by Mordechai Kedar
The popular revolution in Egypt that began on the 25th of January, succeeded after three weeks of demonstrations, fatalities and casualties to get rid of President Mubarak before he could pass the country on to his son, and proved to all that the country is not family property but belongs to all the Egyptians. Since Mubarak was removed from power, the citizens of Egypt are asking: "Where is the revolution heading?" And the answers usually swing between two poles: the religious pole, which is represented by the "Muslim Brotherhood" movement and the "Freedom and Justice" party, and on the other hand the secular pole, which is represented by a large number of political organizations and bodies, most of them new.
In February, with Mubarak's departure, the military took control and suspended the constitution for six months, during which time it was supposed to organize parliamentary elections and pass the control to a civilian government. The great majority of Egyptians believed then that the military, which is headed by General Tantawi, would be satisfied with six months of ruling and then would indeed pass the rule to the citizens in an orderly way. Six months were over in August, and another three months have passed, and it is still not certain that elections will be held on November 28.
As stated above, two main trends characterize the members of the next Parliament: The religious-Islamist orientation and the secular-liberal orientation. Each of the sides sees the revolution as belonging to its own side only, and is not interested in elections that in any way might bring to power the representatives of the opposite side. However, the two sides, who oppose each other as far as which trend is desirable for Egypt, both share the opinion that the military must pass power into civilian hands as soon as possible, and that it should be subject to the decisions made at the civilian level. Both sides are apprehensive that the military - despite the declarations of its leaders - intends to continue to hold the reins of power forever, and they are both determined not to allow the group of "young officers" to inherit the power of the "old officers", i.e. Mubarak and the generals who served him.
Both sides of the social equation - secular and religious - are apprehensive concerning outside intervention: The seculars fear a Taliban-style theocracy in which the hands of thieves will be amputated, suspected adulterers will be stoned and that Iran is stirring the political pot by means of the money that it streams to Islamists; and Islamic fanatics are warning against intervention from Western countries that support the seculars, even at the price of military control of the country, in order to secure their obedience.
Many Egyptians fear that General Tantawi is secretly plotting to bring Mubarak's "National Democratic Party" back to power and perhaps even to cause his sons to be exonerated in court so that they can be returned to positions of power in the country; this will enable the control of the military to continue as it has been since the revolution of the Free Officers in 1952. These misgivings are strengthened by the fact that the trial of Mubarak and his sons continues without arriving at a final decision, and because of the constitution that was suggested by the military in which it awards to itself a status above the state. The cruelty and the violence that characterize the army's methods since it took control in February are worse than those used in Mubarak's day. And this also does not contribute to the public's trust in the military or its intentions.
In the huge demonstrations that took place in Tahrir Square at the beginning of last week, signs were waved that called for Tantawi's removal in the same spirit that they had called for the removal of Mubarak. Tantawi appealed to the throngs again and tried to calm them by saying that the military has no intentions to take control of the government, but he has lost much of his credibility in recent months, and the public does not believe the promises of the supreme military council. The economic situation, which continues to deteriorate, adds fat to the fire of public frustration, and the crowds are impatient to see results of the revolution and the realization of the hopes that they hung upon it.
Many in the Arab world are following the events in Egypt with much concern, especially since in Tunisia the Islamic party won forty percent of the Parliament, more than double the largest secular party. The religious in Egypt are encouraged by the success of Islam in Tunisia, while the seculars fear that the religious will control their lives. Both sides speak of "stealing the revolution": The religious are convinced that the revolution must progress in an Islamic direction with the aim of imposing Shari'a upon the country, and if not, then the revolution will have been "stolen" by the secularists. The secularists, on their side, object to the "stealing of the revolution" by the religious, and aspire to see a modern, open and liberal country. And neither side is willing to have the military steal the revolution from them, to continue "Mubarak's Government" under a different name.
