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Opinion: The Brotherhood’s Golden Opportunity | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riot police stand across from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood during a demonstration at Cairo University hours after a drive-by shooting killed several Egyptian policemen and wounded others during an overnight rally by Islamist students at another university, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, May 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gamil)

Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt are now facing prison or exile following a disastrous period in power. However, in my view, this is a golden opportunity for the group to make substantial reforms and revisions. It is illogical for Muslim Brotherhood leaders to criticize Arab governments and the slow pace of political change in the Arab world when they themselves do not practice change. If you do not encourage change in the leadership of your own group, how can you expect to see change in government leadership? Some Muslim Brotherhood members tried to effect change within the group only to meet with rejection by the Brotherhood’s old guard, forcing the younger generation to leave the Brotherhood to establish their own political party in 1996, the Al-Wasat Party. In my view, the Muslim Brotherhood’s difficult experience during its single year of rule and the dramatic events that followed, including the Rabaa Al-Adawiya protests, as well as their continuing efforts to undermine rule in Egypt is something that is neither in the interests of the group nor the country.

Therefore, it is during the current stage that the Muslim Brotherhood needs to consider implementing significant, not superficial, change and reform. We need to see a complete review, and reform, of the Muslim Brotherhood, from its foundations upwards. What has become clear from the Brotherhood’s year in power is that the group’s understanding of politics, and particularly the issue of bay’ah or pledging allegiance to its leader, has become a hindrance, not a help. That is, Muslim Brotherhood members, including senior officials, pledging allegiance to a non-elected figure creates a sense of aversion and apprehension toward the group, not just for any prospective Brotherhood supporter among Egypt’s left-wing or secular parties, but for the Egyptian general public itself. This is despite the fact that Egypt’s general public, which does not necessarily subscribe to any ideological or political belief, do not oppose religion or religious conservatism, as anybody who has any knowledge of Egyptian society surely knows.

It is not acceptable, or reasonable, for the Muslim Brotherhood to exist for more than 80 years without experiencing any tremor of real change to accommodate internal reform and development. Brotherhood scholars, leaders and intellectuals have written about “renewing” Islam and Islamic discourse, and adopting a new view of the relationship between religion and politics; however, we have not seen any such deep change or reform within the group itself. We have not seen any radical revisions regarding the divisive issues that beset the Brotherhood and particularly the issue of the bay’ah and how this affects the group, ideologically and politically.

It does not take an expert to see how these issues have had a negative effect on the Muslim Brotherhood’s political fate, particularly after the group put forward a post-revolution presidential candidate. For, despite the long arm of Muslim Brotherhood influence—politically, socially and in the media—it failed to convince the public that the elected president was ruling Egypt independently, away from the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Guidance Bureau. This lack of independence—namely being a member of the Brotherhood but engaging in politics—can be seen in the nomination, and subsequent presidency, of Mohamed Mursi. For politicians such as this, politics and the Brotherhood are like Siamese twins, and you need a team of surgeons to separate one from the other. The Brotherhood must demonstrate that it is able to change, develop and reform, otherwise anybody that it nominates—be that as president, minister or governor—will be besieged by public doubt and distrust. The Brotherhood’s political opponents also realized this, and so portrayed Mursi as a diligent student of his teacher, the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, who was taking all the real decisions. This portrayal was able to gain traction within Egyptian society as a result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s view of the bay’ah, and not just the picture painted by the media.