By Alaa Al-Aswany
30 Dec, 2012
Here’s what the camera recorded: The minister of information, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, went to vote on the day of the constitutional referendum. When he saw the long lines of voters stretching endlessly, he ducked into the Electoral Commission from the back door and voted within a few moments… while ordinary voters had to wait outside for hours just to get inside the commission building. As the minister was leaving, a courageous reporter had the temerity to ask him: "Why didn’t you come in through the main door like everyone else?"
Without hesitation the minister answered: "I did come in through the main door. I didn’t go in through any side door."
And so the minister lied openly, shamelessly, in front of all the assembled cameras and journalists. In a democratic country, such a lie from a government minister would constitute a scandal, maybe even lead to the minister’s dismissal. But here in Egypt, now under the beneficent rule of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood’s minister will remain in his position as long as he holds the guide’s favor.
The odd thing is that the minister is a religious man, who no doubt makes sure to say his daily prayers, in preparation for which Muslims must enter a state of ritual purity — and yet he lied. The question is: does a lie not sully one’s purity? Does this religious minister not know that lying is forbidden by Islam, and that God does not accept prayers uttered by liars?
The question does not address itself to this lying minister alone, but to the entire leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Mohammed Morsi. They do not practice what they preach. They make promises but do not fulfill. them They are prepared to do anything in order to hold on to power. The Brotherhood’s lies cannot be counted, but the latest of them was this referendum, the results of which were brazenly falsified in order to ram through their constitution. All manner of violations took place in the course of this referendum, beginning with preventing the Copts from voting, irregular ballots, terrorizing voters and buying the votes of the poor, to collective voting and cutting power to the commissions’ facilities in order to rig the results. All this was done by men calling themselves “Muslim Brothers,” men who failed to consider for even a moment that lying, deceit and tampering with the will of the people are all behaviors that contravene the most fundamental tenets of Islam.
And should you attempt, dear reader, to direct some criticism at the guide of the Brotherhood, whether by Facebook or Twitter, you will be bombarded by obscene insults hurled by devoted young men specifically tasked by the guide’s office with insulting Brotherhood opponents over the internet.
How can obscene liars dare to call themselves “Muslim Brothers,” when Islam urges us to be upright, honest and polite? What is the secret of this flagrant contradiction between belief and practice? The followers of political Islam (including the Brotherhood, Salafists and jihadists) simply do not understand their religion as ordinary Muslims do. Rather, their understanding of religion is based on the following guidelines:
First: absolute obedience to the supreme guide
The Salfists and Muslim Brothers are loathe to admit to anything not professed as true by the supreme guide of the Brotherhood or by Salafist sheikhs. In order to become a member of the Brotherhood, one must not only swear allegiance and obedience to the supreme guide’s instructions, but to believe them at heart as well. A soldier might carry out the orders of his superior without being convinced of their soundness, but how can you demand that thousands of people be convinced that whatever another (ordinary, fallible) human being said is true? That they must support everything he does and look upon it as though it were flawless? In effect, one has completely nullified their minds and removed their powers of discernment, rendering them pliant tools in the hand of the supreme guide, to be moved about at his will. Many Muslim Brothers are highly educated young men, among them doctors and engineers. But they are in a state of total intellectual subordination to their Shaykh, who has deprived them of the ability to think independently or reason critically.
For evidence, one need look no further than what Sheikh Hazim Salah Abu Ismail did with his followers. This man preoccupied the entire country with the question of his mother’s nationality. Though it became clear that she was an American citizen, contrary to what Abu Ismail had said, he constantly called upon his followers to go out and riot, even while he retired to his home where he could enjoy the warmth and the delicious meals he craved. Meanwhile his followers were left to absorb the clubs and blows of the police. Yet none of Abu Ismail’s followers dared to reprove him for his repeated flights or to criticize him over the question of his mother’s nationality. For everything he did, in their eyes, was righteousness absolute.
Take another example. When the Brotherhood’s supreme guide came out of the mosque, the Brothers knelt at his foot and competed with one another for the honor of putting his shoe on. The sense of humility needed to cause a proud man to beg another man to put his shoe on his noble foot indicates the degree of the Brothers’ submissiveness to their supreme guide and their inability to think for themselves.
Second: an exclusivist understanding of religion
With the Salafists and the Muslim Brothers, there is no room for discussion or airing different points of view on religion. Their Islam is whatever their sheikh or supreme guide says it is: no more, no less. The strange thing is that most of their comments on the internet are filled with major grammatical errors. This indicates that they do not read, and that their culture is an oral one, where they sit at the foot of their sheikh, absorb his words and then repeat them. There is no point in engaging them in discussion, because they would refuse to hear out any opinion that does not accord with that of their sheikh. Even if it were to come from the most widely respected clerics. Even if you beseech them to talk things through, they will act belligerently toward you. They have built their lives upon the belief that the sheikh’s words are truth itself. If you tell them something that causes them to doubt that, they will attack you in defense of their beliefs (that, if shaken, would force them to re-evaluate their entire lives).
Third: demonizing dissidents
The Brotherhood’s supreme guide and the Salafist sheikhs normally attempt to dehumanize their opponents. The Salafists and Muslim Brothers do not believe that their opponents are individuals, each with their own private life. Instead they place them all under the same negative, all-embracing category of “secularists,” “followers of the West,” or “enemies of Shariah law.” They don’t look upon their political opponents as people simply hold a different opinion, but as godless infidels or Zionist collaborators.
