Egypt and Democracy: the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the referendum in Egypt that passed constitutional amendments that will govern upcoming parliamentary and Presidential elections, the media is full of commentary that the only movement that will be able to get its act together in time for elections and field a party is the Muslim Brotherhood, and since the Parliament that will be elected will choose the commission that will write a new constitutional for Egypt the democratic revolution – so goes the conventional wisdom – is already in jeopardy.
Probably not, but it is worth looking at what the criteria for a political party participating in a truly democratic process should be. After all, Hitler won a democratic election in 1933. It is legitimate to ask a political party whether it supports democratic institutions (especially periodic free and fair elections) or whether it is participating in an election only to gain power with the goal of destroying democratic institutions. A party committed to creating an Islamic state is not committed to democracy, just ask clerical/military dictatorship of Iran, which explicitly defines itself as against “western” democracy and where unelected clerics have the final say on who can run for office. The Muslim Brotherhood sends mixed messages on its intentions. In Egypt, it is at present engaged in internal debates on issues that go to the core of its democratic credentials, including on the role of women in political institutions and whether non-Muslims can run for the Presidency, that could come down on the anti-democratic side. This internal debate – and the possible emergence of more than one political party out of the Brotherhood should be welcomed.
Adherents to one strain of Islamic thought, the Salafi movement, inside and outside the Brotherhood, seem clear on anti-democracy views. In a NYT Magazine feature, (3/20/11) on US Muslim cleric Yasir Qadhi, Qadhi discusses his Salafi faith (closely linked to the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia) including its rejection of democracy. He is quoted as saying, “Can you believe it – a group of people coming together and voting and the majority vote will then be the law of the land. What gives you the right to prohibit something or allow something?” While Salafis are not a unified sect scholars they are associated with extreme intolerance and believe in a strict interpretation of the Koranic law, rejecting any modern interpretations. (Salafis do not believe that women stand for elected office, clear rejection of a core democratic principle that individuals have the right to organize political parties and stand for office.)
At the very least parties participating in elections should commit themselves to the democratic process (i.e. periodic elections). There would be no guarantee they would stick to the commitment, but international reactions would be sanctioned if they did not.
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