Democracy or Islam? The Struggles of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood


NPR| Salafists protesting Morsi’s rule

No one knows where Egypt is headed. As the first Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and democratically-elected President in Egypt, Mohammad Morsi must navigate the Egyptian political system to uphold the democratic ideals of the Arab Spring, while also satisfying his party base’s demands for greater Islamic jurisprudence in politics. The new Muslim Brotherhood government has sought to appease both interests by, in their vision, forming an Islamic-democracy. Adversely, they have been unable to satisfy any groups of Egyptians. The rise of the Salafists indicate that the Brotherhood has not shown enough promise and commitment to carry out Islamic reforms, while the growing demonstrations against the “Islamist takeover” of politics suggests that they have also neglected the democratic transition in Egypt. After a year in government rule, Morsi, and extension the Muslim Brotherhood continue to disappoint the Egyptian people. Ironically, while one side of Egyptians call the Brotherhood’s performance is not democratic enough, the other side claims that it is not Islamic enough.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s intolerance toward oppositional activity demonstrates its lack of commitment to the democratic principles of the revolution. At the forefront of the protesters demands during the Egypt uprising was the call for greater political and press freedoms, which the Muslim Brotherhood has only continued to suppress under their rule. The government often slaps people who dare openly criticize the government with absurd charges including “insulting Islam” or “disrupting order” like comedian Bassem Youssef who mocked President Morsi on the Daily Show. Those who take to the streets are subject to arbitrary arrests, and even brutal torture. Flogging and rape of protesters are even more prevalent now than they were under the Mubarak regime. The Coptic Christians face the brunt of the crackdowns, and are typically handed harsher, and longer jail sentences than their Muslim counterparts.

UK Times

UK Times| Egyptians protesting Morsi’s rule

While Egyptians push Morsi’s government to end its crackdown and enforce the rule of law, the Islamists have also been exerting pressure. They have essentially called for the Islamization of all political institutions to guarantee the smooth implementation of Shar’iah Law. The recent threat to purge the Judiciary reflects the Muslim Brotherhood’s latest attempts to appease its political base. The Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) remains as the only institution not dominated by Islamists. For the secular and liberal Egyptians, the SCC represents the last buffer of the government from enacting Shari’ah Law. After the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists swept 70% of seats during the 2012 Parliamentary elections, the SCC quickly moved to dissolve Parliament and declared that the Elections Law unconstitutional. The Court has effectively delayed Parliamentary elections since, and given an opportunity for more secular opposition groups to mobilize and organize to challenge the Islamists in the next round of elections.

If the Morsi administration follows with its threat to purge the Judiciary, it would undoubtedly replace the secular, liberal Justices with Islamists. The implications of a purge would affirm the Muslim Brotherhood moving toward a religious autocracy rather than a democracy, but the fact that Morsi has not already absorbed the SCC also suggests that his administration still seeks to ensure its commitment to upholding democracy. Whatever may be the answer, the President’s new decree that gives him unchecked, absolute power only further complicates the question on the actual intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Following the SCC rejection of the Elections Law, Morsi announced a “necessary” decree that would give himself the power to enact any law, until a new Parliament is elected. As it currently stands, the Muslim Brotherhood government not only has executive power, but also legislative power. Morsi and his government have been walking on a tight-rope of trying to consolidate political power under the Muslim Brotherhood, while at the same time avoiding appearing as monopolizing power. Consolidating power is crucial for the Islamists to guarantee the commitment of all political institutions to champion democratic ideals, especially those with a vested interest in maintaining power for themselves. The Judiciary and the military in particular have restricted the Brotherhood’s activity in government, including delaying drafting the Constitution and delaying the Parliamentary elections. However, overreaching for power also gives the allusion that the new post-revolution government is merely a guise for a religious autocracy. Despite the government’s new sweeping powers, it has not moved to push for Shari’ah law—nor has it moved to enact democratic reforms either.

Politics aside, a major factor that united Islamists and secular and liberal Egyptians against Hosni Mubarak was the grim economic conditions that induced a wide income gap and high unemployment. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, considering the lack of economic expertise and experience of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as rampant corruption embedded in Egyptian society. Before the revolution, the extent of Brotherhood economic activity was financing welfare services. Now in power, they lack any comprehensive economic plan. Instead, they continue to resort to charity which has little impact on economic growth. Even if Morsi were to produce a proposal to close the economic gap, businessmen and networks of patronage from the Mubarak era still exist in Egypt. It is unclear how the Muslim Brotherhood will dismantle corruption and rein in these Mubarak-remnant institutions.

The Muslim Brotherhood cannot fulfill the wishes of all Egyptians. It is not democratic enough for the Egyptians who start the revolution and ousted Mubarak in hopes for a freer Egypt. Neither is it Islamic enough. Islamists presumed that the Muslim Brotherhood, which historically called for the implementation of Shar’iah Law to govern society, would do exactly that. Even though they may have consolidated power under the Muslim Brotherhood, they have struggled to translate the power into policy. They have failed to even address economic grievances that impact all Egyptians, which would undoubtedly provide some increase in support and confidence in the government. As the clock ticks and the threat of another mass uprising looms over the Muslim Brotherhood government, Morsi must choose between following the Islamic or democratic vision—because executing both will not work. Time to go

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