As soon as our blessed revolution succeeded in realising its main demand and remove Mubarak from office, a streaming flood of Islamists ran through all veins of life in Egypt. Suddenly, ideology became identity, difference became blasphemy and tolerance became treachery. Since way before and during the 18 days, the Islamists felt an over-estimated sense of pride and a subtle power trip. The safety they sensed in their numbers, the motivation they felt from the multi-layered structure of leadership they had and the determination they showed in dedication to their plan; all these truths were simply the other side of the Arab Spring coin.
Please don’t think that this article is going down the road of the “Islamic Conspiracy” analysis, where everything is pre-meditated to declare a new Islamic state in Egypt. Indeed there are several writers in Egypt who specialise in that specific kind of nonsense, conspiracy theory, but unfortunately I wasn’t skeptic enough to join them! What I intend to point out is the fact that Islamists in Egypt have been privileged from day one. When you talk to average Egyptians who don’t necessarily work in politics, they would tell you that the Islamists were the most organised, they have been working for many years, they are close to people’s problems and present in their lives; somehow they would paint this Robin-Hood like image of Egypt’s Islamists.
Aside from considering the actual motives of Egypt’s Islamists, since they are a matter of personal intent (although Islamists often don’t seem to have a problem with judging people on their personal intents), the Islamists did exist within the Egyptian social and political fabric long ago. But the reason why they’re privileged is not their old age or the fact that they have been around for years since there are political forces that are as old as Islamists. It is not also a matter of organisation or number, neither is it a matter of financial resources. All these are indeed significant advantages that do privilege any force, but at the particular moment of Egypt’s history where Islamists were most enabled, it was the fact that they had both vision and access.
On the morning of 12 February 2011, I would argue that no other group of Egyptians had a vision of what to do next except the Islamists. The old political parties were busy trying to recover from their coma. The new political and social movements were busy fighting the remnants of the Mubarak regime battle and later a series of battles with the army. The active national opposition was busy trying to organise itself, political parties became like rock bands, some figures used to start parties only to split later on and then start other parties that preach pretty much the same thing.
The Islamists on the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and later the Salafists, had a plan to chase and a vision to pursue. These plans were not nationalist grand projects that aim to attain growth and development, they were not a set of policies that will eventually lift the country from under Mubarak’s rubble, they were not models inspired by successful examples like Turkey, Poland or Brazil. The plan the Islamists had and frantically pursued was winning the elections. It does not matter what elections or what is it that they could offer if they win, it was just a possessive sentiment of greed. The experience of coexistence the Muslim Brotherhood had with the Mubarak regime taught it that those who win the most seats win so many other goodies in the process. Since very early on, the Islamists knew what they were working for and mobilised all resources they could to secure the highest number of seats possible.
With every election that took place, blood was spilled and chaos broke out, but to the Islamists the dying youth of Egypt only signified an evil attempt by desperate politicians to postpone or cancel elections. Yes that’s true, the Islamists interpreted life and death through a voting ballot. The clashes in Mohamed Mahmoud before the first phase of the Parliamentary elections in November, then the clashes at the Cabinet before the second phase of elections in December, and finally the clashes at Mohamed Mahmoud again after the Port Said massacre and while the revered Parliament was in session; when elections are in the air, Islamists just detach themselves from all other events in life. I am not sure who came up with the description for the first time, but I’ve always heard that Islamists in Egypt in general and Muslim Brothers in particular are “electoral creatures”.
And it does not take a genius to realise these massive recurrent electoral victories that Egypt’s Islamists have secured. And you ask yourself why is it that all these people vote for them? You look at the faces standing in lines waiting to vote. Look at the old women standing next to you, women who look like they have been brought up and lived and probably even brought their children up according to the traditional Egyptian folk values and culture; why would such women vote for the Freedom and Justice Party? The answers are diverse, and surprisingly, in many cases true. Some would tell you they are the only ones we have seen, others would assure you that they are the people who care for us and support us with goods and services, some will tell you that they were simply the highest bidders and others will tell you the ridiculous rationale that the Islamists themselves like to spread the most: they were the people who went to jail during the Mubarak era and they should have their chance now. I am not exactly sure where is the glory in being a veteran of prison. The pride of resistance is not about being in prison, it’s about the reasons why you were taken to prison in the first place. The Islamists were in prison either because they violently accused the rest of society with infidelity or simply did not reach common ground with Mubarak’s cronies. It was never the imprisonment that could yield all this political credit.
But before thinking about why Islamists win elections and start accounting for the factors of their success, perhaps we need to ask why is it that Islamists are so spread out all over Egypt. At a time where (as Islamists themselves proudly claim) the freedom of assembly was sequestered, Islamists never had a problem not only to assemble but also to diffuse and further instill their presence. The real strength of the Islamists, their secret weapon, their very unique privilege has always been the Zawiya; the small mosques that appear here and there with no geographical rationale or economic sense of opportunity cost. Egypt has millions of these; Zawiyas are the most widespread base of political organisation in Egypt. No other political force could wield that weapon except for the Islamists. It is not only because they are the most suited to do so judging by their attire, but its also because they were the only ones who (surprisingly) did not have any trouble with blatantly and harmfully mixing religion and politics, two items that in Brotherhood terminology apparently “do mix”.
You might hear a lot of counter arguments from Islamists saying that Zawiyas are never used in elections, but as someone who did field research in more than one Egyptian village during several elections, Zawiyas are the most fundamental nuclei of Islamic political activities. Zawiyas and mosques are used in elections in rural and urban Egypt. The access Zawyias offer is not only to the lives of the voters, but the combination of political lust and religious corruption allows Islamists access to the very minds of those voters. Voters lose the purpose of reason and logic as soon as they walk into the Islamists’ Godly niche.
Fair elections are never a matter of mere laws, or international supervision or transparent glass ballots; they are also about guaranteeing equal access to all the contending individuals and entities. But how can this equality ever exist if Islamists keep manipulating the social and spiritual fabric of our society to fulfill their hunger for power? Maybe it will take us many years to break this unholy bond between what is civil and what is religious, but until we do the least we can do is know how exactly are we being defeated.