Thus, the misgivings engulfing all the Egyptians today were the main factor in the outbreak of demonstrations in recent days, which were met with a violent and harsh response by the military and the police. The number of fatalities in this round is close to fifty, the number of wounded reaches as high as one thousand five hundred, and the government of Egypt resigned or rather was forced to resign, in order to calm the masses, to send them back to their houses and to continue in the preparations for the elections on the 28th of the month with the hope that indeed it will pass uneventfully. However there is an atmosphere of severe disquiet, and no one is ready to gamble on the elections being held on time.
Egyptian and Arab newspapers reflect the misgivings deep in the hearts of the Egyptians and members of the Arab world today, and we will bring here some reports of these misgivings.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for elections to be held at their appointed time, since they are organized and ready. They have been organizing for years by means of organizations of civil society that have helped the poor residents to overcome the difficulties of everyday life, and so they succeeded within a short time to set up a system of well-oiled and organized groups, to prepare election propaganda, to set up popular candidates, and they are well prepared to bring people to the polls and supervise the conduct of elections. In the aftermath of the elections in Tunisia, the removal of the dictator in Libya and the expected departure of the Americans from Iraq, "The Brotherhood" are very much encouraged. They call for fair and transparent elections, in order to prevent manipulation by those who oppose them - the military and the secularists - as it was during Mubarak's time. They also call for all of the other bodies to honor the results of the elections, whatever they may be, and this call apparently stems from their confidence that they will win the highest number of the seats in the Peoples' Council, and perhaps even a clear majority, that will enable them to rule without the participation of other groups. Fair and transparent elections will also ensure that the secularists will not appeal the results of the elections.
In accordance with a modern approach, the "Brotherhood" call for the public to vote "according to the qualifications and not the connections"; to ignore family connections and to vote for the one who is most suitable. In their eyes, fair elections are a direct continuation of the revolution, because that's what the people want. The "Brotherhood" strongly object to the intention of the high military council to enable the people who are identified with the Mubarak regime to run in the elections. It cannot be - say the "Brothers" in their official document - that people from Mubarak's party, which the court disbanded and who are sunk deep into economic, ethical and political corruption, will try to again pounce on the parliamentary seats.
The results of the elections in Tunisia, in which the Islamic party won the lion's share of the seats in Parliament, mirrors the Islamic political approach in Egypt as formulated by the Brotherhood (in parenthesis, my clarifications. M.K.): "The Tunisian people, who suffered from attacks of Western attempts to erase the Islamic identity and intentions to impose secularism upon it by oppression and terror, remains true to its Islamic identity which is faith, civilization and culture; and signs of secularization that have been imposed upon it are nothing but fetters on its hands and his brain, which he removes at the first opportunity that is given him to express his opinion freely. The Tunisian Islamic movement, whose members were sent to prison and exiled for the 22 past years, returned to life after the revolution, and its leaders were surprised to discover that the Muslim Tunisian people still support them. And their young party, which was founded a few months before the elections, won the largest portion of the votes despite the short period of time until elections. It didn't demand to postpone elections claiming that it still wasn't organized, which is not what is happening with us in Egypt, where (secular) parties demand a postponement because they are not yet ready. The results of the elections in Tunisia prove that the Arab and Islamic people never give up Islam, which is their faith, their life, and is imprinted in their genes. Everyone - both in Egypt and outside of it - must internalize this fact, honor the desire of these peoples and let them live according to their Shari'a, according to their values and (Islamic) heritage. They can, with the help of Allah, show the world an example of a complete, balanced and humane civilization, that connects spirit and intelligence and brings man happiness in this world and the next. People of the West must stop spreading their aggressive slogans that stem from a battle between cultures, and adopt the slogan of cooperation between cultures.
