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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”
* Or Yogi Berra. Or Casey Stangel.