Readers of this page will know that that under former president Mohammad Mursi’s rule, criticism of the opposition was generally absent, while calling the Muslim Brotherhood to account was more common. They should also have noticed that over the past month or so, the reverse has been true, and for good reason – but today calls for an exception.
There is a clear difference between a partisan polemicist, and an impartial commentator. The former will seek any opportunity to criticize their opponent, regardless of that opponent being right or wrong, and irrespective of the power that its opponent actually has. The latter, on the other hand, generally reserves their criticism for those not only in the wrong, but also in possession of a certain level of power that allows that wrong to affect a large number of people.
More power means more accountability
For that reason, the non-Islamist political leadership was hardly worthy of much critique for the past year, as it hardly had any power of its own to affect matters. Their numerous mistakes and errors not withstanding, those failings were not of much consequence in comparison to those in power (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies). Once in a while, nevertheless, one could argue that not only the MB, but also the opposition’s leadership were failing the country as a whole – and hence why, on a few isolated occasions, a minor amount of criticism was warranted. Indeed, a recent study by TahrirTrends shows that political leadership in general has been a catastrophic disappointment – perhaps indicating why the country’s civilian population may have, sadly, been so open to more direct military involvement in political life.
If all the reports are to be believed, Mursi was at worst a rather fickle and useless president – and at best the Arabian Mandela.H.A. Hellyer
The Muslim Brotherhood, nevertheless, remains more pertinent today, than the non-Islamist political leadership of the National Salvation Front (NSF) were during Mursi’s rule. Indeed, given the influence of the military and the security establishment at present, the MB arguably has more influence than the NSF even now. Hence: this piece.
In previous pieces on this page, calls for accountability of the state’s forces have been made clearly and strongly, so there ought not to be any confusion. Nevertheless, to make things abundantly clear: the Rabaa sit-in should not be broken up by force (unless, of course, you believe that the sterling security services are, actually, very well restrained and would rather shoot themselves rather than use excessive force); the MB and FJP should remain as legal, as opposed to banned forces (it just does not seem entirely smart to ban groups that have the support of around 15% of the country’s adult population); the MB at large is not a terrorist group (terrorist groups don’t tend to set up camps where they tell everyone on international TV that they are there); and Islamist leaders currently being detained ought to be released, or indicted with appropriate (and not, ahem, somewhat fanciful) charges.
Incidentally, most of these opinions, if not all of them, are shared by significant parts of the non, and even anti-Islamist, political leadership, including those serving in the interim government – so, please, let’s not get holier-than-thou aboute proving ‘patriotic credentials.’ There’s little utility in citing human rights advocates and actual counter-terrorism specialists, as, of course, they’re all compromised by being Western-Zionist-American-Otherwise White-Qatari-Turkish-Martian-Secret-Secret-MB-Sympathisers.
[Side note: there are tuggar al-din (traders in religion) indeed – but there are tuggar al-wataniyya (traders in patriotism) as well. It remains to be seen which are worse.]
The pro-Mursi myths
Keeping all of this in mind, the transformation of the pro-Mursi camp in the last few weeks has been rather astonishing. If all the reports are to be believed, Mursi himself was at worst a rather fickle and useless president – and at best the Arabian Mandela. (Update: according to one well-placed source, he is also the torchbearer of Islam, democracy, the constitution and the rule of law. Quite.)
A close relative of mine was an English member of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement for years, and worked closely with leading members of ANC (Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, whites and blacks) who later became Cabinet members, including Thabo Mbeki, later President, with whom my relative was at university. When I asked him about a suggestion from a certain Yemeni Islamist activist that Mursi was the Arabian Mandela, his response left little to the imagination:
“To suggest that Mursi is the ‘Arab Mandela’ is not only obscene, but an insult to Mandela and to the principles for which he stands.”
Admittedly, he was somewhat harsh (many of his friends and colleagues were killed or imprisoned by the apartheid regime with Mandela, so he’s kind of sensitive about the comparison with a political non-leader like Mohammed Mursi). Then again, he was less harsh than a non-Islamist and anti-SCAF activist I heard from in Egypt: “If Mursi is the Arabian ‘Mandela’, then this activist is the Yemeni ‘Sarah Palin’.”
It would prolong this article beyond your patience, dear reader (if it wasn’t exceeded in the first paragraph, which it ought to have been), to chronicle the somewhat inaccurate portrayal of Mohammed Mursi as the 21st century Egyptian version of Mandela, Prophet Joseph (yes, this has also been said), etc ad nauseum. Let us just stick with this one.
Madiba, Nelson Mandela, fought against the disgraceful system of apartheid, for the sake of all South Africans: the indigenous black African population, which was the overwhelming majority of South Africans, as well as the European South Africans whose ancestors had settled in South Africa generations before. As a result of that struggle, the minority that supported apartheid imprisoned him for it. When he was released, he dismantled that system, and led a process of reconciliation that brought together the country on a shared future and promise – and is now known as the ‘father of the nation.’
Mohammed Mursi was no ‘father of the nation.’ There was no system of apartheid in Egypt prior to Mursi – there was a system of corruption, police brutality, media censorship, and political restrictions. None of that came under fire by Mursi’s government. Corruption remained; it went nowhere, at best scarcely tackled, and at worse, simply served the interests of a new nepotism favourable to the Muslim Brotherhood. Police brutality stayed the same as it had under Tantawi and Mubarak: according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, torture continued, and unarmed protesters were killed. Under Mursi, media censorship took another form; while many were free to say whatever they wanted, Mursi’s reign did not stop more people being charged and arrested for ‘insulting the president’ in one year than during Mubarak’s entire reign, for example.
Mursi was not responsible for creating that system – but he hardly tried to take it to pieces. For months, he was warned that the Mubarak era system was still intact, and would try to thwart any efforts at reform, meaning that Mursi had to work with non-Mubarakite elements to engage in genuine, revolutionary change. Instead, he achieved what some people thought was possible: he managed to encourage and stimulate such animosity from those who would have been his allies, they opted to work with people they previously considered to be enemies. Congratulations on this matchless achievement.
Redefining Egyptian history
Let’s be frank about this. The current vitriol that is being promoted across Egypt’s airwaves seeks to redefine Egyptian history in a way that bears little or no resemblance to the truth. (According to this narrative, the Muslim Brotherhood is apparently responsible for every death in Egypt since January 25th, in addition to the theft of my pet goldfish and the remarkably warm summer.)
That does not, however, suddenly turn Mohammed Mursi into some sort of heroic figure. The system did, indeed, detain and imprison him – and in all likelihood, considering the vast support the army has, with the support of the majority of the Egyptian people. He did not fight against that system with any huge effort during his reign – although he ought to have. He didn’t fight for the majority of Egyptians – on the contrary, the majority of Egyptians were remarkably disappointed in him. Mursi earned that disappointment not because he waged a war against the system – but because he failed in his duties to the Egyptian public, and the system saw an opportunity to remove him on the back of widespread, grassroots animosity to him and his allies.
The Muslim Brotherhood missed opportunity after opportunity to do some good during Mursi’s year in power – and it’s continuing to miss opportunities now. It’s a grave pity, because it will pay an immediate, hefty and unjustifiable price – but the price will also be paid by Egyptians for many years to come. Unless, of course, they realises that the wellbeing of the Egyptian people is not always tied to the political predominance of the Muslim Brotherhood – and that they need to re-evaluate things sooner, rather than later. Otherwise, the Muslim Brotherhood abandons the people of Egypt to a dark future indeed.
Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and ISPU, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.
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