We were gladdened by the declaration of our brothers in Libya about the complete liberation of their land, after the elimination of the criminal and dictatorial regime and the resignation of the heads of the regime and its "tails" While we congratulate them on this achievement, we must remind them that the future is difficult, great and important, and is expressed in patriotic unity, peacemaking between the tribes, cities and groups, with the establishment of institutions of the country, in the writing of a modern constitution, removal of the remnants of the destruction, and building the future on all levels while keeping the interest general, not individual, love between people, honoring the Islamic and democratic principles, focusing on independence (from NATO), guarding the national treasures, and using them for the good of all the members of Libyan society. Also, we call on our brothers in Libya to learn from the experience and not to allow a despotic dictator, whoever he is, to take control of their lives and to repress their will, even at a high price. They must take good care of their wounded brothers (from the war against Qadhaffi) and the families of the fallen for whom we pray that Allah will accept them in his mercy and will settle them into Paradise with the righteous and the prophets.
On the International Level: The American President, Barack Obama, announced the end of the war in Iraq and the withdrawal of American forces from this country at the end of the current year. This decision followed a long debate and tedious negotiations whose purpose was to leave an American presence in Iraq forever, in light of the profound changes occurring in the Arab countries. The "Muslim Brotherhood" believe that the decision to withdraw, even if it was too late, reflects two truths: one - wars don't solve problems between countries (hint to Iran) or between cultures, and the decision to withdraw expresses the failure of the idea of a battle of cultures and waging war as a way of settling disputes and conflicts. The second - since the disputes exist as an existential feature that Allah has implanted within man, the countries and governments must establish a just system (not the UN, which is controlled by the West) that will manage the relationships between them without bias towards one side (the West) at the expense of the other (Iran and the Arab and Islamic countries). The future must be based on mutual respect and understanding in those issues and interests that relate to peace, security and economic matters.
The material above is in the document that the "Muslim Brotherhood" published a few days ago. The absence of any reference to Israel and to the peace treaty with Israel is obvious, for several possible reasons: a. the results of the elections in Egypt are still not known and perhaps the Brotherhood will not have a majority in Parliament that will enable them to revoke recognition of Israel and the peace with her. b. the "Brotherhood" know that the revocation of the peace treaty with Israel will arouse severe misgivings in the world regarding the stability of Egypt, and these misgivings may deter investors from investing in the Egyptian economy. Following the revolution, foreign investments have almost totally disappeared in Egypt, and if the "Brotherhood" want to restore the paralyzed Egyptian economy back to action, they must prevent upsetting the stability with Israel. The unemployment in Egypt as of now stands at almost fifty (!) percent, and the "Brotherhood" know that if they will be in the driver's seat, the Egyptian people will see them very quickly as responsible for the terrible economic situation, or at least as responsible for its continuation, even if not for its creation. So they are aware that they must get the economy going right after the election, and revocation of the peace treaty doesn't contribute to the success of this objective.
The Secular Approach
On the other hand, secular parties are concerned that Islamic radicals, even the "soft" ones among them, like "The Muslim Brotherhood" will take over Egypt and will impose upon her the rule of religious law. Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the most prominent spokesman for political Islamism is accused by Egyptian secularists of pulling the country towards application of Shari'a, in which ten million Copts will lose their rights, and women will be obligated to stay in the home because "The best hijab for a woman is her house" (a saying of the Prophet Mohammed), and in the next phase they will cut off the hands of thieves and stone adulterers. The examples of Islamic rule for the secularists are the Taliban in Afganistan and the Ayatollahs in Iran. They don't want to live in any version of political Islam, and their feeling is "now or never": If they fail at this time to put into place a democratic and secular government, "civilian", as they call it, they will be forced to emigrate from Egypt as millions of Copts have done until now, because of the Islamism that has been taking over the Egyptian street for the past few decades.
