person or group should sully in the arena of political games. At the same time, political life can be severely jeopardised by the rivalry between religious extremists, especially when they begin to engage in battles of religious one-upmanship or take it upon themselves to intervene in the affairs of other nations on the grounds of the universality of the religion, regardless of how their behaviour and actions might be detrimental to the interests and welfare of the Egyptian people or to their national security.
At the moment it might seem acceptable for a political party and the group it derives from to be key players in the Egyptian political fray. But what may be possible in extraordinary times is not acceptable in times of normality and stability. I am certain that there will come a point when the difference, so as not to say contradiction, between the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood and those of the FJP will become apparent. History offers plenty of examples of such partings of ways between a party and its mother organisation. In all events, it is hardly logical to treat every Muslim Brotherhood leader as though he is fit for a key position in the FJP, the government or administration. In like manner, it does not stand to reason that every social, economic or military issue can be handled independently and exclusively by the Muslim Brotherhood. That is, unless the logic or expectation is that the Muslim Brotherhood is meant not only to supplant the party but also the state, or that the government and the state are vehicles to serve the purposes and ends of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Finally, I believe that the branches of the Egyptian government, which are frequently described as ancient, cannot sustain the continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force that plies whatever weight it chooses. The multi-party system cannot support the bulge that this group forms in the political system and the distortion it creates in the balances of political dynamics. Consider, too, that the nebulous status of the Muslim Brotherhood may also be taken as justification on the part of other political forces to create similar secret or auxiliary groups, a phenomenon that would give rise to a parallel political party system. Nor can the institution of the Egyptian presidency sustain the continued existence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which will always have interests abroad that may or may not converge with those of the state. Sources close to Egyptian diplomatic circles have already observed instances in which the overlaps and contradictions caused by the Brotherhood’s extraterritorial dimension have affected Egypt’s Arab and African relations in particular. Egypt’s national security agencies, too, cannot sustain the continued presence of the Muslim Brotherhood as it currently exists. Certainly, they will not be able to stand by much longer as security and policing roles and functions are assumed by a group that is not subject to any form of political or financial oversight, legal or constitutional regulations or restrictions, or the rules and conventions of the international intelligence community.
The foregoing considerations combined have inspired this call for the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood or, at least, for immediate steps to totally neutralise it politically by ceasing its engagement in politics. I hope that officials in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, in the ruling FJP, or in the president’s office will discuss this call, separately or together, for it is in the higher interests of stability at home and the revival of Egypt’s status and prestige abroad.
The writer is a political analyst and director of the Arab centre for Development and Futuristic research.