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Apples and Oranges
In a recent article, Dr. Abdel Moneim Said, director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, imagines how things would look like if the Muslim Brotherhood would run the country.
Monday, September 3,2007 18:35
by Foreign Exchange Blog

In a recent article, Dr. Abdel Moneim Said, director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, imagines how things would look like if the Muslim Brotherhood would run the country. His main advice is to look at Hamas rather than Turkey for any suggestions and similarities. The Muslim Brotherhood is more closely related, philosophically and culturally, to Hamas rather than Turkey’s Islamists. Therefore, Dr. Said is suggesting to find more control over private lives of the citizens, citing an example of Hamas’ forces touring beaches in Gaza preventing people from doing any “impious” activities.

I find my self agreeing in principle with Dr. Said’s main argument, however with some reservations. Comparing Turley’s Islamists with the Middle Eastern ones is like comparing apples and oranges. Turkey’s Islamists and the environment they “grew up” in is totally different from our environment. The political environment in Turkey is more institutional in nature, and therefore more mature. In the Middle East, however, things are totally different. The political environment is totally repressive and discouraging. No effective political institutions exist whatsoever. We are still living in the world of a one-man-show. Moreover, people are less interested and interactive in politics due to many cultural legacies, as well as economic conditions.

The point I am trying to make here is that the environment surrounding a person will play a major role in shaping his/her identity as well as his/her actions. In other words, Islamists in the Middle East will certainly suffer from the same problems their people and countries suffer from. They do not live and think in vacuum. They were raised up in the same culture, attending the same schools and universities, and shared many things with their people. The fact that they have different views concerning how political, economic, and social aspects should be in their communities does not make them any different from other political opposition in terms of their level of political sophistication. So Islamists will suffer from the same “political diseases” that the other political players suffer from. The fact that they operate and think within a religious reference/framework does not make them immune from their own societies’ “diseases.”

If we take a look at the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) we will find that they share many of the political “diseases” with the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, they both suffer from political fragmentation within their own organizations. For more than 20 years, the same political figures were dominating the NDP as well as the government. The head of the party and the state is in power for more than a quarter of a century. Some Ministers remained in power for more than 15 years. Only about four years ago did things start to change, mainly with the introduction of Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son and the General Secretary of the Political Committee, to the Egyptian political life. There was nothing really especial about him. It was just that new, young people bring new ideas with them. He started to put people with new ideas in critical positions within the party and then a step further, the government. Among them are the Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Investment, Minister of Information (who replaced the more than 18 year Minister of Information Safwat Al Sharif), and others. The same thing can be said about Muslim Brotherhood’s political fragmentation. They also suffer from the fact that their leader is there for his life time. It is true that the Egyptian police make it difficult for them to hold elections, but still they could have managed to do it if they wanted to. The same pattern of “reform” can also be monitored in the Brotherhood. For example, discussion started to come on the surface for the first time whether the Brotherhood should continue as a religious movement or transform into a political party. There are also talks about issuing their own detailed political program for the first time ever.

The same logic can be applied to the kind of people that were chosen to run the government under President Mubarak for all his term. Until the first years of the 21st century, we had Ministers and even Prime Ministers whose political activities started back in the mid-1960s. They all came with socialist mentality, despite the fact that I really question whether they had any political views as they seemed to me to be more of going with the flow. Leaving this aside, it is just enough to mention that living all their political and economic careers in a socialist era, they were asked to lead Egypt’s transition to a market economy. Wonderful! The reason for this is that people of trust were preferred over people with capabilities. The Muslim Brotherhood suffered from the same problem, relying mainly on older leasers whose mentalities were shaped in totally different conditions than the ones we are living in now.

In conclusion, when criticizing the Islamic movements in our region, one should be really aware of the community they live in. These people do not live in vacuum and therefore they should always be criticized relative to the conditions they are living in. The Islamists in Turkey could have never be the way they are given the same political, economic, and social conditions in Egypt. If the Egyptian political life develops so will the political players.

Posted in Other Opinions , Islamic Movements  
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