Mohammed Morsi’s election: has democracy really won the day?

03 July 2012

In the below article, EFD Senior Fellow Valentina Colombo discusses 2012 Mohammed Morsi’s election.

June 24th, 2012 will be a date to remember not only for Egypt, but also for the West. The proclamation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, as the first president of post-Mubarak Egypt confirms that the Arab world is in the midst of an "Islamist Spring".

At the same time, Western governments’ reaction to Morsi highlights their complicity in bolstering the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement, which they mistakenly view as the only political alternative to the deposed dictators of the Arab world. While it is true that the MB has been the best organised opposition group, it would be a terrible mistake to forget the numerous leftist and secular parties, such as the Egyptian Tagammu party, which were active in the opposition under Mubarak and which will continue to drive the opposition.

In his first message to the nation, Mohammed Morsi sought to reassure: "We will keep all agreements and international treaties we signed with the whole world."

Subsequently, he stated that "... it is necessary to return to normal relations with Tehran and strengthen them in order to create a balance at the regional level" because "... the normalisation of relations between Iran and Egypt is in the interest of its peoples and we are confident that by strengthening political and economic relations between the two countries, we would create more strategic balance in the region..."

This new “strategic balance” is likely, soon, to set Egypt at odds with the international community, currently seeking to restrict Iran's access to nuclear weapons and rein in its expansionist foreign policy drive.

Domestically, Morsi’s reassuring message to the nation reiterated his intention to build "... a constitutional, democratic and modern nation." However this contradicts what he had been preaching during the electoral campaign. In front of a crowd of Cairo University students he had repeated the historic motto of the MB: "... The Koran is our constitution, the prophet is our guide, jihad is our path and death in the name of God is our goal."

On the same occasion he also declared: "... Today we can introduce sharia because our nation can only achieve well-being thanks to Islam and Sharia. The MB and the Party of Freedom and Justice will obtain these results." It is clear that Morsi the candidate sang from a different hymn sheet than that used by Morsi the president.

Which is the genuine Morsi, candidate or president?

A quick analysis of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party’s campaign programme, the so called Mashru’ al-Nahdha ("Project Rebirth. Egyptian Rebirth based on Islamic tenets"), does not inspire overwhelming confidence. It is a 12-page document which starts and ends with Koranic quotations.

The first is from Sura al-Tawba, verse 105, which reads: “... And say: “Work, for Allah will see you work, so will His messenger and the believers.”” The last is from Sura Hud, verse 88, and reads: “My guidance is only from Allah; I rely only upon Him and towards Him only do I incline”.

Page three, which describes the party’s “values ??and ways of thinking”, states that these are “... derived from the foundations and principles of Islam applied in a truthful manner." Each point of the programme is introduced by a verse from the Koran that justifies and seals its contents. What this means is that no part of the MB’s political programme can contradict Islamic principles and that it is anything but a civic or pluralistic programme.

During his first speech Morsi announced his resignation from the MB and the Party of Freedom and Justice, in order to become the “president of all Egyptians”, suggesting perhaps that he would no longer be beholden to his former party’s political programme. But is it realistic to think that he can change his worldview overnight? As the journalist Othman Mirghany wrote in his op-ed in the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, entitled “Has the MB changed?”: “... all this confirms is that they [the MB] practice political dissimulation and hide their aims as much as they can”.

Morsi concluded his acceptance speech with the following promise: "... I will not betray Allah in you, would not betray Allah in you and would not disobey Him in my country". Does he mean that he will safeguard Egypt from violating the dictates of divine law? If that is the case, the commitments he expressed to protect human rights, women and minorities, will only be kept in accordance with his interpretation of sharia.

Morsi’s words have been quite clear. It is therefore surprising to see international congratulations pouring in to the new President. Barack Obama called "... to congratulate him on his victory in the presidential elections of Egypt" and to reaffirm that "... the U.S. will continue to support the transition of Egypt toward democracy."

In response to those who argued that Egypt’s election of a Muslim Brotherhood President showed that the Arab Spring was a debacle, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded: “... we judge individuals and parties that are elected in a democratic process by their actions, not by their religious affiliation.” He is missing the point – it is not the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious affiliation that is the issue, it is its political ideology that calls for theocracy, not democracy.

Italian Foreign Minister Terzi described Morsi’s election "... a step forward in strengthening the institutions and strengthen the friendship with Rome."

Even the leaders of the Egyptian Coptic community did not stumble in the rush to congratulate Morsi for proclaiming he would be the President of all Egyptians.

Unfortunately all these words of praise reflect wishful thinking. As Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen remarked, “... democracy, to use the old Millian phrase, is "government by discussion,” and voting is only one part of a broader picture (an understanding that has, alas, received little recognition in post-intervention Iraq in the attempt to get straight to polling without the development of broad public reasoning and an independent civil society)”.

Western governments should similarly pay more heed to what is happening in Tunisia under a MB-dominated government. Bechir ben Hassen, a pro-government religious preacher, recently stated that "... the project of Islam is incompatible with their [the opposition’s] ideology, with their culture. You tell me that they claim to be Muslims because they have made a profession of faith. I answer: what's the point, when in practice they perform actions that are contrary to the will of God? Therefore they are enemies of God, enemies of Islam ".

In other words, government preachers are teaching that whoever opposes the current government is an apostate, which means he is punishable by death under sharia law.  Can we call all this democracy? Is this the democracy for which thousands of Tunisians and Egyptians have been killed, injured and imprisoned?

Tariq Alhomayed, editor of Asharq al-awsat, has written this week:

"... Following the victory of the MB candidate, Muhammad Morsi in Egypt's presidential [elections], Egypt and the entire region have entered a new and dangerous stage, whose consequences only Allah can predict. Anyone who feels optimistic ... and thinks we are watching a movie that is sure to have a happy ending, is mistaken and anyone who watches from the sidelines and thinks this is a purely Egyptian affair ... is not just mistaken but also negligent.

[…] Some might claim that the military will be Egypt's guarantee, along with the country's strong judiciary. This is true, but we must remember that Egypt's president is now from the MB; in other words, the MB is ruling the country. That is the reality and it will have far-reaching consequences on the political, economic, social, religious and cultural levels – not just in Egypt, but throughout the Arab region. Anyone who says that the MB is the reality, so we must deal with it and not criticise it and other such talk, is mistaken – for those who enter the political playing field must remember that it is always permissible [to criticise them]”.

Unfortunately this will not be mere passing turbulence: the Muslim Brotherhood has always stated that once they reach the power they will not easily relinquish it.

Whoever today praises the victory of democracy in Egypt should heed the words of liberal Egyptian intellectual, Adel Guindy, who has written: “... To compare Christian democratic parties with Islamic democratic parties in our countries is as if to compare water with sulfuric acid”.

This article was originally published here. .