One of the prominent spokesmen for the Arab secular approach is Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, past president of the Association of the Neo - liberal Arabs. He is originally a Palestinian from Jordan, but he is widely known throughout the Arab media. Relating to the recent events in Egypt, he writes under the title: "Indeed, do not vote for the secular Egyptians! This is the call by "our lord" Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to Egypt, and before then there were words both more and less clear of the leaders of the "Muslim Brotherhood" and their new party, the Freedom and Justice Party, not to vote for secular candidates in the elections for the Peoples' Council. (In order to buy the votes of the electors) the "Muslim Brotherhood" movement acquired tens of thousands of sheep in order to distribute them for free to the voters who would not be able even to dream about meat. The Islamist newspaper Al-Shuruk" ("The Sunrise") which spreads the religious and political legacy of the "Brothers", wrote that there are posters on the walls of the mosques in the colleges of Cairo which are spreading the ideas hostile to a civil state (not religious) and describe secularism as a call to apostasy and permissiveness. The posters call for the establishment of an Islamic country, not a civil one, because a civil country would be anti-religious and heretical. Another poster describes secularism as denying the monotheistic religions, as a call to take interest in this world at the expense of the next world and elimination of religion from every sphere of life. One poster demanded to turn Egypt into an Islamic country and to reject decisively the possibility that it can be a civil country, according to one of the Salafi (fundamentalist) spokesmen in Alexandria, Sheikh Yassir Barhami.
So there is nothing new in the call of "our lord" Sheikh Qaradawi's, which is an old demand of the Salafi groups in religious, lower class Egypt. This class of Egyptians strongly resents modernity, secularism and democracy, and so it is poor, illiterate, living in cemeteries, under bridges and in many unplanned neighborhoods (without water, sewage, electricity, education and civilian infrastructure). We have heard, read and seen, how the new Salafi parties in Egypt see any secular candidate who might be elected as an apostate who will go straight to Hell, and so we have returned to the Middle Ages. Before us today stands the choice between the perpetuation of the present dictatorial system and the clouded future which is engulfing the Arab countries in revolution, crowned with Islamist promises decorated with flowers and birds (of Paradise). At this point the parties of the secular opposition are weak, ridiculous and poor, while their Islamist competitors are strong, thanks to the societal mechanisms that they have established in order to serve the poor voters. They distributed free food to the poor, sheep to sacrifice for the Holiday of the Sacrifice (about one month ago), and supplied services to the populace which the country has failed to provide, so that they would be able to tell the voters: "We will establish a good welfare state." Lately, the Islamist parties have found themselves at the front of the revolution, because of their intention to take control of the regime, since in the past they had been excluded from it and were not recognized as legal. They suffered isolation, imprisonment and torture at the hands of the dictators, and despite everything they remain faithful to a certain extent to the existing political order within which framework they acted, usually in the opposition, in order to gain popularity at the expense of that political order. Today they are seeking the votes of the poor and ignorant voters who are clamoring to enter Paradise in heaven, when the time comes, since they did not have Paradise on Earth during their lives.
The Islamists fear the sort of undreamed-of and crushing political victory that happened in Tunisia because they don't know what to do with the government and administration because of their ignorance in practical politics. If they indeed will win a majority in Egypt as well, this will be very helpful to the secularists, and then the failure of the extremist Islamist message will become clear. The leader of the Tunisian Islamic movement, Rashed al-Ghanoshi, distances himself very much from the extremist message, and assigned the leader of the secular parties, Muntsaf al-Marzooki, the job of president of the country so that he would burn in the fire of the internal mess and chaos of Tunisia. The "Muslim Brotherhood" in Egypt are more aware and cautious, so they announced at the beginning of the revolution in Egypt that they will not take over the government, since they know well what it would mean to take responsibility for a country like Egypt... Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi's call not to vote for secular candidates and to give the vote to Islamist candidates will surely cause the Islamists to burn. Therefore not voting for secularists is the best way to serve modernity and secularism in Egypt and in the Arab world, and we will yet see Qaradawi crowned as a prophet of innovation and modern Arab secularism".
These are the sarcastic words of Shaker al-Nabulsi.
Egypt is entering a very dangerous crossroads these days: Will she choose the road to the kind of modern, forward-looking country which is required in the twenty first century, or perhaps she will turn to face backwards, to the tradition that was established a thousand and four hundred years ago in the arid desert of the Hijaz.
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. It was also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper. Translated by Sally.