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00:53, 20 September 2014 Saturday
Update: 09:23, 15 January 2012 Sunday

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Egypt's victorious Islamists and the future of political Islam (1)
Egypt's victorious Islamists and the future of political Islam (1)

We will try to look at the victory of Egyptian Islamists, burning and privileged questions around their victories, and the transformation of political Islam concept in the case of Egypt.

By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin

While Egyptian uprising was a turning point which changed Egyptian people’s fate, Egyptian army which controlled the country after the uprisings and the delay of elections caused worry in the minds of people long time. Ghada Chehade was putting her anxiety into words by saying that “The populist Egyptian revolution appeared to be a success, so much so that several countries in the region followed suit. The dynamic of the ouster of Mubarak entailed a major victory and much deserved jubilation on the part of the Egyptian people. As the dust settled and the months passed, the people’s victory turned sour, as the deep rooted control structure refused to relinquish power.”

After a running battle, Egyptian people attained their fateful elections at the end. According to Zvi Bar’el, there are two major achievements so far in Egypt's elections: The fact that they took place despite conditions of uncertainty, and the historic voter turnout - 62% in the first round of voting.

In these days, we began to focus on the results of Egyptian elections when we forget hand- wringing processes before the elections.

There are many issues which deserve to be examined in depth. But, in this analysis, we will try to look at the victory of Egyptian Islamists, burning and privileged questions around their victories, and the transformation of political Islam concept in the case of Egypt. We hope not to pass over main developments in these limited pages.

According to unofficial results, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and the Salafi Al-Nour Party received two thirds of votes. This means that in one way or another, Islamists will come to power. In this context, we prefer to focus on the content of issue, the effects on the society and the region, rather than externals, the numbers or numeric data of this election.

The victory of Islamists and some questions…

“Egypt’s first significant election in 50 years showed a sweep for the Islamists.” says Joyce Chediac and he asks: “Why is this?”

According to him, the timing of the elections favored the Muslim Brotherhood. “In February, Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin predicted, ‘If the elections are immediate, many people will vote for the Muslims because they are organized, they have the media … but if you allow for a year of real freedom, the left and the youth can then organize themselves.’”

On the other hand, “in Egypt today, even the word ‘secular’ is tainted with the connotation of foreign intervention. Egyptians who favor separation of mosque and state are not even using this word. Instead, they are calling for a ‘civil’ government or a government of ‘civilians.’” he says. “Under a secular government, President Hosni Mubarak stole $60 billion from the people of Egypt. His regime signed an agreement with Israel selling them natural gas at rates lower than those paid by Egyptians. This secular government sold off the state-controlled economy to multinational corporations, pleasing Wall Street banks but impoverishing the Egyptian people. And when the people exerted any rights, they were clubbed and jailed. This went on for 30 years… Furthermore, the two countries in that region that have made significant economic gains for their populations, Iran and Turkey, have Islamist rulers.”

So, this was another advantage for the Islamists. Probably, he asserts, one of the most important factor which lies behind the victory of Islamists was their sensibility on the issue of Palestine. “Regaining the rights and territory of the Palestinian people is still a burning issue to Arab people.”

As a last dynamic, he focuses on the ability of organization. “Meanwhile, many Egyptians have observed the Islamists in their mosques and neighborhoods and see how they operate. They are a known entity. Many provide social services, food and medicine in poor areas where the Egyptian government does not. So, they have concluded, why not elect them to office and see what they will do.”

There are some burning questions which wait to be answered after elections. Actually, these questions are related to the future of Islamists and political Islam in the region. The issues we will look at here are shaping around these questions or their answers. So, firstly we want to learn what these questions are.

Joyce Chediac orders these questions as follows:

“How will this new government function? Will it guarantee the rights and safety of non-Muslim minorities, like the Coptic Christian community, long under heavy attack by right-wingers and the government?

Will it be pressured to open the Rafah border and end the blockade of Gaza? Or will it keep the Egyptian treaty with Israel, a lynchpin of Washington’s domination of the Middle East that was imposed by the Camp David Accords?

Will the multitudes come back into the streets and, if so, over what issues?

What will the left parties and the youth do and say to bring clarity and to win over the people? How will this impact Egyptian women?”

