Friday, November 23, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood Dictatorship

Yesterday Egypt's President Muhammd Morsi granted himself the power to rule through decree in the name of protecting the revolution, putting more formal power in the office of the presidency than there was under Hosni Mubarak.  This was done alongside moves such as replacing the unpopular public prosecutor with a Muslim Brotherhood figure and calling for a retrial of Mubarak-era figures designed to contribute to the revolutionary garments with which Morsi is shrouded.

It is difficult to read this as anything other than the Muslim Brotherhood reaching to seize absolute power within Egypt.  They neutralized the SCAF in August, and probably took this move after reassuring the United States and other members of the international community through their conduct during the Gaza conflict, during which Morsi effectively achieved the same ends for which the United States relied on Mubarak.

I can't picture this as a personal dictatorship of Muhammad Morsi the same way Mubarak sat atop his own system.  Morsi was the back-up candidate for Muslim Brotherhood bigwig Khairat al-Shater, and it seems certain he still works in conjunction with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership as a whole.  With reference to the Free Officers transition to the Nasser regime, does that make Morsi just as Muhammad Naguib who knows his place?  I think it more likely the MB works on collaborative party rule as in China, hence the title of this post.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, has also been characterized by caution, and the mass protests against this decree will probably limit the exercise of its powers.  I simply don't think they expected these huge crowds.  I also think that at this point they care most about the role of Islam in the constitution and their ability to promote it, with other aspects of their agenda a means to that end.

Particularly in the context of the discussion in some Western countries, it's important to here distinguish between political conduct and ideology.  The fact the Muslim Brotherhood is scheming for its own ends does not mean that Egypt is about to become Saudi Arabia, simply because the Muslim Brotherhood itself does not share the Saudi views of proper Islam.  Moderate is, I suppose, one way to characterize this, but the Brotherhood has historically been far less tied to the application of medieval jurisprudence and the literal use of hadith on law and order than their salafi counterparts.  Here again, there's a large spectrum of Islamist thought ranging from Turkey's AKP and Tunisia's Nahda Party through the Muslim Brotherhood and various Iraqi parties to the likes of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban.

I also feel the need to put some humility in here, as a consistent theme of Egypt-related punditry over the past two years has been that lots of people, definitely including me, are wrong about whatever we think is really going on or about to happen.  A year ago I was saying that the parliamentary elections probably couldn't go forward after the clashes then ongoing, and earlier this year I figured al-Shater was ascendant.  In fact, before January 25, Western analysts were convinced Egypt wouldn't have a revolution.  Maybe Morsi really did just decide that this was the easiest way to protect the revolution, and will renounce all these powers once a new constitution is in place.  For the moment, however, absolute power is the door which he has opened.



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