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Naturally, people demonstrate to demand better living conditions, yet the Muslim Brotherhood has acquired the habit of showing their presence in the public space, even when they are the ruling party. And they don’t seem to want to quit.

Dina El Sharnouby
23 September 2012

According to Egypt’s Independent News, some leaders of the emerging Conference party, with the aim of uniting political parties in Egypt, have been confused over whether to include Islamic parties such as the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Salafi Nour party. While the idea of unifying the liberals is not a new one, the question of whether or not this “liberal” alliance should include Islamic parties is indeed new. The Conference party is being put together now merely because of the upcoming parliamentary elections, and in the hope that the majority of seats will not be mainly taken by Islamists. Hence, including Islamists in the newly formed party would defeat the purpose. Wouldn’t it? Yet, testing the position of the Muslim Brotherhood in particular and their political strategies remains an important task.

The Muslim Brotherhood, almost since its creation in 1928, has been the opposition. Adapting to successive political regimes, they have learned different techniques and strategies from violent to peaceful ones. From being an underground movement to finding political inclusion through student activities and syndicates, the Muslim Brotherhood have found unique ways to express or develop their political agendas. One thing that remained static over the years was the political struggle over power which confronted them as the opposition. What is new to them now is being in power: the tension that arises in how to deal with being the ruling power has been clearly observable since the fall of the Mubarak regime. Many of its members still take their demands to the streets. They have gone so far as to “demonstrate” their support for their candidate President Morsi. This makes it confusing to understand the role they are playing, and indeed what protest in Egypt actually means. Naturally, people demonstrate to demand better living conditions, yet the Muslim Brotherhood has acquired the habit of showing their presence in the public space, even when they are the ruling party. And they don’t seem to want to quit.

This ambiguity around how to respond to the Muslim Brotherhood in the public space is apparent on Egyptian streets. Some activists such as Saad Eddin Ibrahim, even before the fall of Mubarak, supported the idea of including the MB in the political sphere to hold them accountable for their actions, demands, and strategies. The underlying thought is that not only should the public be aware of all political forces and ideologies, but also the hope that the MB will be cornered and exposed through thorough questioning of how they see Egypt, especially in relation to the Islamic doctrines that they are espousing.

Since they have been in power, the Muslim Brotherhood has indeed had to refine their politics leading to some contradictions in their public announcements. The struggle within the Muslim Brotherhood could for example clearly be seen in 2011 when they announced that they will run for less than 50% of the parliamentary seats, but soon ended up in running for many more. More recently their Nahda programme that President Morsi used as his manifesto for the presidency has also been revised by them in an official statement declaring it has to be discussed with other activists, academics etc. if it is to be an inclusive project that can stand the test of catering for the concerns of the population at large. Thus, the internal conflicts and confusions of their own stance in terms of the roles they are playing, from the opposition to the ruling party, are made apparent.

Including the Islamic parties in the newly forming Conference party might thus be a new strategy to test out their agendas within the “liberal” context, possibly neutralizing some of the political tension that has arisen over recent months. However at this stage it seems unlikely that this can come to fruition, since  for now the whole raison d’etre of the Constitution party is to offer an opposition to neutralize the role of dominant ideologies in the formation of parliament and government. It might be better to unite liberals to interrogate Islamist policies, exposing their strategies and ideologies to the public gaze, until rather fewer contradictions can be seen in the Islamists’ own actions.  

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