On the other hand, “three separate issues converge here and should be addressed in parallel: The Arab capacity to democratize, the meaning and behavior of incumbent Islamists, and the attitude of Western countries.” says Rami G. Khouri.

His issues are as follows:

“On the first point, the capacity and commitment of Arab societies to democratic practices, including open elections, a free press, and coalition governments, now seems firmly affirmed, and in fact was never in doubt, except perhaps in the minds of lingering colonialists and racists.

The second issue -- the new reality of democratically elected incumbent Islamists -- in fact comprises two sub-issues: Why are they victorious, and how they will behave in power? The first is easy: Islamists are sweeping the polls because their brand of faith-based good governance appeals to the two dominant needs of citizens in the realms of their personal dignity and their public life. Islamists also are reaping the rewards of being the main parties that were courageous enough to challenge the old Arab authoritarian orders. Their victories are no surprise and were widely expected.

How Islamists behave in power remains to be seen. Many people raise legitimate concerns about how Islamists might enforce new rules on social issues, or relations with Israel, the United States, Arab states and Iran. The signals most Islamists have been sending in recent months suggest that they understand the nature of coalition governments and democratic compromises. They also now have to deal with the new reality of being accountable to the entire citizenry -- not just their narrow base of supporters. They must now deliver on important issues like deepening democracy, creating jobs, improving education, affirming the role of the justice system, and other such pressing national challenges. If they govern well, they will be rewarded and re-elected; if they fail the unforgiving test of incumbency, they will be rejected in the next election.

The third issue is the most troubling, because it suggests that many skeptics in the West and in the Middle East itself are not fully committed to Arab democratic transformations, but rather seek more Arab democracy only if new elected officials are friendly to the United States and Israel and do not try to institute strict new social rules. I suspect that reasonable people across the region and the world have learned the lessons of their mistakes in preventing democratically victorious Arab Islamists from assuming power in the past, especially in Algeria and Palestine. The situation today is very different, because elected Islamist parties ride a powerful wave of populist legitimacy that did not exist before.”

Before looking at the reactions against the victory of Islamists, here, summarizing of structures and programs of Freedom and Justice Party and al-Nour Party will be very helpful in order to understand the debates we will examine in the next parts.

Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)

Jadaliyya and Ahram Online help us for identifying FJP very broadly:

“The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, could not have come into being without the 25 January revolution. Up to that time, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Egypt’s most powerful Islamist organization, was not only denied the right to form parties, but also barred – at least legally – from political life. As a result, the group had to pay a heavy price in detentions and repression to practice politics under the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak.

The group had been trying to get a foothold in the country’s political arena for decades but was met with entrenched opposition by the Mubarak regime, which tended to accommodate the Brotherhood, but only within strict limits. Now, after the 25 January uprising, the group’s political ambitions have resurged on an unprecedented scale.

Officially founded in May 2011, the FJP says that it is committed to a modern state, democracy, women’s rights, and national unity. The FJP’s initial membership of nearly nine thousand included one thousand women and one hundred Copts. New members are subject to a probationary period of six months after which, and based on their performance record, they become eligible for permanent membership.

According to MB spokesman Walid Shalabi, the FJP and the MB share the same Islamic ideals but are separate in matters of management and finance. ‘Each will support the other when necessary,’ he said. ‘The MB has a bigger role than the party. As a non-governmental [institution], the ‎MB is working on developing numerous aspects of Egyptian society, through ‎preaching for instance. By contrast, the FJP engages only in politics,’ Shalabi told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online.‎ ‘The MB and the FJP will cooperate on certain occasions, during elections, for ‎example,’ he added.

Before the Revolution

The MB was founded in 1928 by Hassan el-Banna, who was a schoolteacher and religious scholar. During the 1940s, its influence grew very rapidly as traditional political parties, especially al-Wafd, began to lose their credibility. On the eve of the 1952 Revolution, which deposed the monarchy, the MB was already considered the largest political group in the country. Once an ally of the Brotherhood, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser banned political parties and eliminated the MB’s political role during the 1950s and 1960s, using much violence to that end. Sadat allowed MB leaders to resume their work in the 1970s, and thus the MB was resurrected after an absence that lasted more than two decades. Under Mubarak, the Brotherhood was generally allowed to participate in political life without an official legal status, though the degree to which the Mubarak regime tolerated the group’s activism varied over time.