This contempt for their opponents naturally makes it easier to assault their rights. If you thought of yourself as the only person who possesses absolute truth, while all who opposed you were collaborators or enemies of the faith, it would be illogical for you to grant them the same rights as you, because you are superior to them. You bear the message of God; they are the followers of Satan. You are a pure soul, implementing the will of God, while they are impure enemies of Islam. Assaulting their rights is tolerable and, at any given moment, may even become necessary. We saw just this when Morsi called up the Brotherhood’s militias to attack those protesting in front of the presidential palace.
Here the contradiction between belief and practice appeared in full force: groups of bearded men who would never permit themselves any moral backsliding in prayer were committing heinous crimes without the slightest sense of guilt: beating young girls, attacking protesters, subjecting them to hideous torture, brutally assaulting fellow Egyptians whose only crime lay in the fact that they were Christians. The Brothers’ and Salafists’ understanding of the faith had put them in a state of war with whoever disagreed with them. And all is fair in war. Beginning with lying, rigging elections and ending in beating and torture…
Fourth: searching for the grand conspiracy
The American ambassador in Cairo when to monitor the referendum, when a group of Salafist and Brotherhood youth gathered around her and began to angrily chant: “Islamic! Islamic!” These youth had been convinced by their sheikhs that there was a grand conspiracy against Islam being led by America. And because they are in mental thrall to their sheikhs, it was difficult for them to see that the truth was the exact opposite: the US doesn’t care about Islam at all. It only cares about protecting its interests and Israel’s security. America would happily welcome an Islamic government as long as it would protect these interests. Examples abound: America’s greatest ally for half a century is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which the Salafists and the Brotherhood consider a model for Islamic government. Then there’s the Taliban, which was originally founded by American intelligence. In Pakistan, General Zia al-Haqq took power with Saudi funding so that he could become an American-allied ruler.
The Brotherhood has come to understand this equation, and since the days of Mubarak has opened its own channels to the American administration. Morsi has sought to guarantee Israeli security by using his influence with Hamas. And one who follows international press will find a great deal of Western officials praising Morsi just as they once praised Mubarak. The American administration prefers that Egypt be ruled by a cooperative dictator who can control his people and guarantee America’s interests. It does not want a democratic regime in Egypt, for this would turn the country into a regional giant that would determine the fate of the Middle East and might threaten Israel. This truth shines clear as day, but the sheikhs of political Islam continue to convince their followers that the US is conspiring against Islam even as they meet with American officials and seek to please them in every way. The notion of a vast conspiracy against Islam is a delusion, but it possesses important value to the sheikhs, for it enables them to sharpen the religious sentiments of the young and prepares them to accept their elders’ commands.
These are the four cornerstones of political Islam. It radically upends the meaning of religion. Instead of becoming a path to truth, justice, liberty and equality, it is turned into a tool for hating others, holding them in contempt, assaulting their liberties and their lives. And so the first elected president of Egypt has transformed himself into a dictator who nullified the constitution, and imposed a distorted replacement in its place, held a rigged referendum, and sent his thugs to besiege the constitutional court to terrorize the judges and intimidate them into not invalidating the new constitution.
Even so this unfortunate transformation of Morsi’s has not been without its positive effects. For example, it has inspired patriotic and revolutionary groups to unite and combine forces for the first time to save the state from the Brotherhood attempting to hijack it. The Brotherhood’s ascent to power has been a long-delayed but necessary test that Egypt had to undergo. The revolution has always had to overcome three obstacles: Mubarak, the army and the Brotherhood. It has succeeded in ousting Mubarak and putting him on trial. It succeeded in getting rid of the power of the army. Now all that remains is the Brotherhood. They have failed the test of rule, and revealed their ugly face within a few short months.
Stop any ordinary Egyptian in the street and ask him what he thinks about the Brotherhood. Whatever level of education he has, you’ll find he understands the difference between true Islam and the Brotherhood’s Islam, the Islam that permits lying, fraud and aggression. Every day, the Brotherhood loses more and more of its popularity, until it becomes impossible for any of its leaders (including Morsi himself) to appear in public without being hounded by hostile chants from the passerby. The crimes committed by the Brotherhood over the last few months have cost them their popularity, and the more they sense this, the greater their violence and belligerence will grow.
I expect that, in the near future we will see more repressive measures, acts of aggression and assassinations against all who oppose the Brothers. Our duty now is to topple the distorted, bastardized constitution by any peaceful means possible.The rigged referendum on this constitution counts for nothing. It was manufactured by an invalid, illegal constitutional committee that the judiciary almost dissolved for a second time, and would have but for Morsi’s blocking judicial rulings with his own dictatorial announcement.
The revolution will continue until the Brotherhood’s rule is toppled as completely as Mubarak’s regime. Then, and only then, will Egypt be able to move toward the future that is deserves.
Democracy is the solution.
Alaa al-Aswany is an Egyptian writer and a prominent member of the Egyptian Movement for Change, Kefaya. Al-Aswany currently writes a weekly column for Al-Masry Al-Youm and his political articles have been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Monde. His 2002 novel, “The Yacoubian Building,” has been translated into 27 languages and was nominated by US Newsday in 2006 as the most important translated novel in the United States. Al-Aswany is a board member of the Doha Center for Media Freedom and in 2011 he topped the Foreign Policy list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.