Earning Trust

The year since the Egyptian Revolution would have been an excellent change for the Muslim Brotherhood to earn the trust of many Egyptians reared to be suspicious of their motives through state and other propaganda. Sadly, they have failed to do so. One can list at least five reasons.

1- They never reciprocated the support of other parties. Many liberals defended the MB’s right to free expression over the last decade or two. Yet, the MB aligned itself closely with the Military’s campaign to discredit the liberal, leftist and revolutionary youth. As a result their reservoir of good will toward the MB is pretty low. The MB is seen as continually scheming for power at the expense of principle.

2- The MB never stood took a principled stand against attacks against women and Copts. The Maspero events earned the comment “this is not the right time to protest”. The attack on the blue-bra woman earned the comment “she brought it on herself by being there”. And so on. It is easy to conclude that tolerance and respect for others is still not ingrained in the Brothers (or Sisters for that matter). You can not run a democracy when one faction believes the other has no right to self expression. Again, the problem with the MB is not that they are conservative or fundamentalists, the problem is that they are coercive.

3- They remained secretive and non-transparent. The claim, of course, is that they needed to be secretive since they were always oppressed by the state. That is a weak and slippery argument, inviting a “chicken and egg” issue. The Monarchy and Nasser suppressed the MB because they were secretive and had a military wing. No state can tolerate that and not risk falling into warlord-ism. The MB compiled weapons and volunteers to go to war in Palestine in 1948. That cast of mind never left them. Hence the next point.

4- The MB needed to demonstrate that it is primarily an Egyptian and not a trans-national organization. There is nothing wrong with MB wanting to be religiously minded, or pious, or conservative. That is the right of the members and it should be protected. However, the MB always gives off the whiff of being interested in global goals beyond Egypt’s many considerable problems. That does not make them ideal partners in a democracy  or effective governance. The historical analogy is with the European Communists and Social Democrats. The latter could be trusted with power in specific countries, while the former could never be trusted with power because their objectives were trans-national, and their motives were not grounded in specific solutions for the country in question, but in the larger aim of spreading communism. This was, by the way, Nasser’s problem, when he sapped Egypt’s energy with various pan-Arab schemes, such as the ill-fated Yemen expedition.  The MB behaved erratically in this regard in the last year. It took on itself a separate foreign policy with Hamas, got into an imbroglio with the Gulf countries over a tele-preacher, and attacked the Islamist Turkish Prime Minister as too secular.  Then there was also inflammatory talk (or Kalam Fadi) about restoring “the Calphiate”.  This does not bode well. Obviously the MB does not consider itself an organization in the service or Egypt, but an trans-national organization with Egypt as its base and source of power. This leads to the next point.

5- Does the MB want to be part of the state or to simply take over the state, becoming a supra-national entity. This is not a small theoretical point.  When they demand (unconfirmed but likely true) that the police have a minimum percentage of their members, they risk sectarianism and arouse fears about a desire to take over the state apparatus. Organizations that do that never leave power through the ballot box. Most perceptive Egyptians saw the last year as a choice between the uniform and the beard. The MB never addressed that concern. They simply tried to besmirch the reputation of any one who pointed this out.

There was a golden moment last year when it was possible to believe that Egypt could transition to a “normal democracy” where even a modest amount of tolerance can reign and power can alternate through the ballot box. But that moment is gone, a victim of the MB who have shown themselves to be in character and methods not significantly different from the communist parties that haunted Europe a century ago. The question is now what? Those who clearly care about Egypt need to accept that there are no good options at the moment. It is a difficult choice between least bad options, but responsible people need to, first and foremost, not make things worse, and then perhaps through patient effort make them better. A transition to an MB-Salafi regime is worse than the current conditions, and that must be avoided at all costs. The price might be to accept unpalatable choices such as a military-tinged regime or an Islamist-light government. In either case, the MB as it is currently constituted is inherently dangerous (to say nothing of the Salafis) and a military dictatorship is out of the question, as it has demonstrably failed and does not satisfy the needs or demands of the people.

This is a difficult moment for Egypt, and those of us in the West need to stand by the average Egyptians. All actions should be weighed not by academic or idealistic criteria, but by how they will affect the lot of the average man or woman. Will they be freer, will they be more prosperous and will they be able to look forward to a bright future.

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