No one can deny that what Egypt is going through now is baffling, and muddles for many people a clear analysis of the issues, especially as involvement in the ever accelerating stream of events reduces our capacity for level-headed, far-sighted thinking. Yet it disturbs me greatly to see some people of distinguished prudence and good judgment be taken by the events and made drunk on violence, blinded to clear facts and historical experiences that we have all lived through together in the not distant past.
What the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists and other Islamist groups are doing in violence, bearing arms, attacking state institutions, churches and Copts takes them completely out of the framework of political players, and places them directly into the ranks of organized terrorism. There are definitely many among their members who do not bear arms, but being an organized body, the actions of its members stamp it as a terrorist organization. Such an organization which has repeatedly threatened to burn Egypt if its political vision was not carried out, and today we see its threats coming to reality, such an organization is difficult – if not impossible – to incorporate into political life, especially since it has broken its promises to all its political partners and made enemies of them at some point or another during the revolution. How is it possible to trust them again? How can we make them part of the political equation, when we know they can just brandish their weapons whenever things don’t go according to their vision?
I say it is difficult, if not impossible. The vast majority of Egyptians are convinced that the continuation of the organization in its current form is a danger to both national security and the citizenry. We must acknowledge this and the members of the organization must realize it and acknowledge it as well. Dismantling the organization is an absolute imperative. There is no way around it.
But in the midst of all that is happening and the severity of the violence, we have forgotten or have chosen to ignore simple logic, and what we have learned from our past experiences and the lessons of history. We have let a bent for revenge in us overwhelm any voice of reason, and have joined in singing the praises of the heavenly body of the security solution and the iron fist against Muslim Brothers, outbidding each other in generalizations, stigmatizing as terrorists all members of the Muslim Brothers, and as traitors anyone who mourned the death of any innocents who had been unarmed.
The security solution and those who died in the recent days will lead to nothing but the continuation of the organization and the spawning of new, mostly extremist groups. Banning the Muslim Brothers and the party will do nothing but make the organization go back to working underground. Excluding the Brotherhood from the political process will only push it back to community work or to arms.
None of this leads to the organization being dismantled; we have seen this throughout the 80 years of its history. We must remember the mistakes and experiences of the past, and head in a new direction; otherwise we are stupid or mad. A security solution alone will not work.
What led to the Brotherhood’s popularity was their community and underground work, along with the food, clothing, hospitals, and education that they provided to the poor in the complete absence of any state role – not just religion, as many would claim. And what lost them their popularity was the discovery of their failure, inexperience, greed, and authoritarianism that surfaced when they were no longer working underground.
Arrests and trials of the organization’s leadership and even its second, third, and fourth ranks, and banning their work, will in no way end the organization nor dismantle it. Allow me to inquire about the fate of the families of those who were killed or who will be detained. They (the families) will become the fuel that the organization will feed on for years and decades to come. The organization will embrace them and provide for their food, education, healthcare and even employment. Most importantly it will bind them to the organization with unprecedented loyalty.
This is what the organization has done and continues to do, and this is what makes the members’ ties with the organization and their loyalty to it so unwavering. The woeful manner in which the government cleared the Rabaa sit-in has unfortunately handed on a silver platter the tragedy and deaths that the Muslim Brother leaders and organization can feed on for decades to come.
The way to dismantle the organization is to push them to the surface, rather than pushing them underground again. Of course anyone shown to be involved in crimes must be tried, and the place for anyone violating the law is in prison. There is no dispute or debate about that.
However, a return to a police state and arbitrary detentions is futile; otherwise the organization would have disappeared in the sixties. How many will be detained, and how many family members of the detained will join the organization in the coming decades? I call on everyone to look beyond the coming weeks and months: how many terrorists and terrorist operations will come from the current events in the years to come?
I argue that the solution for breaking up the organization lies in drying up illegal sources of funding and holding their activities to close scrutiny; in pushing them to work openly and not pushing them underground again; in limiting them to non-religious based political activity, and to sanction them if they don’t comply; in improving state services, so to stop them from drawing in the poor and destitute; in the state embracing the families of those detained and killed in these events, not leaving them for the organization to feed on and build its strength upon; in working to contain and break the leadership calling for violence and terrorism, and by reaching out to those rational-minded among them, to stop responding to violence with more violence, and entering a vicious cycle of violence; in using an iron fist against perpetrators of violence and those who call for it, but without labeling everyone as a terrorist; in urging a revision of ideology and not a ban of it, because ideas do not die, though they may be revised and changed; in offering political, religious, intellectual, and social alternatives by the other “liberal” and “leftist” parties instead of solely focusing on how to destroy the organization; in educating the people, raising their awareness, and changing the axis of discourse to be about the economy and political alternatives, rather than futile attempts by the state to control people through religious discourse.
Members of the Muslim Brothers, their individuals and their families – as well as those of the Salafists – will not disappear from among us. We cannot – and we should not – put them all behind bars.
Wake up from the drunken stupor of violence and hatred, and look to the distant future, when Egyptians can accept our own diversity, and when Egyptians no longer need this organization or any other of its ilk, because that is the only hope. The dilemma’s resolution is not only in the organization’s dissolution.