When the Muslim Brotherhood was elected to power in Egypt a year ago I predicted their demise, writes lawyer Osama Daneshyar who recently returned to the UK after two years in Cairo. In truth though it was neither a dream nor intelligent political forecasting, it was so blindingly obvious that only a fool could have ignored it.
In the run-up to last year’s presidential elections, I had many Egyptian friends who were worried about the Muslim Brotherhood – they were a mixed bag from National Party supporters, Nasserites, Coptic Christians, and the vast majority simply uneasy about the fact that a Salafist-leaning organization was going to take over a country whose culture and religion are completely different.
To those who were worried ahead of the second round contest between Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafique and were minded to vote for Shafique out of desperation and fear, I had only one message. That message was simple to an outsider looking in but not so obvious to Egyptians who were in the eye of the Muslim Brotherhood storm.
I urged them to vote for Morsi, assuring them that the Muslim Brotherhood would screw up so badly that they would finally be exposed as manipulating, pro-American, pro-Zionist, power-hungry traitors that people would revolt against them within less than 18 months. And some Coptic Christians liked the idea so much that they got their friends to do just that.
My reasoning was very simple – it was only a complete fool who would want to rule over a chaotic, dysfunctional, bankrupt and badly divided country where every decision was likely to be challenged by a mob in Tahrir Square causing traffic misery in central Cairo.
The Muslim Brotherhood (although they have been on the political scene in Egypt for over 80 years) appear not to have understood Egypt or its society at all. The reason for that is very simple – Egypt is at its heart a very religious country but without being puritanical.
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It is a very Sunni country proud of its Sunni heritage without being sectarian, it was at the same time a Shia country without the dogma and empty meaningless rituals of some “Wahabi” Shias. Finally, Egypt is the beating heart of the Arab nation, and proudly so. It fought four wars against Israel, and sacrificed many more of its finest young men to liberate Palestine than Palestinians have ever done for their own country.
That is something the Brotherhood did not appreciate, the reason was because it represented an ideology which is maybe completely natural in the desert sheikhdoms, but not in a country with a history and culture dating back to 4000 BC. Or to put it in more blunt terms you may have taken the Muslim Brotherhood ideology out of the Empty Quarter, but you could never take the Empty Quarter out of them.
So why did they fail? They failed because they were set up to fail. They took over a country that by last year had become ungovernable. Crime was rife partly as a result of their own supporters freeing 10,000 criminals in the previous revolution. The judicial system was dysfunctional after many years of politicization and degradation in the quality of jurists from the time of Nasser. The country was bankrupt after years of luxurious and ill-conceived subsidies such as petrol, which costs only 9 p a litre when it costs 3 times to actually produce.
The media was rampant with no red lines on the type of lies they could spread about anyone and everyone. Some of the stories printed were so outrageously false that even a child in the UK would not believe them, yet the ill-educated majority in Egypt often took them seriously.
In truth the irony in Egypt was that there was no middle way – you were either in prison or you were president. So you have the ludicrous sight of a former prisoner becoming president and a former president becoming a prisoner. It would be interesting to see if this new former president becomes a prisoner again.
But the Muslim Brotherhood themselves have to take the biggest responsibility for what has happened to them. Whilst in prison in the late noughties they decided to throw their lot in with the Americans. They decided to prostitute themselves to their enemy and make an enemy of the people who stood by them through the years in the political desert, whether internationally or domestically.
Having opportunistically jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon in January 2011, they then decided to cut a deal with the US and Israel via the former. For the US it was simple, it offered them what Islamic banking offered many western bankers – interest at a much more preferential rates, but which had the garb of Islam.
For both the Brotherhood and the Americans reckoned on the fact that high illiteracy rates meant ignorance. But Egyptian people from the villages to the cities (irrelevant of education level) are far more intelligent and quick witted than many Arab and Egyptian politicians give them credit for. Whilst they are generally not violent, they are not docile, they can see very clearly through the most opaque politician, although they may not say anything. They will simply give you enough rope to hang yourself with..
