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ICC Note:
More on the troubling rise of the Brotherhood in Egypt and Mubarak’s manipulations.

From Democracy Digest:
Demi Digest (

Engaging Egypt ‘s Islamists? Easier Said Than Done
Egypt ‘s Muslim Brotherhood registered a stunning success in the November-December legislative elections, winning 61% of seats it contested. Its achievement can be attributed to its extensive social networks, the weakness of registered opposition parties and the relatively open electoral process. The Brotherhood’s gains and resulting legitimacy appear to add credence to calls for the West to deal with it. Domestically, the results suggest that the regime of President Hosni Mubarak may need to accept a cautious accommodation with the Islamists.

Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef is “certain they want to engage in dialogue with us only to arouse people against us,” warning that “we will clash with them from the very first round.” ” US democracy,” he insists only “seeks to intensify backwardness.”

“We don’t think they have anything to offer us that will be in our interest,” Akef argues, insistent that efforts to engage Islamists are simply a ruse to protect the interests of the US and Israel, “a group of Zionists implanted here by the United States, the east, and the west so that they get rid of evil in their countries,” he maintains.

Akef blames the West for retarding the Muslim world’s development in Israel’s defense because “when the 300 million Arabs and the 1,500 million Muslims reach the same scientific, cultural, economic, and technological level, then neither Israel nor the United States will be able to do anything.” A Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt would not recognize Israel , “an alien entity” in the region. “We expect the demise of this cancer soon,” he says.

Islamists are now Egypt ‘s strongest opposition force, says Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo and a leading expert on political Islam. The US must develop “a coherent, consistent policy toward dealing with political Islam,” he argues. “The possibility of political Islam maintaining good and strong showing in parliaments on the ground as political parties, in terms of social networks, realistic institutions is …a de facto situation,” he argues while cautioning against “undoing history or trying to prefabricate … or engineer societies.”

Akef’s comments will disappoint those who believe engaging the Brotherhood through the political process will exert a moderating influence. Although Islamists tried to kill him ten years ago, Nobel Prize Laureate Naguib Mahfouz still expresses the hope that engaging in politics “would make the religious current more pragmatic.” Human rights activist Gamal Eid is less sanguine. “If the Brotherhood assumes power, they will not adopt democracy,” he states.

Fearing that the early legalization of the Brotherhood – known as Al-Ikhwan in Arabic — would enhance the further “Islamization” of politics, Hala Mustafa, wants to push the debate on reform beyond elections. “Change must take place through constitutional reform that will restructure political life to allow new and dynamic parties to compete with Mubarak’s NDP,” says the editor of the quarterly journal al-Dimuqratia (Democracy). Egypt needs “a reshaping of the political elite to include a greater diversity of voices.”

Yet the (Brotherhood) is demonstrably a mass movement, deeply-embedded in professional unions and syndicates, running an extensive “parallel state” of social services and welfare, and openly committed to the Islamisation of Egyptian society. It has all the trappings but not the status of a political party on the cusp of power. “The paradox today is that the NDP is only an organ of the current regime and the Muslim Brothers are organized like a proper party despite not having the right to be one,” says Egyptian analyst Amr Shubaki, from the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Elections Prompt Rethink in NDP and Democratic Opposition
The recent elections, while marred by violence and malpractice, saw a six-fold increase in the Brotherhood’s parliamentary representation.

The poor performance of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has sparked internal recriminations and undermined the regime’s legitimacy. The technocrats around Gamal Mubarak stress that NDP’s old guard were in charge of the disastrous electoral performance (only 145 or 33.5% of 432 officially fielded NDP candidates secured seats) while veteran autocrats fault the reformist policies of the younger generation. Conceding the “appalling reputation” of “certain faces within the NDP,” party reformers like Hossam Badrawi are looking to civil society. Badrawi highlights “the need for political non-governmental groups” and expresses an expectation that “in the wake of the election results new ideas and new forms of organisation will emerge.”

