The Egyptian Brotherhood: Violence, Democracy & the Arrest of Beltagi
Another leading Muslim Brotherhood figure, Mohammed al-Beltagi, was arrested last Thursday by the Egyptian military. That was no surprise because al-Beltagi had appeared virtually every day at the Rabaa al-Adawiyah camp in Cairo giving speeches which called for violence against the Egyptian military as well as against the many enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Beltagi himself is the secretary-general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
The Egyptian military has said that they have arrested other Muslim Brotherhood leaders because they too were inciting violence. That's no surprise either because this Islamist group has been doing precisely that since the late 1920s.
It is true that the MB was elected, though not entirely fairly and not by a large overall majority. Even before the recent disturbances in Egypt, one survey said that 71% were against the MB. And during the election itself there were many reports of forgery, ballot-rigging, violence, the blocking off of entire streets by the MB, as well of Copts/Christians being prevented from voting.
Hitler (1933) and Hamas in Gaza (2006) were also elected. So we must get a simple fact into our heads. A few disreputable and violent individuals and parties were elected in the 20th and 21st centuries. They chose the democratic process because at those particular moments in time they believed that democracy may well work for them. And, in the cases of Hitler (who had strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood), Hamas (the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the Egyptian MB itself, it did. The Egyptian MB has had an on-and-off affair with democracy since its formation in the late 1920s. When democracy worked for the group, it took advantage of it. When it didn't, they used violence instead: including bombing campaigns, intimidation, religious persecution, organised riots (sometimes referred to as 'spontaneous intifada') and many assassinations of both political leaders and civilians.
The other thing is that just because groups or individuals use a democratic process, that doesn't mean they believe in democracy in the abstract. As I said, if democracy works to your advantage, then use it. It doesn't follow, and didn't in these cases, that the commitment to democracy was retained after democracy had brought these people to power. In fact they weren't even committed to democracy before they achieved power.
All this parallels the situation in which National Socialist (Nazis) and International Socialist (Trotskyists, Progressives and Communists) groups talk about 'free speech', 'democracy' and whatnot. What they mean is free speech for them; no censorship of their own views; and more open and direct democracy for themselves. In other words, there is no general commitment to free speech and democracy for those they disagree with. The opposite is often in fact the case. The same applies to the MB. It's all about democracy when it works for them; their own free speech; and no censorship of their own views. The logic of this is simple.
In any case, not only was Mr. Beltagi inciting violence, he was also directly behind much of the violence. Or at least he is accused of being the mastermind behind many of the acts of violence perpetrated by Muslim Brotherhood members.
And of course well before Mr. Beltagi's arrest the Egyptian police had already arrested much of the Brotherhood's senior leadership, including Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shater. They too are on trial on charges of incitement to violence.
The bottom line is that most Egyptian people are making a choice between a military oligarchy/autocracy and Islamist totalitarianism. Fair enough, there is a small -- very small -- number of Egyptians who want Western-style democracy. (Is there truly another style?) The problem is that this minority is overwhelmingly made up of middle-class professionals (often academics and journalists) who also have strong links with the West. It's precisely this extremely small minority that the BBC, The Guardian, et al. focus on when they discuss these issues. And that's partly why we often get a false impression of both what's going on in Egypt and of what the Egyptians as whole actually believe.
Clearly oligarchy is better (to both most Westerners and many Egyptians) than totalitarianism. In simple terms, many Muslims say that 'Islam follows you into the bedroom'. The Islamists of the MB follow this line literally. The Egyptian oligarchs or autocrats, on the other hand, want a strong and stable state and will do anything to achieve that -- including sacrificing democracy. Nonetheless, your religious behavior -- on the whole -- doesn't concern them. It doesn't matter to them, politically at least, whether or not Egyptian women wear the hijab or that sharia law isn't also applied to what kind of shoes you can wear. In other words, the military autocrats/oligarchs aren't concerned with making every inch of Egypt -- and the world! -- Islamic. In fact, this is all part of the long conflict between Egyptian nationalist autocracy and the Islamists' totalitarianism (supposedly internationalist in nature). And, yet again, the former appears to have won.