From JPost, 6 July 2013, by Zvi Mazel*:
For many in the Arab world, the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood was an unmitigated disaster. For 85 years, the Brotherhood plotted and fought throughout the Arab countries – Mandatory Palestine included – using every available means, terror included, to achieve their goal: the establishment of Islamic regimes based on the Shari’a in all Arab nations and ultimately, the restoration of the caliphate.
Their radical ideology, tainted with a hefty dose of anti-Semitism, gave rise to even more extremist movements such as al-Qaida, al-Gama’a al- Islamiyya, Jihad and many others. It was to fight this ever-present threat that secular dictatorships were born.
With these totalitarian regimes toppled by the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood suddenly found itself on the brink of achieving all it had been striving for. In Egypt and in Tunisia, the Brothers were elected through free elections and handed the opportunity to rule and steer their countries towards a brighter future.
But they failed to deliver. Unwilling to understand that the people wanted a better life, they forgot all about the economy and focused on imposing their brand of radical Islam. While the economic situation went from bad to worse, they were busy drafting an Islamic constitution severely curtailing civil rights and discriminating against women. In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi even tried to grant himself powers far exceeding those of the overthrown Hosni Mubarak – a measure which led to such an outcry that he had to back down.
Egypt was drawing closer and closer to becoming a Islamic dictatorship, and this was a wake-up call to many Egyptians. They understood they had to act quickly to prevent the Brotherhood from infiltrating and taking over the security apparatus, the police and the army – at which point it would be too late.
Morsi’s downfall is undoubtedly a blessing for Egypt; it brings renewed hope to a deeply divided nation in the throes of an unparalleled crisis.
However, appointing the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court as temporary president, setting up an interim national unity government and holding presidential elections are only a first step in the road to get the revolution back on track. Though there was a military coup, it was in answer to the will of the people, and army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made it clear that he had no intention to emulate Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who had tried to rule the country and failed.
It was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Tantawi that made it possible for the Brotherhood to achieve its aims and set up a democratically elected regime, as it neglected the economy – a neglect which grew under the leadership of Morsi. The new president, perhaps blinded by the miraculous victory of his movement, refused to see the chasm opening between the regime and the people, and arrogantly swept aside the warnings of an increasingly worried army.
In the end, the generals felt they had to intervene. Suddenly the Brotherhood and other militant Islamist groups such as the Salafists find themselves pushed aside.
One cannot overestimate the depth of the political divide in the country; to an extent it overshadows the revolution that toppled Mubarak. In January 2011, the goal was to get rid of a dictator and to elect through free elections a new government that would steer the country towards democracy and modernism. Today, we are witnessing a bitter cultural and religious fight which threatens the very foundations of Egypt.
Muslims make up 80 percent of the population, but most of them do not want to live in a country under Shari’a.
They want a better life and are not interested in a revival of the caliphate.
A compromise could easily be reached, as expressed by the Arab equivalent of “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”: “Religion to God and the country to all.”
The fact is that in the latest mass protests people were no longer calling for economic reforms, but were clamoring for Morsi to get out and for an end to the Brotherhood’s regime.
Morsi tried to the end to claim that having been democratically elected, he was the legitimate ruler of Egypt – and what the army intended was a military coup. He failed to recognize the fact that ultimately, it was the people’s uprising that had brought him to power and that in revolutionary times, legitimacy remains vested in the people. The young revolutionaries understood it very well, and gathered 22 million signatures on the petition asking for the ousting of a president elected with 13 million votes.
The downfall of the Brotherhood in Egypt is of enormous significance for the movement at large. Throughout the Arab world and in sister organizations in Europe and the US, they had hailed their victory in Egypt as a first step in achieving their ultimate goal of establishing the caliphate. Now, they have to deal with a formidable setback.
Meanwhile in Egypt, the Brothers and their allies are still reeling from the shock. Yet the fight is not over, and they will try to claw their way back. The opposition is far from being united and more turmoil could lie ahead.
However, Egypt has weathered worse storms in its long history.
Hopefully, a stable government may rise in the not-too-distant future.
*The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.