Monday, January 16, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy

We are publishing these excerpts as the readers of this blog might find the views expressed interesting. The author is Israeli, Yacov Ben Efrat who is Secretary-General of Da'am – the Workers Party. This blog is not affiliated with the Da'am. You can read more about this author and events in Israel/Palestine at Challenge Magazine here.


Two movements impelled the revolution onwards: the one dubbed the “Facebook youth,” and the other consisting of the workers who had waged union struggles for three years prior to the uprising. These workers opposed the official state union and insisted on setting up alternative, democratic unions. The regime was afraid of independent organizing and suppressed the strikes with great force, using the secret police and the official union. Nonetheless, the workers’ movement gained strength until, on April 6, 2008, a workers’ intifada broke out in one of the state-owned textile factories in the Nile Delta, in the city of al-Mahala al-Kubra.

When we saw the workers tearing up posters of Mubarak, we understood that something serious was taking place, that the barrier of fear had been breached. We sent two of our members to Egypt to understand what was happening from close up. We said to ourselves, this is the moment we have been waiting for, something new is taking shape here. Until that moment, the political game in Egypt had been played on a narrow stage, sandwiched between pro-American Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab Left was captive to the view that any opposition to Mubarak would strengthen the Muslim movement. This false equation led the Egyptian Left to support Mubarak, the Palestinian Left to support Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and the Syrian Left to support Assad. A third option was nowhere to be seen. Yet suddenly, in Egypt, the workers rose up and came out against Mubarak and against the Muslim Brotherhood, demanding tangible solutions. The intellectuals called their movement “April 6,” after the workers’ intifada in al-Mahala al-Kubra, and thus the two movements flowed together.

However, after so many years of dictatorship, and after the disappointment in the Left, in Egypt as in Israel, the youth preferred to define themselves as “apolitical.” They thought the state could be managed from Tahrir Square through demonstrations. But they soon learned this wouldn’t work: we can’t declare ourselves to be the people, and we can’t force ourselves upon the people; the people must choose us. Then, when the Tahrir youth understood their electoral weakness, they did all they could to prevent elections. They knew that since they had no party, they couldn’t succeed in elections and they would lose to the old regime or the Muslim Brotherhood, who were both well organized and prepared.

The attempts to prevent elections and continue the demonstrations without proposing an alternative created a vacuum. This vacuum was filled by the army, whose status in the eyes of the public grew stronger. We did not agree with the Tahrir youth. We called on them to run in the elections. The elections, which were born out of the strength of the uprising, offered them – for the first time – the opportunity to organize and present themselves freely before the people. We also claimed that free elections – regardless of who won – are the revolution’s greatest achievement.

The disagreements over the elections divided the revolutionary factions in Egypt. The communist party and the Trotskyist organizations boycotted the elections. A new leftist bloc, “the 'Revolution Continues' Coalition”, with whom we share a common language, decided to field candidates. Then something amazing happened: the turnout, which had been less than 20% in Mubarak's days reached 62%. Thousands stood in line before the voting places. This fact cannot be erased. These people felt that the revolution had brought them tangible results and were not willing to give them up.

The problem is not the vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. For most of the electorate, there wasn’t an alternative. The Muslim Brotherhood is present in every tiny village and every dark alley, via the mosques. Even before the revolution the movement provided essential services and worked among the people. Without a functioning education system, and with illiteracy affecting almost half the population, it is not surprising that religion became a decisive factor in the lives of Egyptians. Thus, when the Muslim Brotherhood presented itself in the elections, the people decided to reward it and give it a chance. This is how the Egyptian elections must be understood.

It would be a mistake to conclude from the Brotherhood’s success that we are going back to the Sudanese or Afghan model. Radical Islam, which tried to enforce Sharia, has stopped being popular and its place is being taken by a more moderate model. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as in Tunisia, is not due to a revival of Islamic fundamentalism, but the loathing felt towards the dictatorships. Even Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, who declared ten years ago that suicide bombing was a way to vanquish Zionism, acknowledges today that the democratic model must be adopted.

There are claims that the Muslim Brotherhood will suppress tourism, forbid the wearing of bikinis or the drinking of beer, and thus strangle the Egyptian economy. To these claims the Brotherhood replies: “All will be permitted! It won’t be the sheikh who decides what’s forbidden. We will act democratically.” Maybe the time has come for the Islamists to take over the regime and prove whether they are able to deliver the solutions for which the Egyptian and Tunisian peoples fought. Now, when they are no longer in opposition, the people won’t buy their ardent speeches on the Great Satan or the Zionist Entity as an alternative for a decent life. The people demands work, health, education, and housing – real answers to pressing issues. The Muslim Brotherhood does not have the answers, yet it doesn't want to remain exposed. That’s why it's busy establishing coalitions with bourgeois parties, such as the New Wafd, to share responsibility. Managing a state is not like managing a charitable organization, and funds from Qatar are not sufficient.

On the other hand, the Left will not be able to establish itself unless it begins working among the people. Disappointment with the Muslim Brotherhood will lead people to seek another option, and the Left’s task is to offer this. The Muslim Brotherhood needs to know that the revolutionaries will not disappear – and in fact it already understands as much. The leftist organizations have moral strength on their side because they led the revolution, and the Egyptian people gives them credit for this. They have the power to criticize any regime which tries to steal the revolution's achievements.
In short, the Egyptian revolution is not just dependent on what happens in Egypt or the Arab world.

The Arab states are poor; most of their financial resources are held by multinational companies and local tycoons. The Egyptian government must feed 80 million citizens, and it can’t rely on oil or coal – it has only the waters of the Nile, the Suez Canal and tourism. It can’t work miracles. In addition, what happens in Egypt depends on what happens in the western world and also on what happens here in Israel. The situation in Egypt is only a symptom of the collapsing global system. In Spain, for example, unemployment has reached the record figure of 21.3%. Young people who emigrated there from South America are going back home to seek work.

We too have responsibility – toward the Palestinians, toward those mired in poverty here, toward the Egyptians… Every change here has the potential to assist them, and vice versa. If we do nothing except moan about the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood will continue to rule. To get out of this crisis we must unite: either we all change the system, or we all drown. True, it’s not easy, and we have to contend with Bibi, who is no better than the Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention the Occupation. But last summer’s protests are a fact, and our presence here is a fact. We must act, and we can act. The fate of the Muslim Brotherhood is in the hands of the Egyptians and indirectly in our hands too. We all share the same fate.

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