Brotherhood Seeks to Reassure Copts Ahead of Runoff Elections

Article Summary
Hammoud Hammoud argues that the recent guarantees from the Muslim Brotherhood to safeguard Coptic and women’s rights are merely a ploy to appeal to the West and gain votes in the runoff elections. In the first round, the Copts mainly voted for Ahmed Shafiq, who is now up against Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and others.

It might be surprising that after their uprising, the Egyptian people are once again faced with two equally bitter choices: either the old regime’s Ahmad Shafiq or the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. Is Egypt today confronted with the same old situation, only recycled to accommodate new political conditions and driving forces? The apparent conflict remains unchanged; its protagonists are divided between the regime’s supporters and supporters of the Brotherhood. Amidst the extreme polarization that the Egyptian populace is being subjected to is Morsi’s reassuring statements that the Brotherhood would safeguard Coptic and women’s rights. He also described the Copts as “partners in the nation.”

But before those statements were made, and after the first round of election results were published, many of the Brotherhood’s figureheads spared no occasion to accuse the Copts who voted for Shafik of betraying the blood of Egyptians. These accusations were made for electoral purposes, and came as a result of an increased lust for power.

The same thing might be said about Mohamed Morsi’s statements. The reassurances also cannot be viewed out of the context of the elections, which is more frenzied for the Brotherhood than for Shafiq. Although they are positive messages aimed at the West, they are nevertheless primarily to attract Coptic votes (and not the Copts themselves as Christian partners in the nation).

Perhaps for the first time, the Brotherhood feels that it needs the Copts, even more than the Copts need it. This is due to the fact that the Brotherhood genuinely appreciates the Copts’ weight on the ground (between 15 to 17 million people according to Coptic estimates, out of a total population of 82 to 85 million Egyptians). The Brotherhood also understands their possible effect on the runoff election scheduled for June 16 and 17, especially if they vote for Ahmed Shafiq. One must view Morsi’s statements in this electoral context when he said, “All sections of the Egyptian people are in my heart and in my thoughts.”

Although the Copts proclaimed that they stand at “equal distance” between the candidates, a careful review of their voting patterns during the first round of the elections reveals that they actually voted against the Brotherhood (and Islamists in general) while favoring candidates not affiliated with the Islamists. Estimates show that 78% of their votes went to Ahmad Shafiq, 16% to Amr Moussa, and 13% to Hamdeen Sabahi.

This indicates a complete collapse of trust between the Copts and the Islamists, who have not yet seriously diverted from their conformist past that regulated their political behavior and ideology. It should be noted that this lack of trust began forming in the 1970s when the Islamist movements started to take hold during Sadat’s reign. At the time, the latter accused the Copts of being agents of the West. One of the repercussions of this was Pope Shenouda III’s exile from Cairo to a monastery in the Sinai desert.

Beyond all that, there exists a fundamental problem with the Bolshevik ideology that still governs the Muslim Brotherhood intellectually. From its inception, it has not been able to present an accurate definition for citizenship, a problem that the Brotherhood’s leaders have continued to confront over the past few years. When they talk about a prescribed code of conduct, they undoubtedly mean “a special form of citizenship.” When they mention “full” citizenship for non-Muslims, this does not actually mean that those non-Muslims will be equal to the Brotherhood and its supporters; either politically (in a ruling sense) or militarily, for such is the Brotherhood’s doctrine in faith and governance. This type of citizenship disallows the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man, and forbids that an infidel (non-Muslim) rule the country. Herein lies the doctrinal problem that plagues the Brotherhood’s religious dogma. They have thus far been incapable of finding a solution that is in touch with modernity, rather than emanating from golden eras of Islam.

This is why the Brotherhood will probably face a deep crisis in finding a compromise between adhering to their ideology and the rules that they must follow to play the internal and international political game. There have undoubtedly been fruitful discussions within the Brotherhood’s ranks about repositioning their stance vis-à-vis issues such as equality and the rights of minorities. In many cases, such discussions led to a number of Brotherhood members splitting from that Bolshevik ideology. However, the discussions failed to produce fundamental changes in the intellectual and cultural construct of the Brotherhood, as evidenced by a Brotherhood member who said: “If Copts were aware of their rights under Islam, then they should strive for the implementation of Islamic Sharia law.”

Therefore, the problem of political Islam and reform remains the same in Egypt and other Arab countries. The more the Islamists present themselves as a force to be trusted that wants to effect political reform, the less reform there will actually be. The previous battle to implement constitutional amendments was maybe a manifestation of that (when the Brotherhood allied itself with the Salafists, Egypt’s Islamists characterized the battle as being one between “faith and godlessness”).

Morsi’s electoral reassurances are therefore not all that appeasing to the Copts because they know well the Brotherhood’s history of unkempt promises, and they will further complicate the Brotherhood’s position. Furthermore, the tables might be turned on the Brotherhood if important political movements that mistrust it vote with the Copts in favor of Shafiq. We could thus consider that Coptic votes for Ahmed Shafiq did not come as a result of great admiration for the man. Rather, it was a result of the Copts' rejection of the Brotherhood, the religious state and the sporadic hints about the implementation of Sharia law.The latest of these hints came through statements made by Mahmoud Izzat in 2011 about the necessity to abide by Islamic law. The controversy that ensued led to the suspension of dialogue between the Copts and the Brotherhood.

The belief that the Brotherhood has made great strides forward requires more scrutiny, and the severe ideological and cultural constructs that have yet to be evicted from the Brothers’ mentality needs to be taken into account. The Brothers have only progressed in their overzealous drive to attain and maintain power, regardless of the cost. Their current electoral conduct serves as the ultimate proof of this.

Found in: runoff elections, mohamed morsi, islamists, egyptian muslim brotherhood, copts, coptic church, ahmed shafiq

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