Mark Collins - F-35: Past, Present and Future Mark Collins - The World Needs More Canada, Rumsfeld Section
Feb 09

One thing that has been bothering me lately about the coverage of the protests in Egypt is the constant harping on the fact that the protestors are not speaking with a unified voice. This seems to me to be an odd comment on the movement. At the very least, they are all agreed upon the fact that they would like to get rid of Mubarak. Granted, this is not an acceptable political platform, and certainly more is needed in order to form an effective government following Mubarak’s exit.

It seems to me that the most important thing is to organize free and fair elections. At this point, it is not clear that those will take place, and so political organizations have yet to emerge. However, at this point it is early to be forming new political parties and coming up with platforms in a public setting, as so much in Egypt is still up in the air. Frankly, it may well be that in the first round of elections the Muslim Brotherhood will take all, due to a lack of viable challengers. As long as they are committed to democracy, and allowing other political parties to form and contest elections, this need not necessarily be a problem.

I do not mean to suggest that the Brotherhood is the natural choice as successor to Mubarak. Though they have some moderate elements, and have publicly declared that they will not rescind the ‘cold peace’ with Israel, I think a far more interesting question is whether they can gain enough support to lead. They have been criticized for not taking advantage of these protests to take a leading position. In addition to this, much of the leadership is older, and the protestors in the streets have been overwhelmingly young and tech-savvy Egyptians. The Brotherhood has also been criticized in the past for not having specific policy proposals, which was problematic long before the current situation materialized. Finally, many experts think that there will have to be some sort of interim arrangement between the exit of Mubarak and the holding of free and fair elections, if that is the way events in Egypt are headed. If this is the case, there will be time for parties to develop and form, increasing the chance that a viable alternative will emerge.

To expect the protestors to be putting forth a coherent and clear mission statement at this point seems to me a ludicrous expectation. They are dealing with an insecure and unsure environment, simply trying to keep the momentum of the protests going in order to avoid a backslide which could potentially result in mass scale arrests and harassment of those who participated. The media would do well to remember that the fact that the protestors have not spoken with a unified voice does not mean that there are no intelligent and capable people thinking about what they would like Egypt to look like in the future. After all, if one gathered together a large group of Canadians and asked them to articulate a vision for Canada’s future, would the group speak with a unified voice? I somehow doubt it.

Colleen McGrann holds a Masters in International Relations from the University of Chicago

2 Responses to “Colleen McGrann - On Egypt”

  1. spenika Says:

    Colleen,

    I agree with your position that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is likely the most significant political movement in Egypt that has attained some semblance of legitimacy. Under the current system, the MB must run as independents during a national election. This has complicated factors in assessing how viable the movement would be if allowed to formulate itself into a cohesive political party. Given the sheer volume of Egyptians that do not bother to vote under the current corrupt regime, it is difficult to find true representative data on the level of support the MB may enjoy from the general population. However, there are many indicators that suggest a lack of political competition is may be a limited explanation on why the MB would enjoy substantial political success if free and fair elections were held.

    It is imperative that Canadians realize that, although the MB is a very much a movement with existing factions across the Middle East, each incarnation is presents a unique approach to political discourse. Some may recall the violent insurgency brought forth by the Syrian wing of the MB in the 1980s. Waves of terrorist attacks and low-intensity clashes, culminated in the Syrian government crushing the rebellion in the town of Hama, killing an estimated 25,000 people. Furthermore, violent offshoots of the Brotherhood, notably Hamas, have been able to attain political legitimacy in other territories that held elections. However, the result of these electoral successes has caused a serious rise in tensions with Israel and the United States. Simply put, the track record of other incarnations of the Brotherhood has been largely more prone to violence than stability, despite democratic participation.

    Yet, The Egyptian wing of the MB has remained significantly different in their approach to governmental opposition. Although Egypt is the birth place of the original Muslim Brothers, today’s incarnation cannot not be compared to the era which spawned Sayyid Qutb in the late 1960s. Instead of using Jihad as the pretext for political mobilization against state repression, the Egyptian Muslim Brothers have maintained their legitimacy through largely peaceful measures based on notions of human rights and social justice. Legitimacy is gained through the provision of basic social services (i.e. affordable health care) for an impoverished population. Education and democratization efforts have often been employed by the Brotherhood in attempt to slowly erode the edifice of Egypt’s enduring dictatorship over a span of several decades. It is unlikely that the cohesion protests would be this pronounced had the Brotherhood not help lead the way for greater political representation over the last 30 years.

    To be sure, the MB is not a perfect entity. As you posit, it is a movement so aged that representing the country’s youthful population may prove to be nearly impossible. There is also the question as to how the formation of an Islamic political party would effectively approach more secular issues of governing, notably economical and employment issues that currently plague the country. However, despite these unknowns, it is likely that the MB would be allowed the chance to answer some of these questions if the country were granted more democratic freedoms.

    My point is not that the MB is perfectly tailored to lead Egypt into the 21st century. My point is merely that there is a very good rationale for why the movement enjoys a proportional amount of legitimacy among the general population, particularly those who are living in extreme poverty. Canada should prepare itself for a reality that would see it potentially engaging the most important Arab state in the world, represented by an Islamic leadership. My hope is Canada does not choose to engage the MB like it did with Hamas, and isolate it from the rest of the international community. These types of movements must be engaged thoughtfully, and with a measure of respect. Surely secular values of religious freedom, as well as the impartial rule of law, would be more accepted within the ideals of such a political movement if it were treated with the same legitimacy it enjoys within Egypt. Cairo does not have to be another Tehran, as the MB is not the Revolutionary Guard. Canada must treat each case of political instability in the Middle East as it should be, unique all on its own.

    Spenika

  2. MarkOttawa Says:

    One wonders about a possible “revolt of the colonels”:
    http://forums.milnet.ca/forums/index.php/topic,98663.msg1017871.html#msg1017871

    From a WikiLeak:
    http://213.251.145.96/cable/2008/09/08CAIRO2091.html

    ‘ …
    ¶2. (C) A series of recent conversations with academics and other civilian analysts reveals their sense that while Egypt’s military is in decline, it nevertheless remains a powerful institution. (Note: These academics’ expertise in Egyptian politics and willingness to comment on the sensitive issue of the military’s current role makes them valuable interlocutors for us. End note.)..

    …XXXXXXXXXXXX noted, the regime has not allowed any charismatic figures to reach the senior ranks. “(Defense Minister) Tantawi looks like a bureaucrat,” he joked. XXXXXXXXXXXX described the mid-level officer corps as generally disgruntled, and said that one can hear mid-level officers at MOD clubs around Cairo openly expressing disdain for Tantawi [emphasis added]. These officers refer to Tantawi as “Mubarak’s poodle,” he said, and complain that “this incompetent Defense Minister” who reached his position only because of unwavering loyalty to Mubarak is “running the military into the ground.”..’

    Mark Collins

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