Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: Privatising Egyptian policy

Saadeddin Ibrahim’s recent initiative on reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is a good example of how personal projects should not ignore popular sentiment, writes Ahmed Youssef Ahmed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Privatisation in the economy has caused us considerable stress. Now it has reared its head in politics on two recent occasions. Both involved initiatives related to major issues. The first, proposed by Saadeddin Ibrahim, was in regard to a so-called “national reconciliation”; the second, undertaken by former MP Tawfiq Okasha, related to relations with Israel and how to use them in the service of Egyptian national interests.

Due to limitations of space, I will discuss only the first initiative here, leaving the second to next week’s column.

Professor Ibrahim has frequently pressed the idea of reconciliation between the Egyptian regime and its Muslim Brotherhood adversary in order to spare Egyptian bloodshed. He fears that the ongoing conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood could escalate into a civil war because of their numerical strength (approximately four million members, according to his estimate) and their qualitative weight. He holds that reconciliation with the group is inevitable.

The Muslim Brotherhood came under attack during the monarchic period and under the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak regimes. In all these periods some form of reconciliation took place, whether explicitly or implicitly. Therefore, he argues, if reconciliation is going to happen sooner or later, it is better to make it sooner as this will save lives.

According to his initiative, the regime should revise its outlook toward the Muslim Brotherhood. You cannot describe a group that numbers between three and four million as terrorist, he says. So how should the reconciliation process begin?

Ibrahim takes issue with those who suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood should take the initiative by offering concessions. How can they make concessions when they possess nothing and some of them are refugees abroad, he asks. Accordingly, the ruling authorities, which control everything, should declare their readiness to engage in reconciliation and propose the shape this should take. He cites, as a model, reconciliation between the Prophet Mohamed and the Quraysh following the Prophet’s conquest of Mecca.

If the regime did take such a step, would the Muslim Brotherhood respond favourably? Ibrahim says that Muslim Brotherhood elders would approve because they see their organisation on the verge of death and they hope to revive it. The Muslim Brotherhood youth, on the other hand, would be opposed because of their sense of the need to exact revenge.

But one cannot help but observe that not even Muslim Brotherhood leaders have indicated, even implicitly, that they would welcome reconciliation and that, in the final analysis, neither side (whether the regime or the MB) is keen on the idea.

To this, Ibrahim responds: “We have agreed to raise the question of reconciliation at the social level since whenever the subject arises the government and official agencies say that the matter is in the hands of the people.” He added that his group plans to organise a number of activities in the coming period to stimulate public discussion of the reconciliation question.

Naturally, as an Egyptian citizen, not to mention prominent member of the Egyptian academic elite, Ibrahim has every right to propose an initiative that he believes will serve the national interest. But, by the same token, it is our duty to challenge his ideas on the basis of the same concern.

What first strikes one in his initiative is that it makes no reference whatsoever to the violence perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. A foreign scholar or politician reading his initiative would immediately imagine that the Muslim Brothers have been inexplicably victimised by a regime that was simply bent on reducing them to a state of wretchedness.

I hardly need to state that all Egyptians, with the exception of those four million Muslim Brotherhood members (according to Ibrahim’s calculations), personally experienced Muslim Brotherhood violence in word and deed. To be clear, this does not mean that every Muslim Brother practiced violence, or that all the violence emanated from the Muslim Brotherhood.

But we certainly have abundant evidence of the group’s incitement to violence and acts of violence fully documented by audio-visual means. In addition, the fact that a huge surge in violence followed on the heels of the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime needs no further proof.

The words of that Muslim Brotherhood leader who promised that the moment that Mohamed Morsi was reinstated would be the moment that the violence ceased in Sinai, and that vow by another Muslim Brotherhood leader to burn Egypt to the ground, still rings in our ears. I know many will object that I am only stating the obvious. But I am forced to because there happen to be people who ignore it.

Moreover, Ibrahim’s initiative not only ignores Muslim Brotherhood violence, it goes so far as to say that under the monarchy and then under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, the Muslim Brothers came under attack and that, subsequently, on each occasion there was an explicit or implicit reconciliation with the group. What this clearly implies is that the Muslim Brothers were the innocent victims of violence in all those eras, with regimes ultimately compelled to relent.

With Ibrahim’s permission, I will take this opportunity to disagree with him fundamentally on this score. The Muslim Brotherhood was not the victim in those earlier eras; they were the ones who started the violence. Violence was one of the instruments of the movement and its members used it to exact revenge against their perceived enemies, or in order to hasten their arrival to power.

Just for the sake of a reminder, the Muslim Brotherhood is the only political force in Egypt that persisted in using violence for political ends. Ruling regimes have clashed with other groups, but only the Muslim Brotherhood systematically used violence against the state.

Second, I was struck by the means that Ibrahim used to unveil his initiative. He chose for this purpose a dinner banquet that saw him sit down with a group of Muslim Brotherhood leaders who have fled Egypt, some big-shot opportunists and a former president of an Arab state who harbours immense ill will toward the post-30 June revolutionary order in Egypt.

I would have expected this eminent sociologist and director of a well-known research centre to have first presented his idea, after fleshing it out, to members of the intellectual and political elite so they could discuss it and put matters in their proper perspective. I would also have thought that a person such as Ibrahim, who has made so many contributions to public opinion studies, would have tried to test the contention, asserted by many, that public opinion in Egypt is opposed to the notion of reconciliation, at least until the Muslim Brotherhood offers a sincere apology, acknowledges its mistakes and vows to reform itself.

If he had tested these contentions, then perhaps he would have come to the conclusion that the concrete conditions do not yet exist for his initiative to succeed, and that the most it would produce are torrents of mutual recriminations and curses, of which Egypt has had more than its fill.

Perhaps he would also reach the conviction that the best way to save Egypt is not through reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood but rather by persisting in the fight against terrorism, accelerating and strengthening the drive to democratisation, moving forward with greater determination toward the achievement of genuine development, and taking more of the urgent steps needed to realise social justice.

As for the model of the Prophet and the Quraysh that Ibrahim cited, it does not apply here. The Prophet did not reconcile with the non-believers of the Quraysh; rather, he forgave them after God granted him a great victory over them.

The writer is a professor of political science at Cairo University.

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