Egypt and the compatibility of Islamism and democracy

Here’s an extract from an excellent and succinct analysis of Egypt’s predicament, and a hint at how it might be resolved, by Magdi Abdelhadi, a freelance writer and broadcaster and former Arab affairs analyst for the BBC:

The ripples of Egypt’s second upheaval are still being played out and their full impact may not be clear for some time. But one of its most important consequences has been throwing into sharp focus the question of the compatibility of Islamism and democratic values.

It has become pretty obvious to everyone that democracy for the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] means nothing more than the ballot box and winner-takes-all. That is primarily why they have failed to build bridges with the opposition and create consensus – the only way to run a divided society like Egypt.

Now, the MB has a choice to make: either do some soul-searching or continue to blame it all on foreign conspiracies and the “Crusader West”. The former could pave the way for compromise and power-sharing. The latter would consign it to a slow and painful death.

The MB has perfected the art of double-speak: the language of democracy and human rights to its Western interlocutors, but that of jihad and xenophobia to fire up its poor masses. That too has to change if it wants people to believe its avowal to respect democratic values, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

No less important for the MB is the need to revise its founding myth (its core ideas have remained untouched since its founder Hassan al-Banna more than 80 years ago) that Shari’ah [Islamic law] is the panacea to the ills of society. This fallacy has been exposed and is why people quickly became disillusioned with Morsi. The poor and hungry cannot eat Shari’ah, neither can holy books or piety alone create jobs or grow the economy. Egyptians revolted against Mubarak in January 2011 not because of a supposedly lost Muslim identity, but to demand freedom, dignity and social justice…

Abdelhadi warns against rushing the transition to democracy again, reminding us that “It was haste during the first transition (promoted by the MB out of pure self-interest) that plunged the country into a series of unending crises culminating in the latest upheaval”.

Instead of rushing to the ballot box and coming up with another half-baked constitution, Abdelhai says Egypt “is in desperate need of its own truth and reconciliation process.

Ideological differences have solidified into a personal hatred that has often led to violence. With the bitterness so intense, it is hard to imagine how Egypt can heal its rifts without a Nelson Mandela or a non-violent grassroots movement committed to that goal. Were that ever to happen, it would be a victory for the culture of democracy over the deeply ingrained autocratic instincts of the establishment and the political class.

We can only hope.

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