Free at last!

Suddenly, the government has changed its position on the banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The MB”s new legal status is not entirely clear, but the group is allowed to speak and campaign with little fear of harassment or imprisonment. Senior government officials speak about the MB in a new tone. The MB is said to have interceded in Alexandria to calm things down after the recent church incidents. Furthermore, MB members and the progressive wing of the National Democratic Party seem to be on good terms.

The MB had faced security restrictions that impeded its activities over half a century or more. MB leaders arrested for no good reason have been freed. The streets are full of signs and leaflets carrying MB electoral slogans. NDP leaders, Kamal El-Shazli included, admit that the MB has a substantial following and may win a considerable number of parliamentary seats.

What exactly has changed? How can the average citizen in this country grasp this sudden shift of official policy? Has the NDP changed its mind once and for all? Has it admitted that it has been wrong all along?

It is obvious that the NDP is changing the manner in which it deals with the opposition. It is dealing with parties, old and new, as well as the MB, Kefaya and other new movements in a different spirit. A change has taken place. The NDP is becoming more willing to accept the shift in public mood. Should this trend continue, one would expect the monopoly of power to end, which would open the door to more democracy and political vitality.

Banning the MB was never a solution. As an idea, it is a relic of a less democratic past and it never stopped the MB from engaging in politics. For years, MB members have contested parliamentary elections, either as independent candidates or as allies of another party. The MB had 17 deputies in the previous parliament. And yet the government has adamantly kept the MB illegal and unrecognised. Refusing to follow in the footsteps of Turkey and Morocco, the government declined to allow a civil party with an Islamic agenda to exist. Its argument that an Islamic party would open the way for a Coptic party was barely convincing.

It was unwise to ban the Islamic current from mainstream politics. The government couldn”t go on hunting down Islamist politicians and forcing them to act behind closed doors. We need to integrate them in political life and have them act within the law and the constitution. We need to see an Islamic civil party active in this country. We need an Islamic party that does not discriminate among its members on the basis of religion and that does not seek to create a religious state.

Thanks to the openness that began with the amendment of Article 76 of the constitution, freedom finally seems to be in the air. The fact that the MB is running openly in a critical race — a race that will reshape political life in the country — is quite telling.

The problem with the MB is not in the motto it is using, although some argue that the “Islam is the solution” slogan is designed to trick the gullible. The problem is much deeper than that. We need to learn how to integrate the Islamic current in political life without jeopardising democracy. And the MB needs to help us doing so, by accepting the fact that it is not above the law. The MB needs to revise its political discourse and make it more compatible with democracy.