Last Updated: Sun Apr 08, 2012 17:33 pm (KSA) 14:33 pm (GMT)

Letter from Cairo: Vilayet-e-Brotherhood

Sonia Farid

On January 27, 2011, I sent a message to a group of friends on Facebook asking who planned to join the protests the following day, commonly known as the Friday of Anger. Amidst rumors that cell phones and the Internet might be cut off in a few hours, I was getting more and more nervous as I imagined this happening before we managed to agree when and where we would meet. As I was begging everyone to reply as soon as possible, one of my friends came up with what I thought was the most provocative response ever: “I don’t think I can make,” she wrote. “My mom and dad won’t let me go out.” I am not sure I thought for even a few seconds before I typed what I later realized was a very aggressive reply: “We are trying to save a country from falling apart and you’re worried about your mum and dad. I am afraid none of us has time for this bulls**t, so just stay at home and have fun.”

I was so furious and I felt totally fine saying that even though several of my friends who were included in the message said I was too harsh and warned me of judging people without first putting myself in their shoes. I was not convinced of course and I kept arguing that it is a matter of knowing what your priorities are and that it was messed up to allow a bunch of people to take precedence over an entire nation.

However, as the protests turned into a revolution and the question, “Do you go to Tahrir?” popped up into every conversation, I started realizing that the likes of the friend I snapped at were much more than I had imagined.

A lot of adults I know, especially women, would have liked to have taken part in the revolution but weren’t able to simply because they could not get their parents’ and/ or spouses’ approval. For someone as rebellious as me, this was absolute nonsense since there was nothing easier than “I am going whether you like or not” followed by a slam of the door. But I gradually started to think of friends’ advice about how flawed my judgment of other people’s actions will be if it is not based on a comprehensive analysis of the circumstances under which those actions happened or the pressure under which the people who did them were placed.

After a lot of deliberation, I reached the conclusion that it is quite unfair to expect everyone to be revolutionary because a sizable portion of them are just not made for that basically owing to an upbringing that created of them submissive creatures who are not willing to take the risk of defying the authority they have been obeying for years. I would be exaggerating if I said I found this a justification since a revolution would, by definition, be meaningless in the absence of a set of unyielding rules that will remain unbreakable unless some unruly power decides to change that. All what I can say is that I just managed to come to terms with the fact that some people are not free enough to be part of a freedom struggle and that if you personally lack an independent will you cannot demand it for others. To put in the simplest terms ever, we can say that some people are made to lead while others are content to be led.

After adapting to this theory as a fact of life, I stopped giving people hell for not taking part in the revolution or the protests that followed and I even reached the point of forgetting about this categorization altogether as I got more or less self-programmed in my choice of people I spoke to about activism and rebellion and all other forms of “outrageous” conduct. It was only with the sweeping hegemony of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian political scene and with the group fielding a presidential candidate in particular that this sharp division made a forceful comeback.

I have always had very strong reservations about the Brotherhood and this was not only about the way they used religion for emotional manipulation and political gain, shrouded all their activities in a kind of secrecy that made them more of a cult, struck deals with the devil as long as it gave them access to power, but also because of the way they demonized their rivals and created untouchable demi-gods of themselves. This is also in addition of course to the fact that they only joined the revolution when they were sure the cake was too delicious to be left to those who baked it. However, none of those is what makes me feel alarmed at the moment, for I am rather obsessed with the Brotherhood’s certain inability to be part of a revolutionary setup, let alone establish a democracy.

The most important rule any Brotherhood-to-be needs to learn before deciding to join it is absolute obedience of the leadership and indisputable reverence to the hierarchy based on which the group is structured. This makes of the Brotherhood an extremely conservative entity whose members operate within a predetermined order and work towards serving the interests this order dictates. Violations are punishable by one immediate measure: expulsion. It doesn’t seem likely that such an organization can produce freedom fighters and the moment it does they are instantaneously declared ungrateful dissidents and are sent to fight their battles “anywhere but here.” This means that all those who remain part of the group still subscribe to this ideology and do not, therefore, have a mind of their own nor do they represent their own individual selves in any action they take or any statement they make.

How then is it possible for the Muslim Brotherhood to be in control of a parliament and a constitution that are supposed to be the product of a revolution and are expected to embrace all the values enshrined by this revolution?

Let us put aside the argument they use about how they became MPs because the people wanted them to be or how they formed the assembly in accordance with the constitutional declaration and think of the outcome this might produce. Brotherhood members in both the parliament and the assembly will not cast their votes on legislations or constitution articles as individual freethinkers who act upon the dictates of their own conscience together with what is best for the country, but rather as parts of a whole that are put at the disposal of one individual who possesses the sole right of giving direct instructions and determining which course the group and its members should take.

By the same token, if the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate makes it, who or what will he pledge allegiance to? In other words, if the interests of Egypt and/or the demands of the people collide with the wishes of the Supreme Guide, who is he going to obey? Would he risk ruffling the feathers of the group that made him what he is and that has the capacity of stripping him of it all? Or would he simply usher Egypt into a new form of dictatorship where a spiritual leader is the actual head of state while the president is not more than an executive power?

A quick look at the Vilayet-e Faqih doctrine as explained in Ayatollah Khomeini’s book Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist and as applied in Iran since the eruption of the 1979 revolution shows this system as the eventual product of a Brotherhood president. Shortly after, presidential and parliamentary candidates will have to be approved by the Supreme Leader who will function as the head of the army, the police, and the judiciary and as the one official who retains the exclusive right of declaring war and making peace. And by the way this has nothing to do with Iran being Shiite and the Muslim Brotherhood Sunni, for tyranny has no religion and abides by no sects.

My friends who preferred to stay at home during the revolution would have been lying to themselves and to everyone else had they claimed they are revolutionaries after the regime was toppled. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood is more synonymous than ever with hypocrisy now that its members pretend to carry the banner of an action that involved breaking the rules and rejecting any form of oppression, all capacities they are not equipped with and will never be as long as they do not change their affiliation.

I really respected my friends who stayed at home for realizing that if they leave they will either pack and take a one way road or come back with a declaration of independence and for not once thinking that a couple of visits to the square after all subsided would make them claim as their own victories they have never fought for. I respect them for acknowledging their limitations and living with them.

I guess this becomes a lot harder when the bounty involved is too big to allow space for a little bit of ethics.

(Sonia Farid teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at:

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