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After political Islam?
After political Islam?
Despite its significant gains, the Muslim Brotherhood still needs to decide how to balance its social and governmental aspirations
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is undergoing notable changes in the context of its participation in the parliamentary elections currently taking place.
Monday, October 1,2007 17:25
by Khalil Alanani KhalilAlanani.Blogspot.com
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is undergoing notable changes in the context of its participation in the parliamentary elections currently taking place. These changes are bringing observers closer to appreciating the real power of the group in terms of its organisation and popularity. They are neither related to the numerical ceiling the Brotherhood might reach in the current election nor the extent to which it realises political power in the future parliament as much as they are related to the style of thought the group deploys in dealing with the atmosphere of "vague" openness the Egyptian political arena has experienced for nearly a year. Yet contrary to both those optimistic about and fearful of the group gaining a powerful role in the coming period, the group"s positions, both in terms of thought and "creed", do not enable it to reap the fruit of such a role, at least not in the foreseeable future.
The question agonising the Brotherhood is no longer how it can gain official legitimacy, for current events have proven that the group is present and influential in the plans of all players in political life, including some of the pillars of the regime itself. Rather, the burning question now is how it can surpass the stage of "political Islam" to what comes after, entrenching its presence in a "civil" form rather than through religious slogans that take more than they give.
The Muslim Brotherhood, like all vital forces in Egyptian society, realises that the doors have been opened and that the wheels of change will not turn in reverse. This implies that the group"s coming into the light is but a question of time. Yet this relaxation also carries with it many demands as the opportunities it provides, and the Brotherhood must deal with them in a different manner than it has been accustomed to.
This is the first time the Brotherhood has played a political role with such intensity and openness and without equivocation or secret manoeuvering since its activities were banned in 1954. It is also the first time all the various political powers have competed, including those who oppose the Brotherhood in method and creed, such as the Tagammu Party, for the honour of coordinating with the Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections and using them as a shield against the power of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). At the same time, some of the wings of the NDP itself are playing the Brotherhood card, in secret or openly, to allow the interest of one faction to win at the expense of another in the equation of rule. Statements by several influential party members during the elections campaign indicate this.
The Brotherhood now has a sense of unprecedented freedom of movement that has allowed it to organise public conferences and popular marches without security restrictions or bureaucratic obstacles. It was previously subject to campaigns involving the storming of its offices and the arrest of candidates as a ritual of election seasons in the past. In this context, many pressing questions are arising as to how the Brotherhood can benefit from the current atmosphere. Should it advance its ranks so as to be in direct contact with citizens but this time via the door of power and not simply preaching, as has usually been the case? Or should it wait and bide its time until the picture is clearer and the developing scene of openness confirmed?
How can the group hold onto gains it has made over the past period, the most important of which has been plying the unwritten admission from all political forces that it is present and enjoys influence? How can it transform this admission into a contract of official legitimacy? Should its priority be to gain legitimacy, or to remain a fluid entity that can benefit from the pragmatic calculations of all players?
It seems clear until now that the group is following a cautious method of approach. It does not want to become deeply involved in the scene of change dominating the Egyptian arena and it refuses to be pulled along behind the "flippancy" of some of the other opposition forces that are rushing to reap the fruit before it ripens. At the same time, however, it is trying to benefit from the momentum these forces have created, particularly that of Kifaya, in order to place focused pressure on the regime. It is doing so while maintaining, as always, space that would allow it to regain relations with the regime should it need to debilitate or fragment these other forces.
It was thus noteworthy that the group revived the flexible methods it had used in the 1930s and 40s in drawing relations with other political powers during the elections campaign. At one moment it waves the card of alliance with the opposition to provoke the regime, and the next it indicates that it won"t incite the regime against it, or wrangle with it in the election battle. This indicates that the group"s style of thinking has not changed, and that the only change has been in its tactics.
