Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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We have seen the controversial leaked video of Tunisian Ennahda movement chief Rashid Ghannouchi, as well as Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s controversial decision to dismiss General Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, and then retract this decision under pressure from judges and lawyers, not to mention the subsequent clashes that broke out in Tahrir Square last Friday. All of the above justifies our fears of Islamist political trends. This also justifies the claims that the Islamists philosophy of seesawing between rule and opposition is based on the principle of laying low until the right time, and then monopolizing rule. Therefore now, following the Arab Spring, we see Islamist movements changing their spots and no longer keeping a low profile, based on the view that now that they have reached power, they must do everything that they can to cling to it.

What is strange is that the leaderships of such movements are well aware of these fears, and they made reference to this during the Islamists and Democratic Governance Conference held a few days ago in Doha. However, they are not doing enough to allay such concerns or reassure public opinion which fears that the majority of Islamists do not truly believe in democracy and that they are merely using this as a vehicle to reach power, and that in reality they are intending to impose their own autocratic rule, along the lines of what their peers did in Sudan. The Sudanese Islamists betrayed democracy, carrying out a military coup against a democratic regime to impose an autocratic regime that has remained in power for 23 years. In fact, the Brotherhood continues to manoeuvre and rally to maintain their rule, despite the price that this has on the country and the people.

Of course, there have been numerous “soft” statements and rhetoric issued by Islamist movement leaders about democracy, political pluralism and respect for human rights, yet in most cases, their actions contradicts their words. Actions reveal that strong current within these movements are seeking to cling to power, which they consider to be a gain that must not be relinquished at any cost, even at the cost of intimidation or indeed violence against opposition. This is something that we have clearly seen in Egypt in several confrontations between the adherents and opponents of the regime, the most recent being last Friday’s occurrences.

In this case, how can we believe the Brotherhood leaderships when it speaks of democracy and respect for the freedom of expression, whilst we see them steering their adheres to take to streets in support of President Mursi’s decision to dismiss the General Prosecutor, particularly as this decision was widely viewed as being outside of his constitutional powers?

As a result of this, President Mursi had to retract the decision in view of the pressure mounted on him by judges and lawyers who were mobilized to defend the independence of the judiciary. This confrontation is viewed as the second of its kind following Mursi’s previous attempt to overturn an earlier verdict by the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve parliament. What is even stranger is that the Brotherhood called for its supporters to demonstrate in the same place – and on the same day – that some youth and political forces had previously decided to carry out their “Friday of Accountability” demonstrations, in reference to calling Mursi to account regarding his failed pledges for the first 100-days of his rule. This, however, was viewed as an attempt by the Brotherhood to abort the demonstrations against the president, ultimately resulting in fierce clashes in Tahrir Square.

The denial issued by the Brotherhood following the clashes was laughable and completely unconvincing. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Dr. Mahmoud Ghazlan said that the Brotherhood was not involved in the clashes, adding that those involved were merely unaffiliated supporters of President Mursi. This is despite the fact that the Brotherhood demonstrators were chanting slogans such as “Freedom and Justice, Mursi has men behind him”, and “either we take revenge for them, or we die like them”. These are all well-known Muslim Brotherhood chants, and confirm that those present were indeed Brotherhood supporters, not to mention the tone of threats and violence. On several occasions since the revolution, the Brotherhood has flexed its muscles in the Egyptian street with the objective of intimidating their opponents. This, however, is something that the Brotherhood’s opponents view as evidence of their autocratic nature, as well as their rejection of the opinions of others and of freedom of expression, particularly whenever this freedom is practiced against them.

A similar contradiction between words and actions can also be found in the statements issued by Mursi in Alexandria a few days ago in front of supports, when he touched upon the crisis surrounding the dismissal of the General Prosecutor and spoke of the need to “correct” the judiciary. He also stressed that “we respect the judiciary” adding “we will never ignore those who committed crimes against the nation and corrupted it.”

Such rhetoric is contradictory because respecting the judiciary means respecting its judgments and refraining from intervening and influencing them. In fact, using the term “correcting” the judiciary is nothing more than a pretext to intervene and introduce changes in its leaderships in line with the inclination of the President as well as the Brotherhood. Furthermore, Mursi, who is now criticizing the judiciary, initiated his rule by releasing all Islamist prisoners by presidential amnesty rather than a court verdict. Indeed this amnesty was even issued prior to the amnesty securing the release of the revolutionary youth!

It seems that the Brotherhood do not believe that they have completely dominated power unless they succeed in controlling the judiciary, whether by means of appointment or resignations, or through intimidation or inciting popular unrest. The objective of this is to ensure that the judiciary does not serve either as an obstacle to the Brotherhood decisions, or an arena of conflict with those who oppose the programs the Brotherhood is seeking to implement. The judiciary will not be the sole battlefield in the forthcoming period because the Brotherhood has also revealed that they are keeping an eye on the media. They have already gotten involved in longstanding contention with the media and have taken some steps to control it under the pretext of “correcting” it. If we take the Sudanese Islamists as an example, or scrutinize the statements issued by Ghannouchi in the leaked video, then it is also clear that the economy and the army will also serve as an arena for contention, particularly as the Islamists are seeking to extend their control there, or at least seeking to put an end to the secularists control.

So should we be concerned?

Ever since the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions, the Islamists’ movements actions have justified concern, including amongst those who once supported the Islamists being granted an opportunity on the political scene so that we can truly examine their intentions and slogans. What is happening in Egypt will contribute enormously to our judgment whether the Islamists can coexist with democracy and respect its main principles regarding the peaceful transition of power via elections, not to mention respect freedom of opinion and expression, political pluralism and human rights, or whether they are just waiting for an opportunity to establish autocratic regimes of their own.