Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood Blows It

cross-posted from Dagblog

One of the most startling things about the terrible events in Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the great-granddaddy of all Islamist movements, has blown its shot at governing the country, a chance the Brotherhood spent decades waiting and planning for. That does not excuse the military coup, and the Brotherhood isn't the only party to blame. But there's no point in pretending that Morsi and the Brotherhood have been defenders of constitutional democracy either, and their refusal to share power or respect civil process helped create the mess their country is in tonight. Those protesters in Tahrir Square are real, and their anger is real, and it's the Brotherhood that made them angry. Even if you took the Brotherhood's own position on events, that the military was just looking for an excuse for a coup, the Brotherhood gave them that excuse.

If any Islamist group seemed capable of profiting from the Arab Spring, it was the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. They are the original Islamist party, founded in the 1920s, and they long ago became a major and venerable national institution. They are heavily involved in charity work across the country. They have steadily resisted decades of military rulers, and the British before them. They have proved themselves capable, for long stretches, of non-violent resistance, and they proved impossible for Farouk or Nasser or Mubarak to root out, because the Brotherhood has become an intrinsic part of Egyptian society. We are not talking about some upstart freak show like al-Qaeda, who are literally good for nothing but mayhem. The Muslim Brotherhood are Islamists, not jihadists. They're supposed to be the grownups, focused on building the country. And while I've admitted that I disagree with nearly all of their policies, I once had guarded hopes that the Brotherhood would settle down and become a normal political party inside a constitutional framework. The Brotherhood was, for many reasons, the Islamic religious party most capable of growing up, sharing power, and being a responsible role model for other Islamist groups. Now they've blown it.

The big mistake is refusing to share power. They have ruled like the single-party apparatus they used to resist, when the most important thing is to build national unity and make sure all constituencies are represented. That Morsi won the presidency with 51% should have been a warning, and it was. But Morsi refused to accept it. (51% of a presidential vote is okay in a mature democracy, where all the major parties are in agreement on the really big things, like who our national allies are or what form of government we have. A 51% victory in a brand-new democracy is a mandate to reach out and make partners, because you need them.) Morsi chose to rule like a dictator, issuing decrees to give himself more power and decreeing the court system powerless against him. I'd prefer to see the courts and not the army rein Morsi in, but Morsi himself made that impossible.

And while ignoring any constituency but their own, the Brotherhood ignored the constituency that toppled the Mubarak regime. The Brotherhood waited decades for their movement to topple the generals, but it did not. The Mubarak regime was only toppled when a new protest movement, not associated with the Brotherhood and not necessarily sharing its goals, appeared in the streets. This was the revolution the Brotherhood was waiting for, but not the one they planned. They have spent the past two years treating the revolution that actually took place as if it had been the revolution they originally expected, a revolution of and by the Brotherhood alone. They ignored their revolutionary partners, who had put them in power in the first place. Now the people they refused to treat as partners are back in Tahrir Square, and the Brotherhood hasn't been shown any idea what to do about that except to try to hold on. It took them only two years to change places with Mubarak, in the worst possible way.

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