Religious, Stubborn and Confident: Egypt's Islamists Power Through Resistance

By in Mahalla el-Kobra, Egypt

Two worlds are colliding in Egypt. While President Morsi wants to force through an Islamist constitution, the secular opposition is holding massive demonstrations in protest. Both sides are unwilling to compromise, and the frustration could spill out into violence on the streets.

Islamist Hassan Saif Abdel-Fatah stands in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's building in Mahalla el-Kobra. Zoom
SPIEGEL ONLINE

Islamist Hassan Saif Abdel-Fatah stands in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's building in Mahalla el-Kobra.

Mahalla el-Kobra, a working-class city two hours north of Cairo, likes to think of itself as the birthplace of the Egyptian Revolution. Already in 2008, despair and rising food prices had driven its enraged residents into the streets. That marked the beginning of the "April 6" youth movement that would later join those fighting for more rights at the capital's Tahrir Square.

The first thing ones comes upon these days along the road to Mahalla el-Kobra is a giant billboard bearing the face of a kindly smiling Mohammed Morsi and "The President of Egypt" in large letters. The main street continues to be lined with banners of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The only signs of the "April 6" youth movement are its logo, a balled up fist, spray-painted on the walls.

The Islamists' office is not far from the city's main square. Standing outside in a somewhat well-worn, beige suit is Hassan Saif Abdel-Fatah, a 48-year-old member of the Brotherhood. He is surveying the damage the office sustained on Tuesday evening, when a few hundred angry youths pelted it with stones and Molotov cocktails. The front door's glass panel has been shattered, there are scorch marks on the wall, and a tear runs through one of the Brotherhood's banners.

"I don't understand it," Abdel-Fatah says. "The Morsi opponents previously said that they want revolutionary decisions, but now they're against them. I don't understand it."

The Muslim Brotherhood shows no signs of comprehending why there is a surge of resistance to them throughout Egypt. They cannot fathom why part of the population is outraged over what they say was a power grab.

Liberals Fear a Religious Dictatorship

Last Friday, President Morsi issued decrees that granted him authoritarian powers and gave the controversial assembly drafting the country's new constitution virtual immunity from the courts. On Thursday, he signed the draft constitution that had been composed by his fellow Islamists after the angry liberal members of the body had withdrawn from it in protest. Egyptians will now vote on whether to accept the draft constitution in a national referendum that must be held within 30 days.

The draft contains several vague, controversial articles that would allow Muslim clerics to make decisions that effect Egyptians' private lives. Liberals, secularists and Christians fear that Egypt could soon become a religious dictatorship. And the fact that Morsi wants to ram it through without making any concessions has only heightened their worries.

"We are getting rid of the Mubarak regime," says Abdel-Fatah, referring to the 30-year dictatorship of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that fell victim to pro-democratic uprisings in early 2011. "The only people criticizing us are the jealous losers."

Like many of his fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdel-Fatah views himself as a "genuine revolutionary" and points out that the Mubarak regime persecuted his fellow Islamists for decades. Indeed, President Morsi makes frequent mention of the time he spent in prison under Mubarak. Such stories are meant to lend him credibility among those who might find him lacking in charisma.

The Muslim Brotherhood members view themselves as the good guys. And they write off anyone with opposing views as a backer of the old regime.

When it comes to the courts, there is some truth to their charges. Many seats continue to be held by former backers of the Mubarak regime, and the courts continue to throw a wrench into the process of transitioning power in post-Mubarak Egypt.

In June, the country's Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the elected lower house parliament, which was dominated by the FJP and other Islamist parties, citing a flaw in the election law. First it was the military council that served as Egypt's interim power that usurped legislative power, and now it is Morsi.

The Supreme Constitutional Court was expected to rule on Sunday that the constitution-drafting assembly was invalid. Some, but not all of its justices had good ties to the old regime. But the fact that Morsi openly declared his hostility toward the entire judiciary and unceremoniously declared himself above the law will probably drive an even deeper and more dangerous wedge between the countries executive and judicial branches.

Many Citizens Criticize Morsi's Ruthlessness

"Who was elected?" Abdel-Fatah asks. "The judges or us?" Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood subscribes to a very particular understanding of the law, arguing that the judiciary should be independent of and stand above changing political majorities. "We received 40 percent in the lower house of parliament. We have the majority," Abdel-Fatah continues. Likewise, if you combine their share of the parliamentary vote with that of the party of the ultraconservative Salafists, the figure climbs above 65 percent. Given these results, the Muslim Brotherhood members now believe that they enjoy the support of the vast majority of Egyptians. Indeed, in an interview published on Thursday in the US news weekly Time, Morsi said: "I think more that 80 percent, 90 percent, of the people in Egypt … are with what I have done."

