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.
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Those who want instant jihad hark back to the time when the prophet had small armies that defeated massive ones, as in the battles of Badr and Uhud. The nonviolent branch of the Brotherhood emphasizes the prophet’s perseverance and patience. They emphasize da’wa (persuasion through preaching and by example) and above all a gradual multi-generational process in coming to power and holding on to it. Above all, they argue for taqiyyah, a strategy to collaborate with your enemies until the time is ripe to defeat them or convert them to Islam.Skip to next paragraph
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Why are the secular democratic forces in Egypt so much weaker than the Muslim Brotherhood? There are a number of factors. One reason is that they are an amalgam of very diverse elements: There are tribal leaders, free-market liberals, socialists, hard-core Marxists and human rights activists. In other words, they lack common ideological glue comparable to the one that the Brotherhood has. Finally, there is a deep-seated fear that opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose aim is to install sharia once it comes to power, will be seen by the masses as a rejection of Islam altogether.
Yes to Islam, no to sharia
What the secular groups fail to do is to 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. For Egypt and other Arab nations to escape the tragedy of either tyranny or sharia, there has to be a third way that separates religion from politics while establishing a representative government, the rule of law, and conditions friendly to trade, investment and employment.
The bravery of the secular groups that have now unified behind Mohamed ElBaradei cannot be doubted. They have taken the world by surprise, by mounting a successful protest against a tyrant. Mubarak may be deaf, but the message is loud and clear: He has to go.
The secular democrats’ next challenge is the Brotherhood. They must waste no time in persuading the Egyptian electorate why a sharia-based government would be bad for them. Unlike the Iranians in 1979, the Egyptians have before them the example of a people who opted for sharia – the Iranians of 1979 – and who have lived to regret it.
The 2009 Green Movement in Iran was a not a “no” to a strongman, but a “no” to sharia. ElBaradei and his supporters must spell out over and over again that a sharia-based regime is repressive at home and aggressive abroad. Moreover, as the masses cry out against unemployment, rising food prices and corruption, Egypt’s secular groups must show that a sharia-based government would exacerbate these agonies.
The Muslim Brotherhood will insist that a vote for them is a vote for Allah’s law. But the positions of power in government will not be filled by God and his angels. These positions will be filled by men so arrogant as to put themselves in the position of Allah. And as the Iranians of 2009 have learned to their cost, it is harder to vote such men out of office than to vote them in.
The Obama administration can help the secular groups with the resources and the skills necessary to organize, campaign, and to establish competing economic and civil institutions so that they can defeat the Muslim Brotherhood at the ballot box. As I have come to learn over the years, few things in democratic politics are inevitable. But without effective organization, the secular, democratic forces that have swept one tyranny aside could easily succumb to another.