Eliminate the Brotherhood at your peril

Rami G Khouri writes: An Egyptian court’s decision Monday to ban all activities in the country by the Muslim Brotherhood is the kind of foolish act that autocratic governments take when they do not know how to engage in a process of democratic pluralism and seek refuge in their mistaken sense of infallibility. The real issue at hand is not a decision by a minor court regarding the legality of the Muslim Brotherhood’s registration last March; it is rather about the ongoing attempt by the armed forces and allied political groups to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood from the public scene in Egypt.This is foolish in every respect – in politics, culture, religion, constitutionalism – and shows the crude immaturity of the armed forces as an instrument of governance. The ongoing assault against the Muslim Brotherhood has included killings, beatings and mass arrests that have temporarily thrown the organization into disarray. Trying to eliminate it will not work, and will only send Egypt into a deeper cycle of political polarization, immobility and some violence. Egypt requires pluralism, engagement, negotiations and compromise, in order to achieve consensus on key issues. Banning the Brotherhood goes against all these imperatives, and will only make things worse.

Egypt is passing through a period of relativities, not absolutes, regarding both the armed forces and the Brotherhood who are both key actors in society. The vast majority of Egyptians have repeatedly asserted that they trust the armed forces to manage a short-term transitional process that ends with the installation of a legitimate, elected government, president and parliament.

The citizenry also values the security forces’ role in ensuring stability and security throughout the country. But Egyptians do not want the military to rule the country. They experienced that for 60 years from 1952 to 2011. The revolution in January 2011 demonstrated their clear rejection of that kind of system that saw Egypt become a forlorn global backwater of mediocrity and mismanagement. Egyptians do not view the military in absolute, black-and-white terms.

Similarly, Egyptians also do not view the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists in absolute terms, but rather through a much more nuanced lens of relative benefits, concerns and practical efficiencies. The Brotherhood was the leading opposition movement in the country for decades, and paid the price for its courage by having thousands of its members jailed and tortured. Its social assistance programs endeared it to millions of poor Egyptians, as did its provision of the basic succor of religious hope and faith. It was always present at the local level in neighborhoods and villages everywhere. It spoke the language of the ordinary man and woman. It was always a strong element in the basic values and the core identity of most Egyptians. It did all these things naturally and efficiently, while the old soldiers who ruled the country with an iron fist did almost none of these things. [Continue reading…]

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