The two panelists addressed the post-coup situation in Egypt. Prof. Shahin focused on the state of Islamic movement in Egypt, with special emphasis on the Muslim Brothers, while Prof. Fahmy talked about the rule of law in light of the recent constitution that took effect on January 18, 2014.
Prof. Emad Shahin began by stating that there are two main challenges in front of the opponents of the coup in Egypt: restoring the revolutionary moment, and restoring civilian control over democratic process. In a concise but very rich analysis of the performance of the Muslim Brothers, Prof. Shahin singled out two main reasons for their failure, both of which were external to the movement: (1) the nature of the state they confronted and the inability to confront the state; and (2) the Muslim Brothers believed they were in a true democracy, which was a gross misperception. Both of these questions point to structural issues inherent to Egypt.
In addition, the Muslim Brothers were unsuccessful in addressing the following three challenges: perception of the MB as a gradualist movement, i.e., evolutionary rather than revolutionary; transforming the movement from an Islamist one into an Egyptian nationalist movement; and a tremendous task of facing compounded problems (political, economic, social, cultural, religious etc.) simultaneously.
More specifically, Prof. Shahin added, the Brothers were unable to deal with the following four areas: (1) the state; (2) model of governance; (3) approach to change; and (4) policy making process. With regard to the state, dynamics of state and how to transform it was not well understood by the MB. The Islamic state project, which had been written about for decades, was not actually ready to be implemented. Mashru‘ al-Nahdah, which was proposed by the MB, was widely ridiculed and pointed to lack of preparedness on the part of the Islamic movement and its political arm, Freedom and Justice Party. There was also a deep ambiguity about type of the state the MB was advocating: Islamic?; Civic?; Civic with Islamic reference?; Or, something else? Prof. Shahin emphasized that ‘civic state’ does not exist as a concept in political science literature.
As for model of governance, the MB’s vision of constitution was unclear. They advocated for a mixed system, tilting toward the parliamentary system, in a country which has known the presidential system for decades, if not more than a century. Legacy of Islamist governance includes several models and experiences: Iranian, Sudanese, Afghani, Iraqi, Turkish, Somali, or Malaysian, among others. For the MB, most influential was the Turkish model – pluralist, somewhat democratic, and neoliberal in terms of economy. On the other hand, left-of-center Islamists preferred the Brazilian model, which is participatory, direct, and focuses on redistribution of wealth.
The third point, approach to change, had to deal with the MB’s image as a reforming movement. The MB’s error was that they missed the opportunity to side with revolution and to abandon evolutionary model to which they’ve been subscribing all along. In particular, there were two moments when the MB failed to seize the opportunity: (1) the Tahrir moment – when President Mursi gave speech at Tahrir Square, and (2) in August 2012, when Mursi removed top military leaders but failed to cement civilian control over military institutions. Instead, the decision was made to cooperate with state and military institutions. On the issue of how to approach the transition, it was unclear what the MB stance was, because mixed messages were coming from different organizations affiliated with the movement: the Guidance Office (maktab al-irshad), the Presidency, the party, and the grassroots organizations.
On the final issue, policy making process, Prof. Shahin stressed that most intellectual process was put in mashru‘ al-Nahdah but there was not much substance there. On the questions of how to make policies, and how to translate the Shari’ah to concrete policies, the MB had a very few answers. Differences in approaches between manhaj maqasidi (higher objectives-based program) and manhaj qiyami (value-based program) also contributed to lack of effectiveness in policy making. Other important policy issues were not addressed sufficiently: transitional justice, social justice, corruption, inclusiveness, restructuring the state, empowerment of the Revolution, balance between state and society, and lack of communication.
So, what is the way to move forward? According to Prof. Shahin, the Muslim Brothers need to address four areas: (1) self-assessment – they should come out with a statement on their achievements and failures; (2) accountability; (3) separating movement from the party; and (4) Islamic movements need to think about their actual capabilities.
Following Prof. Emad Shahin’s presentation, Prof. Dalia Fahmy turned to the issue of rule of law in light of the new Egyptian Constitution which was passed in January of 2014. She stated that there are two approaches when talking about constitutions: (1) literalist approach, which says that having a constitution is enough in itself, and (2) substantive approach, which looks at the objectives for which a constitution is established. Prof. Fahmy also talked about the UN definition of the rule of law as a background to her comparison between internationally accepted standards and the current Egyptian constitution.
After these introductory remarks, Prof. Dalia Fahmy asserted that the new constitution is far from representative in light of its minimal inclusion of women, Copts, Azharis, and Islamists. The constitution gives a lot of power to the military and enshrines special military courts even for civil offences. The constitution requires 2/3 majorities for any new legislation on rights, thus making it hard to pass any such law. It puts many stipulations on political party formation, and makes religious political parties illegal. There is no space for critique of the regime in the new constitution. She highlighted how the political space was ‘cleansed’ from the Islamists in the wake of the coup, including shutting down 34 satellite channels.
New constitution leaves very little space for self-expression and it is returning Egypt to a place where organizing is being repressed. One of the ironies of post-coup Egypt, according to Prof. Fahmy, is that the Muslim Brothers were proclaimed a terrorist organization, whereas Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis are not. Most importantly, new constitution eliminates any road map for democracy. The supreme executive is lodge in the military. Prof. Fahmy concluded by saying that Egypt has reached the point of ‘Arab polar vortex.’
After the two presentations, the audience submitted many questions to the panelists. These included issues of consensus-building, the MB-Salafi connection, cleavages within the MB, dialogue between Islamists and secularists, al-Azhar documents, the question of citizenship, the MB and violence, and the role of the international community.
Prof. Emad Shahin is Professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo. He is Editor-In-Chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Before joining AUC, he taught public policy and political science at Harvard University and the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of several books on Middle East and North African politics. Prof. Emad Shahin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University.
Dalia Fahmy is assistant professor of political science at Long Island University Brooklyn. She has a BA and an MA from New York University, and an MA and PhD in political science from Rutgers University. Her research is on the intellectual and political development of modern Islamist movements.