There are immense debate about the compatibility between political Islam and democracy among the scholars. Some are advocating that both are compatible, some are disagreeing that these are incompatible with each other. In this writing it will be reviewed in case of Egyptian politics.
Conflict between ideologies is a universal fact which is observed in case of capitalism and socialism in recent world politics. Political Islam emanated from Islamic ideology and modern democracy originated from secularism and capitalism. Accordingly, political Islam and liberal democracy prescribe different polity and society as well as both has different purpose of the state and society which is the fundamental ground of conflict between these two ideologies. Egypt is the practical field of this battle. In Egypt the secular military, judicial elites and political parties never want that Muslim Brotherhood or Islamists rule the country but through a long time movement against authoritarian ruler of Egypt the Islamists have gained popularity.
Political Islam developed in Egypt in the consequence of destruction of Ottoman Caliphate to revive it struggling against the British or western colonial hegemony in both Egypt and in the Muslim World. On the basis of its Islamic ideology, it wants to return Islamic political system in the Muslim world. According to many scholars Islamic political system has some fundamental conflict with modern or liberal democracy such as Islam does not support popular sovereignty that is reflected in the Islamists’ political principles. Islamists of Egypt also don’t believe in secularism, man-made law and western concept of freedom and personal freedom (for example - homosexuality, drinking wine). They prescribe politics, social policy and culture in the light of the guide line of the Qur’an, Hadith and Islamic tradition.
Islamists participates in democratic election or democratic process to attain state power. They take part in election or democratic process as means to attain their purpose. Therefore, to establish democracy is not their purpose in democratic polity. Hasan-al- Banna, the founding leaders of Muslim Brotherhood, Moududi of Jamati Islami and Taqiuddin Nabahni of Hizbut-Tahrir entirely disagreed with the western secular democracy, modernisation and liberal thoughts. All of them supported the Caliphate form of government primarily.
Historically the alliance between Islamists and military is observed which sometimes hinders the democratisation process. In 1952 Egypt’s monarchy was overthrown by a group of nationalist military officers (Free Officers Movement) who had formed a cell within the Brotherhood during the first war against Israel in 1948.
In Egypt the initially planned elections for the lower and upper houses within three months were held nine months later in November 2011 and January 2012. The SCAF remained the executive and legislative power for over fifteen months after the ouster of Mubarak, until the presidential elections in June 2012. Civilians played a limited role in directing the transition, leading to regular protests against the ‘military regime’ (Elshami, 2011; Sayigh, 2013). In the meantime the Brotherhood was willing to compromise and negotiate with the generals and entered a tacit deal with the SCAF. In return for ceasing its protest it gained political rights (Albrecht & Bishara, 2011: 23; Stacher, 2012).
The Muslim Brotherhood has subsequently backed the SCAF by boycotting protests, calling those protests illegitimate and by organising pro-government demonstrations (Martini & Taylor, 2011). The SCAF and police forces have brutally oppressed the anti-government demonstrations and detained many protestors without charge, leading Amnesty International (2011) to declare the human rights situation in Egypt in 2011 worse than under Mubarak.
International actors USA, Israel, European Union and Saudi Arabia don’t want to witness Islamists or a strong representative government in power which is threat to control the 10th largest Egyptian military in the world that is a factor of balance of power in this region. Actually, imperialist UK, USA and Russia have kept dictators in power not only in the Middle East but also many other parts of the world for their strategic interests.
Attaining power Islamists show their autocratic attitude towards opposition and minorities. In the one year during which President Morsi rushed through a hastily written constitution, he tried to assume extra-constitutional powers to block the judiciary, and focused more on consolidating his party’s power over government institutions than providing good governance.
The constitution passed the constitutional referendum with a significant majority. Additionally, the Constituent Assembly, which wrote the constitution, was not very representative of the society. Many non-Islamists had resigned from the constitution committee; there were very few women (six or seven) and members of religious minorities. While it did garner a majority in the referendum, it alienated a significant portion of society, who felt cheated by the text as well as by the process. The Egyptian constitution, whose final draft was written entirely by Islamists and rushed to the ballot box, failed to unite all citizens behind a common purpose or engender a common vision quite the contrary (Muqtedar Khan, 2014).
The comeback and empowerment of hard core Islamists and the less radical Muslim Brotherhood, which has deplored its past terrorist practices, in the Egyptian scene during the last decades was another political factor worth mentioning as it provoked alarm to some reformers and offered an excuse for the intervention and brutal means of the administration in the realisation of liberal citizens.
The radicals (e.g. Takfir wal-Hijza, al-Jihad, Jama’a al-Islamiya) used their perception of “ideology” to attack the state, “Judeo-Christians”, the “West” as well as whoever actually was or thought to be pro-Israel. They followed writings such as those of Sayid Qutb, a former Muslim Brother, and supported force in order to establish Sharia law and their perception of Islam which they thought to be a complete and perfect system for all aspects of governance.
During the government of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt they introduced Islamic Sharia Law in the constitution of 2012 where the equal and proportionate participation of women, Coptic Christians and other minorities it is not provided which is a proof of their unbelief in democracy.
The referred ground depicts a conflicting nature between political Islam and democracy in Egypt and many other parts of Muslim world.
The writer is an M. Phil researcher on Middle East politics in University of Dhaka and working as an Assistant Professor in Social Science Faculty in Scholars’ School & College, Dhaka. Email: [email protected]