With their activities resumed, the MB grew in influence over the past few decades and spawned chapters in other Arab countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain, though its name varied across countries. The MB maintains that its foremost task is preaching and charity work, but its interest in politics has steadily grown over time.

Shortly before the January 25 Revolution, the MB announced that it would not take part in the nationwide mass protests that eventually led to Mubarak’s ouster—a decision that the group apparently reversed later. The group is often criticized for its initial hesitance to join the protests, even though its youth broke ranks with their leaders and participated in the 25 January demonstrations. Additionally, many MB members were quite active during the eighteen-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, and played central roles in defending the occupation of Tahrir Square by protesters, along with the rest of the political movements that took part in it.

Relationship with Other Political Parties

‘The FJP will cooperate with all parties and political movements, not just the Islamists, as long as this is in the country’s best interest,’ Shalabi said when asked about the FJP’s relationship with other political forces.‎

In June 2011, the MB and seventeen other political parties, including the Wafd, formed the Democratic Alliance for Egypt. The alliance included more than forty political parties at one point. Today only eleven parties remain, including Al-Karama and Ayman Nour’s Ghad Parties, after successive defections occurred due to ideological differences between Islamists and non-Islamists forces, as well as complaints that the FJP was dominating the coalition’s candidate list.

Stances on Salient Issues

Form of Government

The FJP supports a parliamentary form of government on the grounds that such a system would provide a healthy balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Social Justice

In the FJP’s mission statement, ‘justice’ is defined as consisting of three elements: (a) equality of individuals before the law; (b) social justice; and (c) solidarity among all members of society. According to the FJP’s platform, social equality will only be achieved when every citizen is granted the right to participate in national production and be a recipient of state benefits. Providing basic needs to the handicapped and those unable to work, the platform reads, is also imperative.

Economic Policy

The FJP’s platform clearly supports private ownership, private business, and free market solutions. According to the platform, the state’s economic role should be limited to providing a healthy investment climate and maintaining the country’s infrastructure. Hassan Malek, a businessman and ranking MB figure said that the principles guiding economic policies followed under Mubarak were sound, but corruption and nepotism marred their implementation. He said he supported the policies that Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Mubarak’s minister of trade and industries, adopted in order to boost foreign direct investments in Egypt. In contrast with Malek’s remarks, the FJP’s platform expresses opposition to what it describes as ‘the imposition of neoliberal economic policies.’

Religion and State

In its platform and public statements, the FJP pledges commitment to a ‘civil state,’ which is not led by the military or clerics, but rather seeks guidance in the makased, or ‘objectives,’ of sharia. Non-Muslims should be allowed to follow their own practices in matters of personal status, the FJP says. Otherwise, Sharia must offer the general frame of reference for decision-making. The platform’s position on the form that the next government should take makes scant reference to religion and more or less resembles other programs of non-Islamist parties.

Foreign Relations

The FJP’s platform describes the ‘Palestinian problem’ as one of Egypt’s most critical national security concerns. The party supports Palestinians’ rights to form its own state with Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the right of return.

The Brotherhood’s position on Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has been fairly ambiguous. A week after the downfall of Mubarak, a Brotherhood spokesperson stated that the group respects the treaty, whereas other officials have often said that it should be ‘revised.’

Inflexibility

The widespread impression that the MB and its newly formed party are moving toward a ‎strict interpretation of Islamic law has prompted secular activists to denigrate the MB and the FJP. Some secular activists claim that these groups pose a threat to ‎religious freedom, free speech, and gender equality.‎”

Al-Nour Party

Again, we will apply the Jadaliyya and Ahram Online for summarizing the structure and program of al-Nour Party:

“Established in the wake of the 25 January uprising, Al-Nour (The Light) Party is the largest of Egypt’s three licensed Salafist parties (the other two being Al-Asala and Al-Fadila Parties). It was established by Al-Da‘wa Al-Salafiyya (The Salafist Call), Egypt’s largest Salafist group, commonly known as Al-Daawa Movement. Al-Daawa started in Alexandria where it now enjoys a considerable following.

Al-Nour Party was officially licensed in June 2011. Official registration is of paramount importance in Egypt at the present time, as the current election law limits the right to contest two-thirds of the seats of the upcoming parliament to a limited number of officially registered parties, including Al-Nour. Under the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, the state generally did not allow for the formation of Islamist parties, but after the revolution many Islamist groups managed to obtain official political party license.