The liberal democratic opposition was all but wiped out in the elections. “I do not believe there is a secular opposition to speak of today,” argues one reformer, taking some solace from the fact that “the political wasteland we face today can’t last forever.” Reformers also find consolation in the low turnout — only seven million of 32 million registered voters – to suggest that there is a large but latent constituency to be mobilized for a moderate centrist politics committed to reform.

But their defeat marks a victory for Mubarak and a vindication of Arab authoritarians’ well-worn strategy of squeezing political space for bona fide democrats while allowing Islamists to organize on the terrain of Islam. “Mubarak’s police state has made it nearly impossible for liberal and secular opposition parties to grow,” says Saadeddin Ibrahim, noting the emergency legislation which since 1981 has banned large gatherings, protests or demonstrations. “But the Muslim Brotherhood has weekly access to millions of Egyptians in the country’s more than 100,000 mosques, as well as through the clinics and hospitals where it provides desperately needed social services.”

A new political party could “mobilise the silent majority that boycotted the election and is currently alienated from the entire political process,” argues Abdel-Moneim Said, an NDP reformer and head of the Al-Ahram Centre. “We have political capital out there and we have to understand the concerns and aspirations of voters and rally them around new political ideas.” Such arguments have fuelled speculation about an emerging third force that would convene NDP reformers, liberal democrats and al-Wasat moderate Islamists.

Perhaps Egypt ‘s beleaguered democrats should take a note out of the Islamists’ book – and learn from the historical experience of Europe’s democrats, of both right and left – and develop a “social democracy” that extends beyond constitutional reform to address the material needs and interests of Egypt ‘s impoverished and immobilized masses. Their international supporters have a role to play too, suggests a recent analysis of the travails of Egypt’s democrats. Beyond the poor electoral performance of different parties, “the proliferation of diverse platforms emphasises the lack of a mainstream organisation that can aggregate and coordinate diverging objectives and represent a coherent majority,” says FRIDE’s Irene Menndez. It is precisely here that groups like the recently-formed Egyptian Democracy Support Network could play a major role.

…… Despite ‘Duplicitous’ Regimes
The Middle East’s
democratic reformers largely welcomed the Forum for the Future initiatives and showed little surprise at Cairo ‘s machinations. The foundation would help civil society groups “achieve the common goals of promoting the values of human rights and democracy,” said Yemeni democracy advocate Ezzedin Alasbahi, and help meet popular aspirations “for human development, for liberty and for freedom.” Arab civil society organizations are pursuing democratic reforms as a “necessity for us to catch up with modernization,” argued Abdulnabi al-Akri, coordinator of a parallel conference of Arab NGOs. Local reformers accuse the region’s governments of duplicity. “Arab leaders speak the language of human rights and freedom in international meetings,” argued one observer, but address citizens and civil institutions in a “harsh tone, which rejects reform.”

The Egyptian position “falls straight in line with their traditional policy vis–vis civil society and human rights,” said Mahmoud Ali of the Association for the Development of Democracy. “They want to control all the aid to civil society,” argued the Ibn Khaldoun Center’s Saadeddin Ibrahim. “The Egyptians are always the problem with democracy. . . .They are the ones who spoiled the final democracy document by holding out.”

Some commentators suggest the regimes are running out of options at a time when the “old security valves are no longer operational” and emerging democracies like Iraq threaten to fracture the Arab League – “a pharmacy that owns nothing but good intentions, old drugs, and expired bandages.” The region’s states appear caught between Iraq and a hard place. “Speeding up the reform could open the gate of the downfall,” says Al-Hayat’s Ghassan Charbel. “Slowing the process deepens the feelings of frustration and compounds the lure of violence.”

While the Bahrain forum predated Egypt ‘s parliamentary elections, the State Department’s Daniel Fried anticipated their results by stressing that “there has been no place in most countries in the broader Middle East for the expression and development of liberal opinion and liberal parties.” But he suggests that “as space develops, liberal parties of different varieties [will] fill the space that is newly available.”