The General Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, fired his first real shot in a campaign that is supposed to officially start in April; the campaign to elect the President of Egypt, following the parliamentary and Shura Council elections. In recent comments, Badie talked about a consensus candidate, and his hopes that someone affiliated to the Islamist trend does not run for office, in the wider interests of Egypt. This is because the country today is under the microscope, and might be targeted [if it elects an Islamist government], as occurred with regards to Hamas in Gaza [following the 2006 elections].
The General Guide’s words - although they resemble wishful thinking and it is not known whether this will be the final stance of the Brotherhood and its political party - send a message domestically and abroad, namely that the Muslim Brotherhood is not seeking a political monopoly having become the largest bloc in parliament. The message is: there is no need to worry, at least during the current stage.
However these words, as is apparent from the statements of other Islamist political forces, have failed to receive the approval of certain parties, particularly the Salafists. This group has surprised everyone, including the Brotherhood themselves, with the large percentage of seats they won in the parliamentary elections, which put their main party (Al-Nour Party) in second place after the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of numbers of seats. In a video clip currently trending on YouTube, a Salafist leader stressed that the current power structure [in Egypt] represents a historic opportunity for the Islamists that must be seized immediately or it will be lost, and the conditions that allowed for this opportunity will not be repeated again. The Salafist leader said that he does not agree with the policy of “gradualism” that the Muslim Brotherhood advocates and depends upon, in order to slowly win over society. Even the Brotherhood youths themselves indicated – in some statements – that they did not like the words of their General Guide.
Evidence and circumstances confirm that the words of the General Guide reflect the political direction of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, these are words that have been said on more than one occasion already by many leaders, stating that they do not intend to run for the presidency, or that they don’t have a favorite candidate or a final opinion on the candidates named so far. It is believed that what happened after the parliamentary elections has prompted the Brotherhood to be more realistic in their political ambitions, after the facts have shown that the (revolutionary) critical mass that fuelled the 25 January revolution is still rebellious, angry and capable of mobilizing. This is despite the fact that this revolutionary bloc failed to achieve credible representation in parliament to compete with the other blocs. However they remain in the streets, but are lacking a clear political structure to collectively express themselves.
The low voter turnout for the Shura Council could either reflect a state of boredom among the electorate at the drawn-out electoral process, or it could suggest that they are catching their breath and reviewing the parliamentary results.
The problem in reading the current political reality in Egypt is that there is a state of high fluidity, and no one can predict anything definitely. Attitudes change depending on events and their intensity, and there is a feeling that all the main traditional political forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, fear taking responsibility for everything in one package, because one cannot carry such a heavy burden alone, or as they say in Egypt “one cannot carry the night by himself”. However, there are many possibilities and surprises to come. The “enlightened” president might come from the Salafist al-Nour party, or perhaps the words of presidential candidate Amr Musa will turn out to be true, and the mood of the voter will be different towards the presidency than it was for the parliament.
In any case, the noisy political debate going on in [Egyptian] society and the current state of conflicting ideas is healthy, even if it seems disturbing at times. The result will be the emergence of a generation of genuine politicians who will take to the stage in 5 or 10 years, and this is something that has been lacking in recent decades.
The writer is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat. The article was published in the London-based newspaper on Feb. 1, 2012.