Before the Revolution

Even though Salafists seemed uninterested in forming parties before the revolution, Yasser Borhami, a prominent Salafist preacher and a leading figure within Al-Daawa, called for the establishment of a political party that would work to unify Egypt’s Islamic movement and apply Islamic principles to all aspects of social and political life.

Many of Al-Nour’s current members had been involved in Al-Daawa, which has a presence all over Egypt and boasts a particularly formidable stronghold in Alexandria. Prior to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the group had not been closely engaged in opposition politics on grounds that it was considered sinful to oppose a Muslim ruler. Salafist leaders even discouraged their followers from participating in the 25 January demonstrations, which ultimately turned into a mass popular uprising. Al-Nour Party spokesperson Nader Bakar once stated that the Salafists’ refusal to demonstrate on 25 January had been a positive step, because, otherwise, ‘the Americans would have ordered Mubarak to massacre them all.’

Relationship with Other Political Parties

Al-Nour had been part of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-led electoral coalition, the Democratic Alliance, before it defected in September. According to reports, Al-Nour withdrew from the coalition due to disagreements with the MB’s political party, the Freedom and Justice (FJP), over its share in the coalition’s joint candidate lists.

Party spokesperson Bakkar said in a press conference that Al-Nour’s dispute had not been with the FJP, but rather with liberal and secularist parties.

Stances on Salient Issues

Form of Government

According to Bakkar, the party supports a hybrid form of government combining elements of a presidential political system with that of a parliamentary one, along the lines of the current French system. This is in contrast with the position of the MB, which is known to be a strong proponent a parliamentary political system.

Social Justice

The party’s platform states that there should be a ‘just and equal distribution’ of income and wealth among the Egyptian public. This contrasts with most mainstream parties, which usually call for establishing a decent minimum wage without explicit reference to the need for wealth redistribution. Al-Nour’s platform invokes the Islamic concept of ‘zakat,’ which stipulates that well-to-do Muslims should allocate fixed portions of their annual incomes to the poor.

Economic Policy

According to the party’s platform, the national economy should be managed in conformity with Islamic principles, which should also inform legislation governing the banking sector and loan finance. The party rejects loan interest on grounds that it contradicts Islamic values. The platform also underscores the importance of anti-trust laws and the government’s role in protecting consumers against monopolistic practices, both were subjects of heated debates in Egypt before the January 25 Revolution.

Al-Nour further calls for promoting national agricultural production so as to allow Egypt to attain a degree of self-sufficiency and food security, an area where the country is considered particularly vulnerable.

Religion and State

Al-Nour spokesperson Bakkar said that Al-Nour’s campaign motto and its emphasis on ‘identity’ reflect the raison d’être of the Islamist Bloc’s parliamentary bid, namely ‘the application of Sharia [Islamic Law] in a gradual way that suits the nature of society.’ Bakkar’s statement implicitly refers to a common belief among many Islamist activists that Egypt’s journey to the complete application of Sharia should be slow and gradual so as not to alienate people. The term ‘modern state,’ Bakkar added, signified neither a secular state based on conventional Western understandings nor a fundamentalist religious state, but rather a modern state that relies on science in pursuing progress and prosperity.

Yasser Borhami, considered a godfather of the party, once wrote that Islam was ‘both religion and state’ and could not be separated from politics, although he stressed this was not an endorsement of a theocratic state. Like many Al-Nour officials, Borhami emphasizes the importance of Article Two of the Egyptian Constitution, which holds that Islam is the religion of the state. Al-Nour’s leaders often criticize the use of terms like ‘civil’ or ‘secular’ state, arguing that secularism does not mean the separation of religion and politics, but rather the complete alienation of religion from life altogether. Secularism, they argue, amounts to atheism.

Foreign Relations

The section on foreign relations in Al-Nour’s political platform is atypically brief, outlining a broad commitment to enhancing Egypt’s regional and international role and improving its relations with neighboring countries. There is no mention of the party’s stance vis-à-vis Palestinian rights or the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, although the document stresses the importance of respecting existing treaties and conventions.

Al-Nour Party once indicated that it opposes the annulment of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, but called for revising some of its provisions. In another instance, however, it pledged to decide on the future of the treaty through a national referendum.”


 



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