On Sunday, a new Egypt confirmed its first democratically elected president, Mohammed Mursi, of the Freedom and Justice party, founded by the Muslim Brotherhood. This result may appear troubling to Western observers, but there are many reasons not to fear the result.
· The Egyptian people are not Islamists. 75% of the voting population did not vote for an Islamist candidate in the first round of voting. This 75% non-Islamist vote was divided between the remaining political parties.
· The second round of voting was an ironic hark back to the past ‘extremism versus dictatorship’ argument that shaped the Mubarak regime. The Egyptian people, as demonstrated through their uprising, had sought to move society past this argument. The final round of voting brought this debate back into the limelight. The vote can thus be seen not as a choice for Islamists, but instead as rejection of the old Establishment.
· There are many reasons not to be fearful about the election of President Mursi. Through the dissolution of the lower house, the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer in charge of both Parliament and the executive. Civil society and establishment pressure against the group has curtailed any significant powers they may have held. The Brotherhood’s performance in the dismissed Parliament has significantly tempered early public enthusiasm for them. There is an increased debate on reform within the Muslim Brotherhood, and the group is also making overtures towards being committed to democracy. One key figure to watch within the party is not the new President Mursi, nor even the Supreme Guide Dr Badei, but rather their key financier Khairat el-Shater. Due to his own business background Shater is naturally inclined to free trade and the liberalisation of markets, though he does belong to the austere religious strand within the Brotherhood and may hinder reform on social issues. Shater has the power to be more influential behind the scenes than other prominent figures.
· This is not to dismiss lightly the areas for concern with the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship to Hamas, who are increasingly using the Rafah crossing to pass into the lawless Sinai province to launch rocket attacks into Israel, is an area to watch closely. Increased rocket attacks could destabilise the relationship between Egypt and Israel, particularly if Israel seek unilateral action inside Egyptian territory. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood has yet to show the same commitment to reform as its Tunisian sister group, Ennahda. Quilliam applauds Ennahda’s ‘Clause 4’ moment, dropping a condition from Tunisia’s constitution that the source of law must be an interpretation of Sharia – a step that so far Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been unwilling to take. Instead, the group is overwhelmingly dominated by old first-generation conservative voices, with popular reform figures having been quickly expelled through internal purges which many hold el-Shater responsible for. Pressure from ultra-conservative Salafists may further slow reform, as The Brotherhood worry about being ‘out-flanked’ by their right.
Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam co-founder and Chairman (Amnesty adopted prisoner of conscience in Egypt 2002-2006), says:
‘We believe it is important that democratic culture – the ideas and values which underpin democracy – as well as democratic institutions, and democratic processes are actively supported, and encouraged to properly entrench themselves in Egyptian society. Once achieved, regardless of which party or personality is in power, this democratic trinity will act as a constant check against the misuse of power’.
‘If the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) continues to interfere in this democratic trinity, they will only increase polarisation in Egyptian society. Military interference in democracy is unhealthy in the long term and self-defeating. The international community should increase pressure to keep the military out of politics. Egyptian civil society has proven its robust ability to act as its own check against the overreaching powers by any one strand.’
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