However, asking around in Mahalla el-Kobra paints a different picture. Many criticize what they see as Morsi's ruthlessness. They say that they didn't vote for him and that he won because several moderate and charismatic politicians stole votes from each other. Then, for the final round in the presidential elections, the only men left standing were Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq. And even though the latter had been the former prime minister of deposed President Mubarak, Morsi still only won by a slim margin, with 52 to 48 percent of the vote. What's more, they argue, almost half of all eligible voters didn't cast ballots on election day.

However, those who have supported Morsi from the start still have faith in him. "We first have to give him a chance," says one textile worker.

Likewise, the fact is that only a minority of Egyptians are revolting against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Granted, hundreds of thousands of people will probably come together for demonstrations in Cairo on Friday, including many from the educated elite. A few thousand will most likely take to the streets in Mahalla el-Kobra, as well, where there will probably be more stone-throwing, and probably in a few other cities as well. Nevertheless, the rebels still only make up a minority. The majority of Egyptians might not agree with Morsi on everything, but the main thing they are interested in is seeing things move forward again, even if the final destination remains unknown.

No Compromises

Morsi's political understanding doesn't seem to include the belief that compromise and consensus-building are a natural part of politics, that is important to get the opposition on board, especially when it comes to the kinds of far-reaching decisions like the ones Egypt currently faces. Instead, he apparently views democracy as purely a matter of majority rule rather than something concerned with allowing the people as a whole to rule. His winner-takes-all mentality seems to ignore the fact that respecting the minority is also part of majority rule. He gives no consideration to the extreme distrust from the opposition, which itself is hardly willing to make concessions.

In fact, Morsi's response to his demonstrating opponents was to call for even bigger demonstrations. With their massive rallies, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists wanted to show who really represented the majority. This betrays the lack of political experience among the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt. Mubarak's regime persecuted whoever seemed like a threat. The political arm of the Islamists was repeatedly forbidden and its leaders locked up. Many members are businesspeople, engineers and scientists, because public service was practically impossible for Islamists before the revolution.

In Mahalla el-Kobra, Abdel-Fatah is confident that the opposition will come around to the Muslim Brotherhood after a while. "Just let us do our thing," he says. "We want our actions and not violence to show that Islam is the best religion for everyone."

