Uh-oh, the Muslim Brotherhood is rising -- but Egyptians can stop it
Secular democrats must come up with a message of opposition that says 'yes' to Islam, but 'no' to sharia – in other words, a campaign that emphasizes a separation of religion from politics.
In 1985 as a teenager in Kenya, I was an adamant member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Seventeen years later, in 2002, I took part in a political campaign to win votes for the conservative party in the Netherlands. Those two experiences gave me some insights that I think are relevant to the current crisis in Egypt. They lead me to believe it is highly likely but not inevitable that the Muslim Brotherhood will win the elections to be held in Egypt this coming September.Skip to next paragraph
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As a participant in an election campaign, I learned a few basic lessons.
1. The party must have a political program all members commit to with a vision of how to govern the country until the next election. Dissent within the party is a sure way of losing elections.
2. Candidates must articulate not only what they will do for the country but also why the other party’s program will be catastrophic for the nation.
3. The party has to be embedded in as many communities as possible, regardless of social class, religion, or even political views.
4. Candidates must constantly remind potential voters of their party’s record of success and the opponent’s record of failure.
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The secular democratic and human rights groups in Egypt and in the rest of the Arab world show little sign of understanding these facts of political life. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, gets at least three out of four. True, they have never been in office. But they have a political program and a vision not only until the next elections, but in their view until the hereafter. And they are very good at reminding Egyptians of why the other party’s policies will be ungodly and therefore catastrophic for Egypt. Above all, they have succeeded in embedding themselves in Egyptian society in ways that could prove crucial.
When I was 15 years old and considered myself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, there were secular political groups in the diasporas of Pakistanis, Yemenis, and Somalis in Nairobi who lived in exile like my family. These loosely organized groups had vague plans for restoring their respective countries and building them into peaceful, prosperous nations. These were dreams they never realized.
The Brotherhood's success
The Muslim Brotherhood did more than dream. With the help of money from Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich countries, they established cells in my school and functioning institutions in my neighborhood. There were extracurricular activities for students. There were prayer and chant hours, as well as communal Quran readings. We were encouraged to become volunteers, to help the indigent, to spread Allah’s message. There were classes and activities for all age groups. They established charities to which we could give zakat (tithe for charity), which was then used to provide health and educational centers.
The Brotherhood also provided the only functioning banking networks, based on trust. They rescued teenagers from lives of drug addiction and excited them about a purposeful future for justice. Each of us was expected to recruit more people for the Muslim Brotherhood, creating a perpetual campaign. The mosques and Muslim centers were the main areas of association, but they visited us at home, too. Most important, their message transcended ethnicity, social class, and even educational levels.
It is true that the movement was violent, but we tend to underestimate in the West the Brotherhood’s ability to adapt to reality and implement lessons learned. One such adaptation is the ongoing debate within the network on the use of violence. There are two schools of thought within the network, and both of them invoke the Prophet Muhammad as an example.