……………….asks Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Islamist group has “continued to use the language of democratic change, but they have dealt with internal challenges through a variety of authoritarian means,” he writes, citing a series of recent developments as evidence that the Brotherhood, its Freedom and Justice Party and President Mohammed Morsi “are setting the trajectory of Egyptian politics on a non-democratic course”:
1. President Morsi’s November 22nd decree insulated both the president and the Constituent Assembly, which was at the time preparing the penultimate draft of the new constitution, from judicial review…..the whole episode suggests that the Brothers have not internalized their discourse about reform and democracy.
2. Consistent violations of freedom of expression and media freedom. … Morsi’s team has gone after everyone from Bassem Youssef, a popular TV personality whose stock and trade is satire, to lesser-known journalists, editors, and cartoonists…..it is clear that the Brothers want to limit what Egyptians say about what they think in public fora…… the effort to circumscribe the space for public debate reveals a worldview that is inconsistent with a democratic system.
3. Just as during the Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak eras, under the new constitution the Minister of Justice, “is granted specific powers regarding appointment, disciplining, retirement and secondment,” of judges, which, according to the International Commission of Jurists, will compromise the independence of the judiciary.
4. Civilians will continue to be subject to military justice in the new Egypt.
“If much of this sounds familiar to even the casual observer of Egyptian politics, that is because it is,” writes Cook. “None of these measures differs substantively from the Mubarak era and President Morsi seems as inclined as his predecessors to use them.” RTWT
Perhaps in an effort to burnish his democratic credentials, Morsi will sponsor a forum for civil society development and charities, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports.
“Pressure on civil society groups during ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s regime continued through Egypt’s post-revolution transition period,” the paper notes.
Many pro-democracy activists will need to be convinced that the Brotherhood supports a genuinely independent civil society, recalling that the Islamists supported the ruling military’s crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood today reiterated its support for the ruling military’s crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs. Some 42 NGO employees are still facing trial on charges of receiving illegal foreign funding.
A trial is still ongoing for 42 NGO workers who were charged with receiving illegal foreign funding in 2011, provoking controversy and criticism from civil society groups.
The Brotherhood is especially vexed over whether to accept the terms of an International Monetary Fund loan which, analyst Max Strasser notes, “will be accompanied by a set of fiscal conditionality that could make the already precarious president and his Freedom and Justice Party even less popular.”
“For decades the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt built its popularity on its ability to provide social services where the state failed,” he writes:
Brotherhood-run hospitals provided higher quality medical care at affordable prices than was available in shoddy, ill-equipped and underfunded government-run hospitals. Special food markets sold meat and staple goods at low prices subsidized by Brotherhood donations. These provisions helped the Brotherhood recruit members and gain good will among Egypt’s impoverished majority.
“Brotherhood charities could potentially help offset the social costs of economic restructuring and maintain some positive sentiment for Morsi, the Freedom and Justice Party and the Brotherhood in the wake of IMF-backed austerity,” notes Strasser, former news editor of the Egypt Independent:
Goods sold at discount Brotherhood-sponsored markets could help compensate for the rise in prices for some poor people, for example. Why would the ruling party rely on a non-governmental social movement to deal with effects of public policy? It may sound counterintuitive but it is in some ways consistent with how the Brotherhood has operated so far, as when Muslim Brotherhood members attacked, and violently interrogated protesters outside the presidential palace in November, acting as a parallel security force.
“The Brotherhood’s left-wing opponents, such as Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, have a radically different vision for Egypt’s social welfare, one in which the state—not the mosque—is responsible for guaranteeing basic economic security,” notes Strasser:
This disparity between the left and the Muslim Brothers underscores that the divisions between their views on economics and religion are not coincidental….. After a revolution demanding bread, freedom and social justice, severe austerity will be a challenging sell, no matter how much religious charities try to mitigate the effects.
Above graphic from Slate’s Illustrated History of the Muslim Brotherhood.