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1. What is the truth?
Inglenda2 12/01/2012
The religion called Islam is now being taught in German schools. Moslems who live here assure us that this religion is one of peace. Politicians obviously believe them and encourage religious diversity. Looking not only at Egypt, but at the whole of the Middle East, it could possibly be asked, whether what we are being told and asked to support, is nothing more than a form of propaganda. Surely what one believes and what one does, should bear some sort of relationship.
2. Religious, Stubborn and Confident
KhanZubair 12/04/2012
Zitat von Inglenda2The religion called Islam is now being taught in German schools. Moslems who live here assure us that this religion is one of peace. Politicians obviously believe them and encourage religious diversity. Looking not only at Egypt, but at the whole of the Middle East, it could possibly be asked, whether what we are being told and asked to support, is nothing more than a form of propaganda. Surely what one believes and what one does, should bear some sort of relationship.
Apparantly you are right in your observation. However in reality it is not like that. Biggest problem with Muslims is the interpretation of religious terminologies and phrases. Currently Ahmadiyya Muslim Community claims to be interpreting the Islam correclty. The community is in miniority and in few countries have been thrown out of hte pale of Islam. Just see whow community leader is striving to achieve international peace. " On 04.12.2012 in the afternoon, an historic keynote address by the world leader of an Islamic community, to be delivered in the European Parliament, will urge politicians to seek faith-inspired solutions for conflicts rooted in geo-political causes. With the unfolding conflict in the Middle East clearly in mind, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, will tackle head-on the issue of eliminating extremism and promoting peace based on international justice. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is established in 200 countries and is one of the oldest Muslim communities across Europe and America. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad is the world’s leading Muslim figure promoting peace. His addresses delivered around the world, including Capitol Hill and Westminster, have advocated ways to broker peace in an increasingly globalized and conflict-ridden world. Fundamentally, His Holiness calls for the quest for justice to be put on a par with peace. He stresses that true justice springs from faith and that revealed scriptures, which millions of people hold dear, provide the framework for delivering that very justice they seek. His Holiness said: The establishment of world peace is the most vital and pressing issue facing the world today. However, the truth is that peace and justice are inseparable – you cannot have one without the other. There is little doubt that restlessness and anxiety is increasing in the world, and so disorder is spreading, which is a clear indication that somewhere along the line the requirements of justice are not being fulfilled. World political leaderships have their creative and intelligent minds focused on ideas, plans and indeed a vision of peace. Thus, this issue does not require me to speak from a worldly or political perspective; instead my entire focus will be based on how to establish peace based on religion. For this purpose I shall present some very important guidelines based on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. His Holiness will deliver his address at the European Parliament, Brussels, on Tuesday 4 December. Hosted by The European Parliament ‘Friends of the Ahmadiyya Muslims’ Group, the event will be chaired by Dr Charles Tannock MEP with Vice-Chairs Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Tunne Kelam MEP and Claude Moraes MEP.''
3. Religious, Stubborn and Confident
KhanZubair 12/06/2012
@Inglenda2 Just to add more for your information how Ahamdiyya Muslim Community intends dealing with world peace and religion extremism related problems read the following. On 4 December 2012, the World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat and Fifth Khalifa, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad delivered an historic keynote address at the European Parliament in Brussels to a packed audience of more than 350 guests representing 30 countries. The event was hosted by the newly launched ‘European Parliament Friends of Ahmadiyya Muslims Group’, whose Chair and Vice-Chairs all took to the stage to welcome Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Martin Schulz MEP and President of the European Parliament also came to meet with His Holiness. During his thirty-five minute address, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad spoke on various points. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said that in the modern world many people viewed Islam as a religion that promoted violence and extremism and blamed it for many of the conflicts taking place in various parts of the world. He said that such allegations were particularly unjust given that “the very meanings of the world Islam are ‘peace’ and ‘security’.” The Khalifa spoke about widespread concerns over increasing levels of immigration to Western countries. In a detailed analysis, His Holiness said the issue was leading to the spread of ‘restlessness and anxiety’. His Holiness blamed both the immigrants and the indigenous people for the state of conflict, whereby many immigrants provoked locals by refusing to integrate, whilst certain segments of the local society were intolerant to outsiders. He said the consequences of such division were far reaching and so he called on all parties to work together to resolve the issues. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: “Governments need to make policies that establish and protect mutual respect, through which hurting the sentiments of others or causing them any type of harm should be outlawed. With regard the immigrants, they must enter with a willingness to integrate with the local people, whilst the locals should be ready to open their hearts and display tolerance.” About the European Union, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: “The formation of the European Union has been a great achievement on the part of the European countries, for it has been a means of uniting this Continent. And so you should make all possible efforts to preserve this unity… Remember that the strength of Europe lies in it remaining united and together as one. Such unity will not only benefit you here in Europe but at a global level will be the means for this Continent to maintain its strength and influence.”The Khalifa spoke of the need not just for co-operation within Europe, but called for global unity. His Holiness said:“Speaking from an Islamic perspective, we should strive for the entire world to unite together. In terms of currency the world should be united. In terms of business and trade the world should be united. And in terms of freedom of movement and immigration, cohesive and practical policies should be developed, so that the world can become united.”The Khalifa said that in the modern world countries could no longer afford to remain isolated and even global powers like the United States were dependent on international trade and foreign relations.He said developed countries ought not to exploit weaker nations but should seek to help them develop and succeed. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad also spoke about conflicts in the Arab World and Middle East. He said that whilst the Western world had openly expressed ‘outrage and concern’ at the situations in Syria and Libya, they did not seem as concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: “This perceived double standard is causing grievances and malice to increase in the hearts of people from Muslim countries against the major powers of the world. This anger and animosity is extremely dangerous and could boil over and explode at any time… Let it be clear that I am not speaking in support or favour of any particular individual country. What I wish to say is that all forms of cruelty, wherever they exist, must be eradicated and stopped, regardless of whether they are perpetrated by the people of Palestine, the people of Israel or the people of any other country.” The Khalifa also criticised the principle of veto power within international institutions. He said that the voting history of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council showed that on certain occasions veto powers had been misused to assist cruelty, rather than to prevent it.Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad concluded by calling for justice and equality. He said:“Always remember that peace can only be established by helping both the oppressed and the oppressor in a manner that is completely impartial, free from vested interests and devoid of all enmity. Peace is made by giving all parties an equal platform and playing field.”
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