The Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the conflict over the Egyptian constitution may prove to be pyrrhic, as what appeared “to be a resounding political victory was deep down a moral and ethical defeat,” says a leading expert on the group.
“After decades working on their moderate image, the Muslim Brotherhood lost all their gains in driving hard to win the constitution at any cost,” writes Khalil Al-Anani, an analyst at the UK’s Durham University.
“The Islamists were thrilled with their perceived triumph, many of them having treated the constitution as a decisive battle. But in ways that they don’t yet realize, they have lost big,” he notes:
The group, which sided completely with the Salafis during the vote, sacrificed the moderate veneer that it had boasted for two decades or so. Its political preferences are now known to all. No more pretence of sympathy with the liberals. No more tolerance for the seculars. No more cultivation of centrist politics. ….
The Brotherhood used “intimidation” to boost the “yes” vote on the constitutional referendum, said Hisham Kassem, a veteran rights activist and analyst.
The new charter “is likely to take the country into some sort of paralysis or civil disobedience,” he told AFP.
The Islamists’ non-violent credentials are in shreds, says Anani, following the group’s attacks on opponents at the presidential palace.
“The Al-Ittihadiya attacks were not the Muslim Brotherhood’s only error,” Anani writes in Al-Ahram:
The group, which sided completely with the Salafis during the vote, sacrificed the moderate veneer that it had boasted for two decades or so. Its political preferences are now known to all. No more pretense of sympathy with the liberals. No more tolerance for the seculars. No more cultivation of centrist politics. ….Having tasted power, the Brotherhood sees no reason to maintain workable relations with the liberals and seculars.
“The Islamists are too dazzled by their ballot box successes to see the failures of their policies or the immorality of their ways,” he argues. “The mistrust with which they are viewed today may take decades to reverse.”
In a must-read article in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, Peter Hessler reports from Cairo on the growing hostility toward the Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi, whose actions have “started to resemble the authoritarian patterns of the past regime.”
“During the past year, the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to win elections without confronting a central weakness: the immense distrust that it inspires among many powerful elements of Egyptian society,” he notes.
Kessler also refutes one of the most widely cited myths about the Brotherhood – that it has emerged from decades of repression. In fact, the group has generally managed to reach an accommodation with the government of the day.
“Each of the country’s military rulers, from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak, responded to the Brotherhood with treatment that seemed to vacillate between two polar viewpoints,” Hessler writes:
..at times, the Brothers were imprisoned and tortured; at other times, they were allowed to participate in some limited form of politics, as a kind of pressure valve. Over time, this schizophrenic strategy helped create an organization that was traumatized and isolated, but more experienced in politics than any other group that survived the revolution. They knew how to run election campaigns, and years of effective charity work had taught them how to organize at the grassroots level.
The Brotherhood’s relative freedom to organize, often using the protected space of the mosque, gave Islamists a huge advantage over their secular and liberal rivals that came into play after Mubarak’s ouster.
“At a time when the Muslim Brotherhood remained in the shadows hesitant to join the anti-regime protests, when Salafi Shaykhs were rejecting the popular calls for disorder, it was the non-Islamists who were on the front lines and who fought for every yard and inch of the street,” writes Samuel Tadros, a founder of the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth.
But liberal and secular groups have failed to match the Islamists’ ability to organize and mobilize, say observers.
“The other parties have been unable to cope with seeing the Brotherhood expand to fill the political void thanks to its organisational skills and faith base,” notes Abdallah Alashaal, a professor of international law at the American University in Cairo.
It is time for secular and liberal movements to “put their trust in the democratic tools available to them,” he suggests.
Council on Foreign Relations analyst Elliott Abrams recommends Tadros’s “penetrating new analysis” – What Is A Constitution Anyway? – published by the Hudson Institute’s “Current Trends in Islamist Ideology.”
‘While the fall of the Mubarak regime and its security apparatus has provided the Brotherhood with unprecedented opportunities to acquire power and begin implementing their vision, it has also unleashed an extraordinary challenge in the form of Salafism,” Tadros observes:
Unlike the non-Islamists whom the Brotherhood have previously handled with caution but now routinely dismiss as an insignificant minority, the Salafis present a direct challenge to the Brotherhood both because of their raw numbers and street power and because of their unique ability to claim ownership of the Islamist cause and identity. The Salafi monster is thus unlike anything that the Brotherhood has ever dealt with in the past. It also comes at a time of considerable ideological incoherence within the Brotherhood, which has failed to produce any original intellectual contribution since Said Qutb. RTWT
The Islamists’ rivals have learned the hard way that “elections do matter,” said Robert Malley, director of the Middle East and North Africa for the International Crisis Group:
But Malley said after being an underground movement for three decades, the Muslim Brotherhood also needs to adjust its ways if it wants to succeed in this nascent democracy.
“Those in power will have to learn that even though they had a majority at the ballot box, it does not mean they get to decide everything,” he said.
In the meantime, the likely prosecution of the well-known satirist Bassem Youssef – Egypt’s equivalent of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart – for allegedly “insulting” Morsi is a further indication of the group’s autocratic inclinations, analysts suggest:
Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, describes a “rise in criminal defamation cases, whether it is on charges of defaming the president or the judiciary,” as the “greatest threat to freedom of expression” in recent months. This threat is likely to increase “because criminal defamation is now embedded” in the highly controversial and deeply divisive constitution that was recently passed into law.