The Muslim Brotherhood thought US and Israeli patronage provided them with immunity and ensured their 1,000 year Khilafa from Morocco to Istanbul, reminiscent of a bygone era. What they did not realize that Egypt was country even in the days of the Ottoman empire. Morsi became the Muslim Brotherhood president, rather than a president who happened to be formerly a member of the Brotherhood.
The lack of respect for the post which he held could not be better illustrated than the subservient oath of allegiance Morsi gave to Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey in the AKP Party Conference. To Egyptians proud of their 6000 year history it was like a red rag to a bull. How could a president of a country far older than even the Ottoman empire give an oath of allegiance of the new Ottoman mini Sultan? Whilst Egyptians admired Turkey and wanted close relations, they wanted it as equal partners and not slaves.
But the biggest single failure of the Muslim Brotherhood was their inability to put bread on the table, or remove the autocratic nature of the state, not all of it their fault. The people toppled Mubarak because they wanted freedom and social justice. However, the Muslim Brotherhood delivered neither. In fairness they could deliver neither, partly because of the strong deep-rooted institutions left behind by the previous regime, partly because of their own incompetence.
Much of the Muslim Brotherhood success depended on economic success and realizable practical achievements rather than the pie in the sky long-term dreams which were never deliverable. For example, much of the previous regime’s economic success was built on tourism. After the January revolution that market was lost and it was imperative on the Egyptian government to find an alternative. Yet rather than doing the sensible thing and opening up the country to a million plus Iranian tourists, and establish a direct air link between Tehran and Cairo, they decided to please the Salafists who wanted nothing to do with the “Rafidas.”
This appeasement of a small and staunchly destructive and sectarian minority was for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood who needed their thugs as potential muscle to ensure their survival. What it did, however, was take bread out of the mouths of many taxi drivers, hotel workers, and market stall holders. Egyptians simply could not understand why it was that their country had no relations with Iran, for fear of the Saudis or other Gulf countries, when all those countries had relations with Iran. Nor could they understand why Iranian tourists were not allowed to visit Al-Hussain mosque in Cairo when the Saudis allowed millions of them into Mecca and Medina.
Therefore, the poor who wanted their social justice and improvement in their basic needs found that the most basic daily needs become out of reach due to the fast drain of foreign currency reserves. They all felt that they were being made to pay the price for other countries juvenile politics, and in the most sensitive area, that is the bread on their table.
The straw that broke the camels back, and what made many Egyptians truly re-assess their direction was the lynching of four Shia gathering for the middle of Sha’aban commemoration in a private residence. For a moderate pluralistic tolerant society such as Egypt that behaviour was not only repulsive but also alien to their own nature. It may be acceptable in Saudi Arabia but not Egypt. They asked the question how could four Muslims who say the Kalima be dragged through the streets of Egypt? That was not the Egyptian way.
If they were committing any offence, then it was a matter for the police, if not then why were they killed? The country sought a condemnation from their president last Thursday, some form of recognition from him of the mistake he made the previous week with a highly inflammatory sectarian fest. Instead he did not even acknowledge the incident.
That was the signal to the masses that the Brotherhood had become so far removed from them and their outlook that they had to be gotten rid of. They had become no more than the political wing of Al-Qaeda, with a program of national destruction rather than nation building. Many friends found the severing of ties with Syria whilst maintaining them with Israel hypocritical. They could not understand how they ended up trying to woo back Israeli tourists whilst trying to block Muslim tourists.
And they could not understand how under the rule of the “treacherous infidel” Mubarak, the Iranians could get missiles to move through 3000 km of Egyptian territory into Gaza, but under these Khalifate-seeking, jihadi-volunteering Muslims these weapon deliveries had stopped.
It is understandable that a man who never speaks in the name of religion lies, but when a man with a beard does it is a sin which is unforgivable. Many by the end of Morsi short reign saw him as yet another lying, backstabbing American stooge but one who divided a Muslim nation into a minority of these who believed they had the keys to heaven and a majority of hell-destined infidels, and whose only purpose was to interfere with their personal lives.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of our editorial board.