It is not the proper time to discuss the Al Azhar University incidents. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has already apologized for the students’ parade that was the focus of media attention for a few days and was used as a launching pad to arrest a few of the MB’s top leaders, including Deputy Chairman Khayrat el Shater, and some of the group’s most successful businessmen.
The arrests were planned, as there are constitutional amendments underway, and the government wants to make sure there will be no serious opposition to its “reforms, that will only undermine democracy and civil liberties for the benefit of the existing oppression and inheritance plan.
What ought to be discussed though is the new phenomenon amongst the Egyptian youth that threatens Egypt’s social tranquility. The Al Azhar University students’ parade is significant, however, because it is another manifestation of a new trend amongst the Egyptian youth, who continuously fail to communicate their ideas in a tolerant, civilized manner.
The students protested the illegal dismissal of their colleagues by organizing a sit in, hoping that their voices will be heard. Unfortunately, they were not.
After the furious students’ sit in lasted for a few days (hoping to get any of the much-needed media attention), they were informed by police officials that unless they end their sit in, thugs will be brought into the university to beat them up, similar to what happened in Ain Shams University a few weeks earlier.
The students retaliated by organizing a symbolic martial arts performance wearing black uniforms and head masks to express their dismay over university policies, and scare away the ruthless riot police, which surrounded the university premises. This reaction was coming purely from furious students who felt threatened, and not from the MB trying to display their power.
Contrary to what many people think, the MB is a decentralized organization, where students plan their activities autonomously, at least partially. This was a wrong and unjustifiable reaction. The problem was not with the performance, but with the message it delivered.
Wearing outfits like the militias of Hamas and Hezbollah, the performance was interpreted as a clear confrontational message to the government; a confrontation that contradicts the core values of the MB.
Contextualizing this students’ reaction reveals that furious, irrational reactions do not come from MB students alone, but from Egyptian youth at large. Here, it is important to understand that the MB does not live in closed cantonments in society; they are living parts of the society that interact with people of different grounds, share the same problems of their compatriots from different backgrounds, economic classes . etc.
These students belong to their societies more than they belong to the MB. They are, like anybody else, the natural outcome of their contexts. Their unacceptable reaction stemmed from being Egyptian youth, and not from being members of the MB.
Seeing the incident this way easily fits it into a larger picture that manifest the Egyptian youth’s dismay with the status quo. A couple of months earlier, and during the Islamic Eid Al-Fitr holiday, tens of Egyptian youth started following and harassing young ladies in Egypt’s downtown streets.
This event was regarded as a real threat to the social values of Egyptian society, but received only minimal coverage by the Egyptian media.
The free media, of course, covered the issue, yet did not capitalize on it the way it did with Al Azhar incident.
A few months earlier, youth of the opposition Wafd Party used violence (real guns this time) to settle a dispute over the party’s political leadership; after a few days of instability. This time, the use of violence was directly advocated by the party’s leadership, yet again received only minimal media coverage.
But again, it was an incident that illustrated the furiousness of the youth; who could no longer bear the belated resolution of the leadership dispute, and decided to step in and resolve in their own, unacceptable way.
Yet the most serious manifestation of this trend is that which I call “neo-terrorism. We could all recall the terrorist attacks that took place in Cairo less than two years ago. They were undertaken by university students, again expressing their dismay over the current political, economic or social status quo. This time, they expressed their dismay in a deadly manner.
With the IT boom, they did not need to organize in large terrorist organizations, but only needed to log on to the internet and learn from there how develop a bomb, and kill a handful of people.
What I am trying to say here is the problem of Al Azhar students affiliated with the MB is not a cause of them being part of the MB, but because they are Egyptian youth. Just like their compatriots, they have hard time dealing with problems encountering them.
Maybe it is because they lost faith in the government, and maybe because they are desperate, and maybe because they were never taught how to disagree and still engage in civilized dialogues.
The outcome is still the same – youth full of energy, and full of frustration, unable to communicate their ideas, and work for achieving their objectives in a civilized manner.
To realize the magnitude of the problem, I think it is enough to say that over 70% of Egyptians are youth. That means that if this problem was not taken seriously and resolved soon, then looking forward for a better future will be absurd.
That does not mean that the MB is not responsible for what happened, for in fact they are.
The MB is a reformist organization that upholds the principles of tolerance, peaceful reform and perseverance in upholding the principles regardless of the obstacles. The incident evidently proves that internal reform has become a necessity; and ideas need to be communicated more efficiently to the youth.
Reform is extremely important move for the MB to commence, especially that the movement is the largest political power in Egypt, and the tolerance spirit it embraces will easily be reflected on other political parties.
The most important question here is are the people who started pointing fingers at the MB after al Azhar incidents sincerely keen about the well being of this country, or were they using the incident as an excuse to distort the MB’s image, just as the government did?
If the incidents were a good chance for them to distort the image of the MB without seriously attempting to understand their context and motives, then they would be collaborating in the destruction of Egyptian society. If they genuinely care about the future of this country, their discourse should take another direction.
Just like the prominent columnists and thinkers Fahmy Howeidy and Rafik Habib did, they will contextualize the incident accurately, and will move forward from there attempting to resolve the problems of Egyptian youth, rather than attempting to alienate the MB from the Egyptian political life, which could by no means be a successful attempt.
Ibrahim El Houdaiby is a board member of ikhwanweb.com, the website of the Muslim Brotherhood. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star Egypt