Thursday, July 04, 2013

Peering into the future of Egypt.

Today, Fareed Zakaria opined on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that the interim government in Egypt must allow the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in future elections.

“If they are not [allowed to participate] then the whole thing would be a complete sham, and frankly, that would be very dangerous. The real story here is that the Islamist political movement – not just in Egypt, but in Tunisia, Morocco and other places, potentially in Jordan –have been joining the mainstream, and joining the democratic process. Remember, there are many parts of the Islamist movement that have always been very distrustful of this. They have wanted a Caliphate, or they've wanted something that doesn't reek of a Western style of government. The Muslim Brotherhood embraced nonviolence and democracy. And so, for them to be ruled out of this process would be very dangerous. It might marginalize them. It might push them underground. And it might push some parts of them toward violence. That is the probably single most important thing to see – that the Muslim Brotherhood is included in whatever democratic processes is now re-established in Egypt.”

Maybe yes, and maybe no.

A constitution is not a suicide pact.  It is possible to have a constitution that incorporates a civil government, which guarantees, if I may borrow a phrase, certain inalienable rights. Given that the Coptic churches are believed to account for 10% of Egypt’s population, and that relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt are generally harmonious, a constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Indeed, this appeared to be a key demand of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Consider, for example, the fact that protesters projected laser images of the cross along with the crescent on buildings surrounding them. Furthermore, the Pope of the Coptic Church of Alexandria was on stage with General Abdel Fattha Al Sisi, when he announced the military intervention, and that he, Pope Theodoros II, endorsed it. (Ninety-five percent of Egyptian Christians regard him as their religious leader.)

Could the Muslim Brotherhood sign on to a guarantee of religious freedom?  As I pointed out in The Dog that Didn’t Bark on Feb 13, 2011, their website stated their vision of the future, thus:

We envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.

Of course, that same website also said, “We do not intend to take a dominant role in the forthcoming political transition.” 

My point is not that the Muslim Brotherhood can't be trusted: you already knew that. My point is that given the failures of the Islamist government, there is no reason to suspect that the framers of the next Egyptian constitution will not create a secular state similar to the government that brought Turkey into the twentieth century. By the way, in Turkey, the military has always played the role of stop-check against the civil authorities to guard against excesses, as the military has done in Egypt.

I can imagine a constitution that specifically prohibits religious parties. Could the Muslim Brotherhood sign on to that?  I wouldn't bet on it, but as Niels Bohr* famously said, “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.”  

And that brings up back to where we started. Can a government that forbids religious parties be accepted by the majority of Egyptians? That remains to be seen. For now, the Army is supported by the people, and the Army has been historically non-sectarian. Though this is an implicit rejection of Islamistism, the Army took care  to publish videos of soldiers engaged in their daily prayers today, and it is well-known that General Al Sisi is a devout man, which may account for why Morsy appointed him to head the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood was the largest, but not the only Islamist political party to get support in the last Egyptian elections. For now, it remains to be seen if the pro-secular interests in Egypt can carry the day.

Stay tuned,

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

* Or Yogi Berra. Or Casey Stangel.

No comments: