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The president’s people and clan

Published in Ahram Online on December 16, 2012

Although the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in Egypt’s post-revolution democratic transition was essential, the group has since shown it will do anything to hold onto power

On 9 February 2011, two days before Mubarak’s ouster, CNN asked me to write an op-ed on its website about the revolution.

I did not hesitate, since it was a golden opportunity to send a clear message to US public opinion. I could have written about many things, but I chose to focus on the importance of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political process.

At the time, I said that, although I was not a member of the Brotherhood and doubted they had solutions to Egypt’s chronic problems, I was positive that transition to democracy would not succeed in Egypt unless the Brotherhood was permitted to participate in politics through legal channels.

When I wrote those words, I knew the immense challenges facing the Brotherhood because it had not spawned any new thinking to enable it to address society since Sayed Qutb wrote ‘Signposts on the Road.‘ While this text was appropriate in confronting the Nasserist juggernaut, it is no longer suitable for a group that has been freed from its shackles and monopolised power.

It is also a group whose members for 80 years have strictly adhered to the principle of ‘absolute obedience,’ which sustained its unity and coherence when it was targeted and its leaders thrown in jail. But this principle is no longer relevant since the group reached power and is obliged to listen to many views, even ones that contradict the opinions of its leaders.

Unfortunately, time has shown that I was wrong about the Brotherhood’s ability to transition from the mentality of targeted victims into the ruling elite at the helm. The Brotherhood was neither able to shed the mentality of persecution or present real solutions to the country’s troubles.

Then the events of the past two weeks made me realise just how wrong I was. It became clear that it is not that the Brotherhood is suffering from an existential crisis, but that the group has caused deep political problems. It is a crisis that not almost ruined the entire political and legal systems, but also the stability and cohesion of Egyptian society.

The turmoil began when the Brotherhood mistakenly thought that the parliamentary majority it won in free and honest elections gave it the power to not only write laws and legislation, but also the constitution.

Accordingly, Brotherhood members and leaders were deaf to many calls urging them to form a Constituent Assembly (CA) that mirrors the diversity and multiple identities of society. The crisis escalated when the CA began drafting the constitution and its mostly Brotherhood members imagined that their primary task was to make the document an expression of identity, not the guarantor of protecting citizens from supremacy of the state, and curb its domination of society.

Matters worsened when the draft constitution was unveiled and many people were shocked by the absence of basic guarantees and disregard of many of the revolution’s principles, as well as its constitutional and legislative flaws.

Matters further unraveled when President Morsi misread the political scene altogether and failed to abandon the victim mentality that dominates his group. He also chose to forget that he won the presidency by a very small margin, which should have made him realise that his people were divided and waiting for him to bring them closer, not widen the chasm between them.

He viewed those calling for revising the method by which the draft constitution was written as subversive and enemies of religion who did not want to see God’s Sharia applied in the land. The objections to the draft constitution – which contradicted people’s expectations – were seen by the president as futile attempts by fulul (remnants of the previous regime) and supporters of the former regime to go back in time.

The final blow came when protests escalated against extraordinary measures by the president and against the draft constitution, causing him to take a series of steps that collided with a key pillar of the political system – the judiciary. This threatened to destroy the infrastructure of the Egyptian state itself.

When the people came out en masse to express their outrage about the president’s actions and decisions, he turned to his Brotherhood people and clan and gave them a green light to save him from the mess.

Accordingly, leaders of the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) gave their followers orders on 5 December to take to the streets to disperse the peaceful sit-in outside the presidential palace, and the outcome was spilled Egyptian blood and death of noble souls. 

Instead of holding Brotherhood leaders accountable for their fiery statements that fanned the flames and caused this tragic outcome, the president blamed a ‘third party’ and fulul. Meanwhile, he ignored many torture incidents that Brotherhood members inflicted on protestors outside the palace – which groups that monitor torture in Egypt said they had never witnessed, even under Mubarak.

The president forgot that, by ignoring these acts by his people and clan, he was undermining the pillars of the state he is responsible for upholding, eroding his already frail legitimacy and deepening the fractures in society.

I was optimistic about the Brotherhood’s ability to overcome the historic challenges they were facing; last month, I participated in a public debate about whether democratic transition in Egypt had been disappointing. I rejected the premise and said that, although democratic transition was marred by some defects in the beginning, the future would prove that the Brotherhood would realise the importance of democracy and embrace it.

But after the events of the past two weeks, I was proven wrong once again. The events of Wednesday, 5 December unveiled the Brotherhood’s aversion to democracy and fear of the people’s right to express themselves. It also showed how far the group was willing to go to maintain its grip on power and hold it tight.

History will record 5 December as the day when the Brotherhood’s mask fell after the group miserably failed in its first genuine test after coming to power. It is also the day when the Brotherhood got fed up with the opposition and did not hesitate to use the most sordid methods to suppress its opponents. 

History will also record that President Morsi proved on that day that he obeys the orders of MB leaders, and that he lost an opportunity to become the president of all Egyptians and made do with being the leader of one segment of Egyptians. It is that segment that he courted and called his people and clan.

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