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Egypt’s Islamic revolution

By Missing Peace

Missing Peace report by

Sharon Shaked and Yochanan Visser

This month marks the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that began when liberal Facebook groups called for a ‘day of revolt’ on January 25th 2011. The uprising caused the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and saw the rise of the Jama’at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Salafist Al-Nour party as the dominant force that could change the political landscape of the entire Middle East

As already predicted by Israeli experts, the first  and second rounds of the Egyptian parliamentary elections resulted in a huge victory for the Islamist camp. More than 60 % of the votes went to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

In the first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took 36% of the vote. The Salafist Nour Party came in second with about 25% . The young and liberal groups that dominated the protests in Tahrir Square almost vanished from the political stage. They received a mere 13% of the votes, a striking contrast to the Islamist’ 60%.

The second round of voting took place on December 15th  in Egypt’s more rural areas. Here, support for the Islamists is even higher than in the Egyptian cities. It was therefore  not surprising that the outcome was even better for the Islamists: 39% to the Muslim Brotherhood, 31% to the Salafist Al-Nour party.

The third and last round of the parliamentary elections in early January is expected to produce an even larger victory for the Islamist parties. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place shortly afterwards.

Moderate

Pundits  had predicted ahead of time that victory for the Islamist parties will not necessarily mean an end to democracy.

They pointed out that as a party  the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has factions that are more moderate and liberal; not everyone is an extremist.

Israeli commentators pointed out that the something similar had been said when Hamas won the Palestinian elections, in January 2006.

A year later Hamas staged a bloody coup to take control of Gaza and the count-down to the December 2008 war with Israel started.

Al-Azhar Document

To support their views on the MB’s alleged moderation, the optimists point to the MB having signed the Al-Azhar Document.

This document was written by Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Egypt’s highest Sunni Muslim religious authority, in response to the constitutional debates and sectarian rifts.  It constitutes an eleven-point program for a democratic Egypt.

The document lays out the general guidelines that define the status of religion in post-revolution Egypt and speaks out against the establishment of a religious state ruled by clerics (like Iran).

The document also proposes to keep Islam as the official state religion and Islamic Sharia law as the primary legislative source. (as is the case in Egypt’s current constitution – see article 2).

It favors of granting non-Muslims the right to follow their own laws in private matters.

Following the publication of the Al-Azhar Document the MB, together with the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, drafted another document which purports to serve as a basis for the new constitution.       

This document too, promotes Article Two of Egypt’s current constitution and freedom for non-Muslims in personal status matters. In addition, it calls for “freedom of belief and worship, national unity, non-discrimination, and equality for all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, and gender”.

The Document points out that the liberation of Palestine and Iraq (sic) are the main goals of the Brotherhood’s foreign policy and that Egypt’s bilateral agreements with Israel need to be “re-assessed on the grounds that there is no real peace and that [Israel's] violations of the [Palestinians'] right to self-determination continue.”

MB Platform

Then there is the party platform of the MB. This was changed in 2007 following a controversy among Brotherhood members and in the wake of considerable criticism against the organization at the time. The previous platform said that the MB would seek to establish a religious state. To silence the criticism, the platform was moderated and several controversial points were deleted.

For example, the clauses asserting that women are not fit to take leadership roles and that non-Muslims are ineligible to become president of Egypt were removed.

The platform now allows both the participation of women and non-Muslims in leadership roles.

However no official public announcement of the changes was ever made after the new, moderated, platform was adopted.

This was an indication that the MB might change its platform again in the future. 

Remarks made by Sobhi Saleh a leading MB figure, this week hinted that such is indeed  the case.

At a rally near Cairo, he declared that the Muslim Brotherhood will prohibit the sale of alcohol to tourists and will apply Sharia law in Egypt.

He  said this had already been planned in 1928, the year the MB was founded, and that Islam was the ‘solution’.

Tactical shift

The Muslim Brotherhood understands that to gain domestic and international support it needs to present a more moderate stance, at least outwardly. So the movement talks a great deal about democracy.

But in the MB view, this is simply a means to an end: taking over a country, then establishing ‘Islamic democracy’ meaning the application of Sharia law and a model of internal consultation within the leadership (Shura).

It becomes increasingly clear that the ‘moderation’ of the MB platform has been a mere tactical shift, calculated to receive as much support as possible in the current elections.

One need only look at the Brotherhood’s Arabic website to understand that substantial parts of its radical ideologies remain intact.

The large presence of anti-Semitic articles on the MB website is evidence that the Brotherhood is not ready to embrace the principles of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt Document.

This calls, among other things, for “ non-discrimination and equality for all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, and gender”.

Articles published on the MB’s Arabic website claim that the Holocaust is the “biggest myth of the history” and that “the Israeli Defense Forces are Nazis”.

Reassessment of the peace agreement

The Brotherhood has also called for a “reassessment” of the peace agreement with Israel.

The language about Israel that is used in its political platform speaks volumes.

 This can be seen in the following quote:

“The most dire issue from the standpoint of Egypt’s national security” in view of the fact that “the Zionist entity is a racist, settling, expansionist and aggressive entity that has weapons of mass destruction, and which has caused many wars in the region, affected [the region's] geographic, political, social, and economic situation and sabotaged development plans.

It drove a people from its home, and seized control of Palestine’s Islamic and Christian holy places.

