Statement of Dr Salah Abu-Elfadl
Deputy Chariman The Egyptian Committe for the defence of the Secular State
To the MEPs in the European Parilament CPG
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the European Union,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. This is a quick attempt to summarise some of the issues that are pertinent to possible misunderstandings of the Egyptian situation in the current crucial time in the Middle East. I cannot get into the details since I have ten minutes or so.
On 25th January the Egyptian people rose up against three evils; and sought three goals. The three evils were the corruption of the governing regime, its oppression, and its plans to pass the presidency on to Mubarak’s son Gamal. The three goals were bread, freedom, and social justice, which were chanted in Tahrir Square and all over the country. The Egyptian people never sought a religious state. After Mubarak stepped down, the lack of clear leadership enticed various forces to seek to dominate the outcome – not least the Islamists, including the Muslim Brothers and the Salafis.
It is not a secret that foreign influence was exerted on the army to steer the political process in the direction of the Muslim Brothers. It was argued that the American administration identified the Brothers as the most organized political force in Egypt and therefore the one most likely to achieve political stability if in office. It was taken for granted that a deeply religious Egyptian people would only welcome Islamic rule.
As things turned out, nothing could have been further from truth. Another myth was that widespread Islamic rule in the Middle East would create a balance between Sunni and Shi’ite populations, thereby maintaining western interests. In June of this year the millions of Egyptians in the streets voted this option down.The Muslim Brothers got into power through the same corrupt process that was in operation in Egypt for decades.
Yet international observers gave it a thumbs-up. A year on, their performance spoke for itself. Egyptians soon observed an eager drive to completely transform their society, and to demolish the established structure of the state in order to replace it with a structure based on secrecy and blind obedience.
The danger was tremendous as signs were pointing towards designs on Sinai and Egypt’s southern borders, law and order were being slowly squeezed to bring in the Brothers’ strict code of sharia control, and the judiciary were coming under increasing pressure, plans were afoot to lay off 3500 judges. The constitution, which the Muslim Brothers forced through in January, curbed the rights of Copts, women, and children.
The masses gradually sensed the danger and grew impatient. It was inevitable that they would bring down this regime. If it did not happen on 30th June, it would have happened later, probably with a greater cost. The army had to act in accordance with the people’s will.Now there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to be noted from this story:
- The fact that the Muslim Brothers were organised as a political force did not mean that they were competent. More alarming was the fact that their political project; namely resurrecting the Islamic caliphate did not belong to modern Egypt and did not represent the people’s aspirations.
- The fact that the Egyptians are a religious people did not mean they would take to the Muslim Brothers’ plans for a religious state. This proved to be alien to Egyptian culture and to its state.
- There has been a gross misunderstanding of the essence of Egyptian piety. It is a cultural, spiritual and emotional blend that evolved over centuries, embracing all Egyptian religious phases and successive faiths. It transcends the narrow perspective of the Muslim Brothers, which in its strictest form considers members of the existing society to be infidels that do not deserve mercy. In its more flexible form, it considers them to be in need of a complete overhaul of their lives in order to become true Muslims. The Egyptian commons response brilliantly captured the difference when it said (you are sheep; we are not)
- Accordingly, politicians in the West should reconsider their positions on religion and politics in Egypt. Bearing the above points in mind, they may also appreciate the anger of many Egyptians, who felt that the Muslim Brothers had been forced upon them by stealth.
The Egyptian revolution was not a simple people’s uprising for bread: it ushered forth a major shift in the Third World’s outlook on issues of government and democracy. It can be seen as a natural product of the globalization that spread accross the Third World commercially and economically and brought with it the very values that the West now finds somewhat too ambitious for Egyptians to seek – transparency, accountability, and connections with the latest in world advances. The attempt to force an Islamic regime that belongs to the 15th century was a great disappointment to the Egyptians. It could be seen as an apposite equivalent of regime change..
It is time for western governments and policy makers to realise that the culture of regime change – as espoused by the United States, and aided at times by European governments – cannot continue in contemporary times. There is a need to reconsider such policies: they have created a serious dent in the West’s credibility when it calls for democracy and freedom. They reinforce a negative view of the West and erode its soft power influence. Finally the Salafis, who never aspired to play a political role, found the only way to prove themselves on the political arena was to propagate a campaign of hatred and oppression against Christians, including murders and the burning of churches.
In doing so, they were in a tacit alliance with the Muslim Brothers, who had prevented many Copts from voting in the parliamentary and presidential elections. How can some western governments have seen these atrocities and still cry ‘coup’?The Egyptian revolution, with its two stages so far, has ushered in a new era. It calls on the West for more transparency and accountability, and there is an urgent need to respond positively.Thank you