Brothers in alarums

Daily News Egypt
8 Min Read
Philip Whitfield
Philip Whitfield

By Philip Whitfield

Morsi’s durability dips daily. After losing any goodwill he had among democrats, his powerbase is crumbling. He’s no use to the Muslim Brotherhood now that he can’t dictate election outcomes.

On the street, former MB youth fight it out with MB holdouts in the canal cities, the Delta and, more recently, in Cairo. Put to a vote, MB youth are scorned in university elections, until recently a source of their strength.

A major cause of friction within the Brotherhood is Morsi’s pursuit of aid from the West. Secretary of State John Kerry’s gift of $250m might be the kiss of death.

What’s going on?

Anyone with an ounce of understanding knows Morsi can’t get away with another fraud. Egyptians aren’t saps. Their last hope is to throw themselves on the mercy of the courts, which has taken charge of the parliamentary elections.

The normally combative Morsi meekly accepted the inevitable. He’s a bystander.

No doubt the legal process will be a prolonged argument. There are more than a dozen complainants and if each has its say, the outcome won’t come soon.

That should be welcomed. Four issues prevail: the composition of the constituencies; independent candidates’ rights; the restoration of quotas for women, and transparent vote counting. On top of that is a labyrinthine legal journey through a jungle of constitutional laws.

Morsi rigged the constituencies to favour Muslim Brotherhood candidates, to eliminate challenges from Copts and to negate the impact of the large conurbations of Cairo and Alexandria.

The Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) can deal with this by ordering the High Judicial Elections Commission to rebalance the voting areas. Given the complexity and appeals that might take a few months. But unless it is done nobody is going to be bamboozled into electing an illegitimate House of Representatives.

The purpose of Egypt’s multiple-list polls is to reflect diverse opinions and occupations and to prevent one party from benefitting from its domination in any one constituency.

Morsi tanked that by opening up the independent lists to party candidates, a violation of proportional representation principles. The SCC has the power to annul that.

Restoring a quota for women is implicit in the Constitution and in statements made by Morsi. It’s not difficult to apply and should be a precondition of aid from abroad.

Vote rigging is endemic in Egyptian elections. There’s no reason why the ballot boxes can’t be sealed by judges in the polling booths and sent to a central counting centre where the seals can be broken in plain view and the ballot papers counted in front of judges and the media.

It isn’t my place to advocate one solution over another. But it is my concern that violence and death not be tolerated, as they are.

Morsi’s loss of control over the Muslim Brotherhood’s 700,000 members is palpable in the rift between the 17 leaders in the MB’s Guidance Bureau whose average age is 61 and the 300,000 who are under 35. They defied the Guidance’s mantra to ‘listen and obey’ and pushed their elders into supporting the Revolution in Tahrir Square.

Jeffrey Martini, Dalia Dassa Kaye and Erin York have studied these issues for the Rand Corporation. They point out traditionally MB youth are organised into jawwala, or rovers, to implement public service projects and provide internal security during times of political upheaval. The rovers have been used to counter-balance the nationalist Wafd party.

Lack of response to the youth’s demands has caused many to leave the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in favour of parties such as Al Watan, whose roots are in Suez and Port Said.

Even more fractious within the Brotherhood is ‘post-Islamism’, first coined by the Iranian-born Dr. Asef Bayat, Professor of Sociology and Middle Eastern studies, who taught at the American University in Cairo for 17 years after receiving a doctorate in the UK and a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

He says post-Islamism, advocated by many prominent younger Muslims is “an endeavor to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to turn the underlying principles of Islamism on its head by emphasising rights instead of duties, plurality in place of a singular authoritative voice, historicity rather than fixed scriptures, and the future instead of the past”.

We’re witnessing a full-blown fight between three factions of Muslim Brothers and defectors. The organisation’s senior leadership claims historical legitimacy. Having seen the organisation through the crackdown of the 1960s, for which they paid a heavy price, this generation claims leadership for keeping the MB’s flame alight during its darkest period.

The second narrative is the institutional legitimacy claimed by the likes of Essam al-Arayan, Khairat al-Shater and Morsi who credit themselves with positioning the MB in Egypt’s current political scene, which is a dubious assertion as they only agreed to tag along to Tahrir at the last minute.

The Muslim Brotherhood youth claim revolutionary legitimacy given their role in the uprising that led to the overthrow of Mubarak. Their claim to leadership comes from being catalysts in the revolutionary change that their predecessors were unable to achieve.

Another splinter youth group, the Egyptian Current, demands the right to pursue political projects other than the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. More outspoken is the Brotherhood Cry that says mixing educational-missionary work and party activism exposes the Muslim Brotherhood to the dangers of polarisation and division, just as it threatens Egypt with dictatorship dressed in the cloak of religion

The decision to try the legitimacy of Morsi’s decision making in the courts throws into serious doubt his authority to continue in office. He’s broken the promises he made during the presidential election. He’s pursuing détente with Iran, which was never mentioned in his platform; he backs away from reforms that are demanded by the International Monetary Fund to secure loans and he disregards his own party’s advice.

The Brotherhood’s pledges come back to haunt them. Take this one from Dr. Rashad Bayoumi, a Brotherhood leader: The most important quality of a Brother in the Muslim Brotherhood is commitment to the principle of ‘listen and obey.’

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening… Plato

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

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