Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Return to the Authoritarian State

Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Return to the Authoritarian State

Much ink has been spilled since July 3, 2013 in response to the removal of President Mohammad Morsi from office at the hands of the Egyptian military. There is no doubt that a huge portion of the Egyptian population had turned against their first elected president. On the other hand, there is no doubt that he had been freely elected, and under the provisions of Egyptian law, had another three years to serve unless first removed by parliament via impeachment or resignation. Thus, a great debate took place: defenders of the military said that the military acted to vindicate the popular will as manifested in the massive mobilization that took place throughout the country on June 30, while defenders of Morsi (who labeled the military’s intervention an illegitimate coup) pointed to the formal legitimacy Morsi enjoyed by virtue of his election and the statutory and constitutional rules regulating the election and removal of presidents.

Subsequent events, however, have largely mooted this debate. Whether intended by the organizers of the “Rebel Movement,” or not, Egypt is now on the verge of a full-fledged brutal military dictatorship along the lines witnessed in Latin America in the 1970s. The military and the police have already perpetrated three massacres, each exceeding in scale the one preceding it. If they succeed in clearing Egyptian streets and squares from protestors, there is little doubt that a dirty war will be pursued relentlessly against the security state’s opponents. No doubt, this will focus initially on the Muslim Brotherhood, not only because it is the largest and best organized group and Egypt, but also because the security state – impotent when it comes to solving Egypt’s long-standing structural problems – needs the bette noire of the internal enemy, now indelibly planted in Egyptian minds in the fashion of a crude Fox TV syllogism: “The Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization; therefore, it and its sympathizers must be eradicated; and, you are either with us or against us.” Because upwards of a third of Egyptian society are sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, this will not be a targeted campaign and is therefore unlikely to be limited to the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters; it will inevitably turn its attention to other groups in Egypt that resist the security state, whether workers, genuine liberals (of which there are far too few in Egypt), and feminists.

There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood, as an organization, is deeply flawed, and needs to engage in deep soul-searching and self-critique in an attempt to reform, that is, if they even survive this crisis. Their failings, however, are not the sort that justifies either their demonization or the ongoing attempt by the supporters of the current regime in Egypt to liquidate them. Democratic politics requires adjustment to difference, not its elimination.

Pluralist politics also requires different social groups to organize, build coalitions and compete effectively publicly contested elections. While many critics of the Muslim Brotherhood dismissed their claims to legitimacy on the grounds that elections are not the be all and end all of democracy, whatever problems elections may pose, they are certainly a better way to settle political differences than guns. But elections are also crucial for another reason: good governance requires the formation of a public will that can articulate the common good. Competitive elections require individual citizens and social interests to come together with their fellow citizens to articulate a vision for the future, not just undermine their opponents. In the rough and tumble of competitive elections, with each different party articulating its views, the public becomes educated and a public will capable of addressing problems of common concern is formed.

Egypt faces multiple structural crises, all of which fall under the general rubric of the economy. To tackle these problems, Egyptian will necessarily have to confront powerful vested interests. Only democratic states have the capacity to generate a public will sufficiently powerful to challenge the entrenched interest groups that, through the promulgation of numerous irrational and self-serving policies, are draining Egypt of any possibility of a better future. From the perspective of these entrenched interests, elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood is crucial to their plans, not because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s allegedly retrograde views or to further some kind of liberal version of a religiously neutral state, but simply because these forces cannot tolerate a powerful institution that exists outside the sphere of their control. Egyptians, if they want to recover their revolution, must resist the return of the security state with all their collective might, and if they succeed, they must then devote themselves to building real political parties that can represent politically the different voices of Egypt’s people. In no case, however, can appealing to the security state be an acceptable strategy for anyone who claims that democracy is his or her goal.

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