Muslim Brotherhood Needs To Embrace Egypt’s Elites

Article Summary
The Muslim Brotherhood won the Egyptian elections by appealing to the broadest spectrum of the populace. However, Ammar Ali Hassan writes, to hold onto power the Brotherhood must mend fences with Egypt’s elites — whether professionall, scientific, artistic or scholarly — who worry about their own political futures.

When the Muslim Brotherhood first began to propagate its message in Egypt, it wagered on its capacity to change people and impact society gradually. However, when it entered into an alliance with the (New) Wafd (Delegation) Party and participated in the 1984 elections, it espoused a new strategy of seeking the support of the people at large, without worrying about changing them ideologically,  to pursue its own agenda. This shift in strategy came in the wake of a revolutionary philosophy introduced by Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian author, poet, Islamist theorist and leading member of the Brotherhood in the 1950s and '60s which began to permeate the ranks of the Brotherhood. Qutb believed in taking power regardless of the cost, and in imposing the Brotherhood’s doctrine and ideology on the people by force. Yet, after the Brotherhood won a parliamentary majority following the revolution, it began to disregard its leadership’s demands to conform to the educational programs imposed on its members in the past, during a time when the organization was still marginalized and oppressed.

By placing its bets on the support of the wider populace, Mohammed Morsi was able to become president of Egypt. However, for the Brotherhood, this kind of strategy of always came at the expense of its relationship with the Egyptian elites, be they ideological, social, political, economic, scientific, etc. As such, the Brotherhood contented itself with its own elite, for its followers and supporters included members from all of the aforementioned groups of elites.

On the opposite side of the coin, the dissolved National Party (founded by Anwar Sadat and led by Hosni Mubarak between 1981 and 2011) relied on attracting these elites through the state’s bureaucratic apparatus and its treasury, the facilitation of their business needs and the protection services it was able to offer them.  At a time when the National Party’s popularity was being systematically eroded, the elites backed the regime with all their might, either out of greed — to benefit from the grants and handouts given to them by the regime — or to take advantage of the state’s collusion in nurturing the aspirations and ambitions of segments within these elites. In contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity increased greatly, to a point where it became obvious to everyone. Animosity swelled between the Brotherhood and these elites, as a result of the former’s unwillingness to reassure the latter of the future “civility of the state,” or give them guarantees relating to “freedom of expression,” and “national security.” These tensions increased further after the revolution, when political leaders tried to transform the term “elite” into a dirty word.

The “Brothers” kept their distance from these traditional elites. Meanwhile, some of these same elites were beginning to grow disenchanted and lose confidence in the regime of deposed President Mubarak, and some consciously opened up to the Brotherhood’s proposals and sought to build bridges with it. We saw how hardened Egyptian liberals and leftists rightfully demanded that the Brotherhood receive political and legal legitimacy, whether in the form of a political party or non-governmental agency, with many of them denounced the apprehension, oppression and military trials of Brotherhood members. Some even talked about the necessity to eliminate “the psychological problem” between the regime and the Brotherhood and stood against the political developments in Egypt. Indeed, at that time the regime feared the Brotherhood coming to power were free and fair elections to be held. We also saw the Brotherhood participate alongside other political forces in demonstrations against the regime, especially in 2004 and 2005.

But the Brotherhood’s relationship with the elites remains fragile, especially when compared against what is needed by a political force that aspires to retain power and build social support. In this regard, the Brothers seem to forget that the masses, which the prominent Brotherhood leader Essam al-Arian used to call “the good people,” cannot change history without the cooperation of an elite that leads and organizes their efforts. It has been proven throughout history that the course of history can be altered when elites feel the pulse of the people, react to it and build their legitimacy upon it.

Indeed, our revolution succeeded thanks to these masses which, through honest elections, brought the Brotherhood to the political forefront. However, the Brotherhood was then incapable of guaranteeing its stability and longevity in power. This is where the elites’ consent comes into play, and where the Brothers have not been able to make inroads like those they made in building their relationship with the people. When it comes to building consent with the elites, the distribution of benefits or the buying of loyalties and consciences has nothing to do with it. Rather it centers around including all in the responsibilities of the state, and the conscientious act of listening to the elites whose opinions and positions differ from those of the Brotherhood instead of belittling and discrediting them — as has been witnessed with the so called “electronic Brotherhood militias.”

Among the failings that negatively affect the Brotherhood’s relationship with the elites is its disregard for literature and the arts. For decades, the Brotherhood has failed to provide Egypt with great learned individuals; for all the scholars that the Brothers hold in high regard, such as Tarek al-Bashra, Salim al-Awa, and Mohammed Amara, were not members of the Brotherhood, and espoused ideas that far surpassed those of the Brothers themselves. Nor did the Brotherhood offer Egypt any great authors and poets, with the exception of Naguib al-Kilani, while most of its literary and artistic propensities are utilized for preaching purposes, and have little to do with art in its real sense. This situation drove most — but not all — authors and artists to prefer the continuance of the old regime over the Brotherhood’s ascension to power in Egypt.

If bridges remained broken between the Brothers and the overwhelming majority of Egyptian literary scholars and artists, then the Brotherhood is sure to lose the favor of this influential group of people. However, if the Brotherhood is able to recognize this shortcoming and remedy it by bridging the enormous gap that exists between the traditional elites and the organization, it will benefit them greatly. They will then succeed in gaining the favor of some important scholars among those who have grown fed up with corruption, the tardiness in the implementation of reforms and the stifling of public freedoms. In accomplishing this they would have succeeded in allaying accusations levied against them of being unjust; accusations faced by many other radical Islamist political groups and organizations.

In general, if the Brotherhood continues to wager solely on the support of the masses and neglects the opinions of the elites, their path toward solidifying their rule will remain fraught with hurdles, especially if the ruling regime must rely on a significant faction of the elites to remain afloat while its popularity wanes. But if the Brotherhood embraces the elites, and reassures them with a modern viewpoint on all levels, followed by action and behaviors that demonstrate with deeds their commitment to these ideals, then the Brothers might come out big winners.

This has become an obligation, whether they like it or not. It is no longer is reasonable nor acceptable for them to behave as a sect, or a state within the state. It is impossible for them to remain indifferent to everything except their own ideas, while, at the same time, distorting the ideas of rival powers in such a devious and immoral fashion.

Found in: wafd party, secularists, popular support, national unity, national democratic party, muslim brotherhood, islamists, hosni mubarak, egyptian elites, egyptian elections

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