Back in February, Robert Fisk talked of the Arab revolutions as ‘Secular Popular Revolts’, however his categorisation is a misleading one. The Arab uprisings have irrevocably and fundamentally been concerned with the separation of totalitarian regimes, not religion, from the state. However particularly in Egypt the momentum of these initial anti-regime protests is being wrongfully equated by some political forces at the heart of Egypt’s revolution as momentum for their own ideologies. These blurring of boundaries have left Egypt’s Islamists in an incredibly difficult situation. Their evidently cautious support of Egypt’s protest movement is not due to any alliance with the military as their detractors have claimed. Rather if they place their full support behind the protest movement, those firmly at the centre of it could easily end up steering the political landscape in the direction of some form of Secularism via a civic state. The problem lies not with the conception of a civic state but that the Egyptian population are yet to speak and the revolutionaries should be careful not to entrench a political system whose popular support is still unclear.
The Central Debate
For those unfamiliar with recent political disputes in Egypt, there remains a massively significant debate over whether which should occur first, the drafting of a new constitution or elections. Many view the eagerness of the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for elections first as a cynical attempt to take advantage of the lack of preparation it would afford to other political forces. However one has to consider what the motivation is behind the constitution first movements. Calls for supra constitutional values in line with a civic state have become blurred in with the ‘anti-regime’ movement at the heart of the protests. Thus the Islamists legitimately fear the imposition of supra constitutionalist values which could remove article 2 from the constitution, potentially throwing their political standing into turmoil. If they cannot call for an Islamic state or the imposition of Islamic law, then ultimately they are no longer Islamists and their rasion d’etre is perished.
Apparently slow to realise this, the Islamists finally came out to stake their own position in the political landscape two weeks ago. In what was perhaps the first ideological exchange of blows, chants of ‘Islamic state’ were countered times countered with chants of ‘Civic-state’. There is undoubtedly a danger that such occurrences could eventually split the revolution’s political landscape along sharply divided ideological lines and potentially endanger the current, albeit very steady, moves towards cleansing governing apparatus of Mubarak’s stench.
What is being characterised as political scheming by the Islamists should be understood in the context of what is a serious political threat from secularist undercurrents pervading the mainstream revolutionary forces. Furthermore if such a criticism is to be levelled at the Islamists then the logic could easily be conversely applied to their critics. Those secular political forces worried about lack of preparation time for the elections must undoubtedly also harbour worries about the Islamists enshrining constitutional values which would fundamentally undermine their own future plight for governance. Whatever side of the fence one may stand on, it is important for the trials of Mubarak and co. to be as swift as possible so that the country can begin to address this fundamental question sure to shape Egypt’s immediate political future.
The Wafd Party recently announced it is considering quitting an electoral deal made with the Muslim Brotherhood which sought to allay fears that the Brotherhood would dominate the constitutional discourse. However according to one member of the Wafd party interviewed this week, the Brotherhood already retracted its position of agreement concerning fundamental principles to be included in the constitution. This agreement laid down principles to ensure that when re-written it would establish a civil state. Thus while they seek unity with Egypt’s other political forces, it is evident that this unity would require a compromise on behalf of the Islamists which could fundamentally undermine them as an electable political force. When they try to manoeuvre within this compromising alliance, they are decried for being divisive figures working hand in hand with the military. However for many it is apparent that the SCAF themselves would prefer enshrining supra constitutional values prior to any election, giving them space as the current governing apparatus to re-establish a role for themselves in Egypt’s future. These accusations are purely founded upon the Brotherhood’s reluctance to participate in protests and sit-ins, besides this leaping logic, there is no evidence that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party have made any pact with the SCAF. Furthermore its’ refusal to field a presidential candidate is due to a wariness over the potential continuity of SCAF power wielding even after a president is elected.
It is evident that the Islamists’ are not the only force guilty of Realpolitik. Their opponents have been quick to paint Egypt’s Islamists homogenously with the same brush while attempting to discredit them by throwing accusatory stones in a chaotic environment. Ironically an Islamist-Military alliance would theoretically be only knee deep, based on maintaining some semblance of stability. Whereas a liberal/leftist-military alliance has greater potential on the grounds of ideological agreements over the need to draw up parts of the constitution prior to elections.
Egypt’s left and liberals are every bit as uncompromising over a civic state as the Islamists are for an Islamic state. However because the Islamists are not central components in the protest movement their voices have been sidelined by those shouting the loudest. Egypt’s revolutionaries must not lose sight of the core component of what the revolution was and still iis about, removing the Mubarak regime. Yes, the Islamists prompted a distraction from this in championing their own ideological agenda. However they were prodded into action by liberal and leftist elitism at the heart of the revolutionary movement eager to implement their own ideological agenda.
Various leftist/liberal Egyptian bloggers have been complicit in an analysis keen to dismiss Islamist forces by either refusing to accept them as political actors, seeking to portray the majority them as Salafis or by not letting them have a turn on Tahrir’s swings. In her opinion piece for al Sharq al Awsat this week, Diana Mukkaled accused the Islamists of “Hijacking our revolution”. Why? Do they seek to reinstate Mubarak and his regime? Of course not. However she, like many others, is guilty of the flawed assumption that this revolution is equitable to a demand for a civic state and thus those who oppose a civic state oppose the revolution. Let us not forget how much Islamists have suffered along the years at the hands of a ‘civic’ state, years of torture and suppression, only now to be arrogantly dismissed as having no place in Egypt’s revolutionary political landscape.
Tensions between the protestors and ordinary Egyptians have shown that perhaps those uncompromising revolutionary protestors are not as in touch with the latter as they would like to think. Certainly as yet they have absolutely zero mandate or legitimacy to claim to represent the Egyptian people in any other capacity other than opposing the persistent elements of the Mubarak era. The idea that these are ‘secular’ revolts is insulting to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of what secularism entails. Political commentators ala Fisk and Egypt’s political forces across the board would do well to remember that this revolution is about separating Mubarak’s regime, not religion, from the state.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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