The Brotherhood realises the extent to which both the opposition and the regime need it right now. The opposition needs to avoid confrontation with Brotherhood candidates in intersecting districts, while the regime needs to benefit from a Brotherhood bloc within parliament to strike any opposition groupings that may be led by NDP splinters or newcomers who hope to win the next presidential elections. This is particularly the case since there is a Brotherhood tendency, similar to that of the regime, towards stability and gradual change by warding off chicaneries possibly brought by new players entering the arena through the doors of parliament.
The Brotherhood"s current state of ecstasy is not likely to persist for long, even if it ups it representative presence through the addition of new seats in parliament. The group does not practice politics with the goal of elevating the democratic process in society as much as it is a means of gaining new supporters and shoring up its presence on the Egyptian street in preparation to meet its community goals as outlined in the grounding charter of its founder, the "Imam" Hassan El-Banna. The Brotherhood"s realisation of the scope of change taking place in Egypt differs from that of other vital forces such as Kifaya, or even "new reformists" in the NDP. While political forces are looking at change from the view of natural development in human societies that may lead to a democratic state with civil authority, the Brotherhood views it as a beginning that may lead to a religious state with a civil arm.
The Brotherhood, until now, has not differentiated between preaching and politics, as Amr El-Choubaki, an expert on Islamic movements, puts it. We might add, however, that it also doesn"t differentiate between practicing politics from a religious standpoint and preaching from a political standpoint. Each falls into a grey area that cannot frame the "political thought" of the Brotherhood. This increases the debate over integration and distancing that dominate the determination of some parties" relationship to the organisation.
The Brotherhood, in the view of some, suffers from major shortcomings in instilling the concepts of political education in comparison to emotional recruitment that takes place on the basis of religious preaching. This, in practice, reduces the opportunities for it to appear as a political faction or party seeking the seat of government. Some go even further and suggest that the group"s power actually lies in its lack of "legitimacy" and, more importantly, what this provides in the way of emotional and intellectual support from some groups, particularly the remains of the middle class and the rock bottom segments of society. This allows them to deal fluidly and flexibly with other political forces in society, while political commitment in the view of Brotherhood members becomes implementation of the principle of loyalty and "obedience" to the decisions of the Supreme Guide whose opinion no one can oppose, contrary to the spirit of political parties.
Those who call for the integration of the Brotherhood look at the matter from its political perspective, in that the group"s characteristic as a force truly present -- as an influential figure, difficult to ignore, in the political equation. Those who adopt an approach of distancing the Brotherhood fear it employing politics to serve its religious goals, which may push back the nominal goal of actualising democracy. The debate is set by an important question: What exactly does the Brotherhood want -- governance or society, or both?
There are differing points of view on this issue, both within and outside the Brotherhood, but which at any rate only add up to three perspectives. The first sees that governance is a requisite gain that must be secured to affect change on the nation from above, particularly given the centralised nature of Egyptian society. The second view reverses the tactic: the sought gain is "local society as a first stage," and governance is only an effective means for obtaining this. The third view brings the two together, seeing governance as that which must be obtained but via deliberation and through ballot boxes, in a legitimate and impartial manner as took place in Algeria in the early 1990s. This requires working on the grassroots level, with the masses, to "legitimately" gain power in preparation for universalising the group"s principles that have not yet been actualised after 75 years.
There is no offence in stating that the crisis is not to be found in any of the previous views as much as it is in the limitations placed on how they are thought of by some. The real issue is not related to the nominal goals of the Brotherhood, whether in the domains of governance or society, as much as it is related to the organisational and intellectual makeup of the movement and its influential cadre, and whether they have the ability to move from the stage of Islamisation to the stage which must follow political Islam.
What this means is the movement from politicising religion to politicising people themselves, dealing with reality from a political standpoint that seeks to liberate the will of citizens from the limitations of control, both religious and political, and drive it to choose between political alternatives that aim for its interests without any emotional influences, such as religion or the like. This is similar to what the religious current in Turkey has done over a mere 30 years, starting with the Salama Watani Party in 1972 and culminating in the Justice and Development Party reaching power in 2001, where it remains until today. This is what the Brotherhood has been unable to accomplish in three quarters of a century.

Posted in MB and West , Islamic Movements , Research , Political Islam Studies  
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