Anwar Al-Sadat was the president of Egypt from 1970 until his assassination in October 1981. Extremist groups, galvanised by fundamentalist ideas, assassinated him. Al-Sadat allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to play politics, and allowed their students to be part of the political scene at universities. He had a plan to create a balance between the communists as well as the pro-Gamal Abdel Nasser group and the Brotherhood.
The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was held in March 1979. The Brotherhood, the leftists, and other political groups were completely against the peace treaty. Practically and pragmatically, the peace treaty was the only option that allowed for Egypt to regain the Sinai Peninsula. The Brotherhood and other fundamentalist groups were against the treaty for ideological reasons. They were against the existence of Israel. They believed that there would be animosity between the Muslims and the Jews until doomsday. These ideas may have directed their political attitudes.
To confuse what is political with what is not is a serious problem. This is usually an entangled issue when a researcher analyses the mindset and the ideology that motivate religious fundamentalists. They seem to be neither practical nor flexible enough to be able to adapt to the modern world and to cope with the rapid changes taking place with each passing minute.
The leaders of Hamas, an Islamic and Palestinian organisation, and its military wing, have repeatedly refused to acknowledge a two-state solution with Israel. They have refused to acknowledge the existence of Israel. This political inflexibility led to more complications.
Most religious fundamentalists follow a rigid uncompromising approach in many political issues. They do not show flexibility or understanding to the details and power factors of real situations. Hamas, by refusing to acknowledge the existence of Israel, does not change the reality of the existence of Israel. They do not even propose strategies that create any practical plan to work the entangled issue out. Hamas, as a fundamentalist group, believes that, as Andrew Heywood stated, “existing structures must be replaced with a comprehensive system founded on religious principles.” They are very radical, and they are uncompromising. They could not work along with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The two had many disagreements that led to a split between Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas now controls Gaza, and the PLO controls the West Bank.
The mindset of the religious group
It is hard to find religious fundamentalists in power that control with ease. They usually clash with those who are different or oppose their views. According to Hassan Al-Banna: “A government that is founded on un-Islamic rules and foundation is useless.” He also added that they should not support such a form of government.
It seems clear that the mindset of religious fundamentalists have been set on one form. They are after one idea, whether they sometimes show cooperation with other governments or parties seems to be a tactical and temporary strategy. In 1979, after Al-Khomeini held power in Iran, he declared Iran an Islamic republic. He excluded all the other political players after he seized power. It seems to be typical of religious fundamentalists to exclude others when they are in power. They believe in a one-way politics. Everything has to be Islamic. Nevertheless, there is not one definition to what is Islamic. It all depends on the culture in which these religious fundamentalists grow up.
A Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt
The Muslim Brotherhood came into power through winning the presidential elections in June 2012. They had in their grips the most powerful executive position in the country. Mohamed Morsi became the first democratically elected president in Egypt since 1952. When he won the elections he had to deal with the existing powers. These existing powers included the army, business men, the police, the minorities, the Copts, the judicial system, and the media.
I argue that it is not an easy task for any president to rule a country like Egypt. There are so many issues that need to be solved. It is a big country and it has a long history. It is also a pivotal country in the region. However, for a president from the Brotherhood, the situation is even harder for many reasons.
First of all, the country has had a long history in leading the arts and entertainment industries of the region. Cairo is called by all neighbouring countries the “Hollywood of the East”. Cinema started as early as 1886 with the first silent movies, and until now Egyptian cinema plays a great role in shaping regional culture.
Secondly, the number of internet users in Egypt stood at 31.4 per 100 people in 2010, and it went up in 2013 to become 49.6 per 100 people. Egypt is demographically a young country—according to Index Mundy (2014) young people from the ages of 20 to 40 comprise around 60% of the population—that has greater access to means of communication.
Had former president Morsi come to power in a different time, would he have been able to stay around longer? He came to power after the events of 25 January Revolution. A lot of young people took to the streets, and used social media to express their views. The whole fabric of the Egyptian society has to some extent changed since then.
Was history repeated?
Despite a different game, former president Morsi still attempted to exclude all other political players. He had 17 consultants, most of whom were from the Brotherhood and the Salafists. The prime minister as well as most of the ministers in Morsi’s government belonged to the Brotherhood. He started to create a greater habit of going to Al-Gomaa prayer (Friday Prayer), considered the most important prayer for Muslims. He used a lot of religious words in his speeches.
The political players who were excluded and those who felt they were about to be excluded backlashed. The other political players, along with the people who did not approve of many of his policies, prepared to terminate his rule. He only stayed for one year in power. Exclusion did not seem to be a functional policy. It may seem to succeed in certain instances; however, it cannot be adopted as a long-term policy. The problem seems that many religious fundamentalists repeat the same approach. Former president Morsi and the Brotherhood followed the same strategy of exclusion that hardly brings about any form of coexistence. Not including all political players in the process of running the country may sooner or later lead to serious problems.
Sherif Rizq is a researcher in international relations.