The confirmation on June 24 that Muhammad Mursi, the candidate representing the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, had been elected President of Egypt, has a certain air of inevitability.
The Ikhwan has been established as the country’s main opposition movement for over half a century, and has been subject to official persecution for most of that time. Only its popularity and credibility among Egypt’s people has enabled it to survive numerous attempts to damage, destroy or marginalise it, and now to emerge stronger than ever before. And it was this same factor which made many of its leaders, activists and supporters confident throughout Egypt’s turbulent recent months that the Ikhwan would emerge in a position of strength once the babble of conflicting voices and messages from politicians and commentators was set aside and the Egyptian people given the opportunity to have their say.
The context and implications of the Ikhwan success in Egypt are discussed elsewhere in this issue of Crescent International. The reaction among Islamic activists outside Egypt will probably be one of caution, recognising the significance of the success, but warning also that the challenges of power will be very different from those of opposition, and that numerous forces both within and outside Egypt will be doing their best to ensure that the Ikhwan are unable to fulfil the hopes that the country’s Muslims have for them. Already we have seen, in the few days between the final round of polling and the delayed announcement of the results, Egypt’s ruling generals taking extra powers for themselves specifically to ensure that Mursi’s hands are tied. Some commentators will probably also (and still) doubt the political vision and strategy of the Ikhwan’s leadership, particularly given that Mursi is not one of its established intellectual and political leaders, who were not permitted to take part in the elections.
Such scepticism is perhaps understandable, and may yet be vindicated, as Mursi and his supporters face up to the realities of trying to rule Egypt from within the strict limitations imposed by the military establishment, with no doubt the tacit approval of the Western powers who claim to have championed democracy in Egypt. The powers that be in the West must have known that the Ikhwan would emerge in a powerful position in any even vaguely representative political process, as they did even in the pseudo-elections that took place under the Mubarak regime. Their calculation has evidently been that it was no longer practical to try to thwart this reality, and therefore their best bet would be to permit it while ensuring as far as possible that their key interests were protected, even though some element of Islam would have to be accommodated in some spheres of Egyptian public life. The continuing dominance of the military is no doubt a part of the West’s strategy. The new government can also expect to come under intense pressure to ensure that the US’s regional geopolitical interests are not challenged. In return, elements of “moderate Islam” in domestic Egyptian affairs will perhaps be officially tolerated — although still attacked through channels such as the international media, human rights organizations, etc. — in the hope that the Islamic movement will prove less popular in power, however restricted, than they always have in opposition.
This strategy reflects a realization on the part of the West that many Muslims, including activists in the broader Islamic movement, still fail to grasp. This is that the objects of the establishment of Islam go far beyond the purely political — the establishment of Islamic states — and so require much more than political power, however achieved.
The “total transformation” of Muslim societies represented by Islam (to use a phrase coined by the late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui) requires the individual and collective internalization and realization of the Islamic vision and Islamic values at all levels and in every sphere of society. This is impossible without Islamic political institutions and order; Islamic government within an Islamic state is an essential element of this process. But it is not the be all and end all. The achievement of political power is neither an essential prerequisite for beginning this process of transformation, nor proof of its completion or success. Rather it is merely a step in the process, which may be achieved early, providing the Islamic movement with invaluable powers and tools to facilitate and accelerate the broader transformation of society, as has proved to be the case with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, or may in other circumstances come later in the process, as a result of groundwork done in other areas. Either way, it is merely a step on the journey, not an end in itself.
The hegemonic West has been forced by the Islamic commitment and aspirations of Muslim peoples to accommodate Islamic parties within their power structures. They hope that Muslim aspirations can be satisfied by Islamic-ish governments within non-Islamic states, thus enabling the Islamic transformation of Muslim societies to be limited to spheres in which the key interests of the hegemonic powers are not threatened. This is the context in which the successes of Islamic parties in countries such as Turkey, Tunisia and now Egypt must be seen.
What Muslims must realize is that these successes are just minor steps toward the broader objectives of the Islamic movement. The total transformation of Muslim societies requires progress in many areas and spheres simultaneously, of which the political sphere is only one, albeit an important, even crucial, one. Having achieved a limited degree of power in Egypt, the Ikhwan now faces opportunities, challenges and obstacles very different to anything it has confronted before. Its enemies, and those of Islam more broadly, will hope that they will be able to cripple it and in the process do immeasurable damage to the broader Islamic movement. While supporting our brothers and sisters in Egypt as best we can, not least by reminding them of their responsibilities and warning them of the dangers they face, we must also maintain the broader perspective, in order that the historic vision, aspirations and progress of the Islamic movement is not limited to the merely political and cannot be damaged by the short-term vicissitudes of current affairs.