Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Divine rights

The problem of democracy and Egypt's Islamists

By Brian Whitaker

"The overthrow of President Morsi has prompted new debate about the future of Islamist movements in Egypt and beyond. To some, it signals the beginning of the end for political Islam. Writing in the London Review of Books, for instance, Hazem Kandil suggeststhe country that invented Islamism may well be on its way to undoing the spell”.

In the long run such predictions may prove correct but we are not there yet. What can be safely said, though, is that at present the wind is not blowing the Islamists' way
Despite some electoral successes since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Islamist movements are now clearly on the defensive – and not just because of their confrontation with the military in Egypt. Arab (and Muslim) opponents of Islamism, whose voices were often marginalised in the past, are speaking out as never before.
In Egypt, Kandil suggests, the Muslim Brotherhood deluded itself about its popularity and is probably continuing to do so.....

Whatever disappointment the Brothers felt over their parliamentary result was quickly overtaken by hubris when Mohamed Morsi passed the magical 50% mark in the run-off of last year’s presidential election. Unfortunately, they seem to have interpreted this as a sign of their own popularity rather than a sign of his opponent’s unpopularity among voters who would not normally support the Brotherhood....

Even so, there are fundamental questions about how far a reconciliation process can go unless the Brotherhood (and the Salafis too) change their approach towards working in a democracy. They are happy to accept electoral politics but still tend to view it as a tool for gaining power rather than a means for determining and implementing the will of the people......

Root of the problem

One of the basic requirements for freedom in politics is that sovereignty belongs to the people. Power may be delegated to representatives but the people should remain the ultimate arbiters. Islamists, no matter how they try to dress up their ideology, do not accept this key point. Islamism, by definition, seeks to apply “Islamic” principles to the state......

In practice, the Brotherhood has distanced itself from its famous slogans that “Islam is the solution” and “The Qur’an is our constitution” but the underlying problem is still the same: an anti-libertarian assumption that linking the state with religion is both legitimate and necessary. Not only that, but religion claims the right, at least in some circumstances, to over-ride the will of the people....."

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