Therefore, the party deems it necessary to make a maximum effort to resolve this issue and to ensure the Palestinian right to self-determination, and the right of the refugees to return to their homes, to establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital, to restore all of Palestine’s Islamic and Christian holy places [to their rightful owners], and to disarm the entire Middle East of weapons of mass destruction…”

This week, MB’s deputy leader Dr.Rashad Bayoumi was asked by the Arabic daily al-Hayat if the next government in Egypt is required to recognize Israel: “This is not an option, whatever the circumstances, we do not recognize Israel at all. It’s an occupying criminal enemy”.                                                         

Asked if he would be willing to meet Israelis he replied: ” I will not allow myself to sit down with criminals”

Salafists

Then there are the Salafist parties which have an even more radical agenda, that makes the Brotherhood look moderate.

Until recently the Salafists in Egypt were against participating in political life because they believed that ruling and legislation are ascribed to God and cannot be performed by men. They traditionally saw democracy as a form of heresy since, in their view, humans are not allowed – or able – to make rules or to implement the laws of Sharia.

Other, more pragmatic parties, including the Al-Nour Party, decided to participate in the current Egyptian elections. This happened in spite of the criticism directed at them by  some of their more radical, fellow Salafists, and despite their earlier stance on political involvement.

One of Al-Nour’s leaders, Yasser Burhami, explained the policy shift this way:

“In essence, democracy [means] the rule of the people, who are the source of authority and legislation. However, the concept of democracy has developed, and [today] it encompasses both [this] idea and the [democratic] mechanisms.

The idea [itself] we reject out of hand. But in the current balance of options, the democratic mechanism – i.e., the method of [holding] elections and of deciding all matters according to the will of the majority – seems to be the best option available, or the lesser evil.”

Burhami also declared that Salafists may participate in political processes and democracies in order to further their goals and interests, principally the implementation of  Islamic Sharia law in Egypt. Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Nour also had to (outwardly) moderate its viewpoints on several key issues including the rights of women and of non-Muslims.

Recent remarks made by Salafist leaders put this supposed moderation into question.

During a Salafist rally for women, for example, where all the speakers were male Yasser Burhami exclaimed:

 ”The presence of women in parliament is forbidden, because it means letting them rule over men. However, we were forced to agree to it, because refusing would have meant abandoning the [political] arena to destructive elements… The evil of letting women [serve in] parliament is less damaging than leaving the arena to those who wish to change Article Two of the constitution and the identity of the [Egyptian] nation. Women are not allowed to hold the reins of power… but we [are willing to] forgo this principle for the sake of the [common] good.”

Salafist presidential hopeful Abu Ismail proclaimed recently that he would bar “women in bikinis”.

He  said the mingling of the sexes in public places is forbidden” . He also said he would like to “choke the Jew” by closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel.

A recent report in al Masry al-Youm claimed that the Al-Nour party is behind the establishment of a religious police that was already active enforcing Sharia law.

Deal

Tensions boiled over again recently. This happened when the army used extreme force against liberal protesters who demanded an end to military rule in Egypt.

These new protests actually started in November when many secular Egyptians started to wonder if the popular revolution they had ignited in January 2011 had in fact become a military coup. People took to the streets to demand an end to the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The latter responded by repressing the protests brutally.

Earlier tensions  increased  between SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, especially after Egypt’s military-rulers proclaimed that they would control the process of writing the new constitution and would maintain ongoing authority over the interim government.

Remarks by  Maj. Gen. Mukhtar el-Mullah made clear that the military sought do this in order to check the growing power of the Islamists.

He told a group of foreign journalists in Cairo: “The next parliament will not represent all Egyptian people, and the constitution will affect all citizens”.

He added: “We’re not saying that the SCAF will draft the constitution, we’re saying that all Egyptian people should participate in such drafting”.  

El Mullah’s remarks prompted an immediate response by the Muslim Brotherhood that it would not participate in the advisory council proposed by the military.

Since then the army and the Islamists seem to have reached a deal. The army has given in to the Islamist demands on almost every issue. As a result the Islamists no longer participate in the Tahrir protests.

Liberals

The young liberal activists who started this revolution have been pushed aside and grown increasingly frustrated with the new Egyptian revolution that is taking place: the Islamic revolution.   

When they returned to Tahrir to demonstrate the army cracked down on them with extraordinary brutality. This was followed by army raids on the offices of 17 liberal- and human right groups.

VIDEO : Egyptian army uses extraordinary brutal force against liberal demonstrators. WARNING: contains graphic images

This latest crackdown was met with Western outrage and was followed by demands that the army hands over power more rapidly to the people.

That however, would mean the army is called on to hand over power to the Islamists since it is they who won the elections.

This  ignores other developments that indicate the Army already made a deal with the Islamists in exchange for letting the army retain its special position and its influence over the economy in Egypt.

Conclusion

As things stand now, Egypt is already part of an emerging new Islamist Sunni bloc  encompassing Gaza, Tunisia, Libya, Turkey and Sudan and will have support of the MB branches in Syria and Jordan. 

Western influence in the Middle East, as a result, will diminish. Moderation will be absent and religion will dominate politics.

In such a climate, Arab Israeli peace will be impossible and war could easily erupt at any given moment.

Israel has apparently read the writing on the wall and decided to speed up the building of a security fence on the Egyptian border. On New Years day this was followed by a decision to close off the border with Jordan as well.