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Collapsed legitimacy of the Brotherhood
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 10 - 2016

In the New Egypt, the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood fell within only six months of its assumption of the presidency. Former president Mohamed Morsi came to power in June 2012 through popular elections, and soon the Brotherhoodisation of post-Mubarak Egypt began in earnest.
However, out of illegitimate over-reach, the group's legitimacy through the ballot box, even if verifiable, was soon gone with the wind. Its collapse had nothing to do with Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt's then defence minister. Instead, it had to do with the structural and ideological defects that brought the group's reign to ultimate ruin in June 2013.
Having joined the January 2011 Revolution late due to its fear of an ultimate Mubarak triumph, the Muslim Brotherhood made a premature announcement. “The Brotherhood will not field any candidate for the office of president,” it said. But later the “Guidance Bureau” (maktab al-irshad), the politburo, changed course. The group's deputy supreme guide, businessman Khayrat Al-Shater, was to compete for that highest office against the other candidate Ahmed Shafik.
A quirk, or a quibble, or a twist in Egyptian electoral law affecting the qualification of a presidential candidate disqualified Al-Shater. Constitutionally, the candidate for the post must be “an Egyptian born to Egyptian parents, neither of whom, nor the candidate, hold the nationality of another state.” Al-Shater's mother had held American citizenship, hence the disqualification of her son.
A near equivalent for this Egyptian constitutional provision is to be found in the American Constitution. Article II, section 1, paragraph 5 of this begins as follows: “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” This is the provision that has prompted Donald J Trump, the Republican Party presidential candidate, to try to delegitimise the Obama presidency through “the Birther Movement” which claims that US President Barack Obama was born outside the US.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, searching for a replacement for the disqualified Al-Shater, found in Mohamed Morsi the person who would lead the New Egypt through the elections of June 2012. Was this the end of the story of the legitimacy of the headship of the New Egypt? In fact, it was a beginning that was woefully defective.
Morsi was elected while the country's new constitution was still being drafted. The cart was thus placed before the horse. With the Al-Ittihadiya Palace (the equivalent to the American White House) now occupied by a leader of the Brotherhood, the group's appetite for garnering more power became insatiable.
Fancying Egypt, at that point, as an Islamic emirate in the making (supreme guide Mahdi Akef said “to Hell with Egypt” (tozz fi masr) ), the Constituent Assembly of the time began to frame an Islamic constitution. What began as a group among whose membership were all shades of post-Mubarak political thinking soon turned into an ikhwan rubber stamp of the Guidance Bureau. The Brotherhood with Morsi ensconced in the Al-Ittihadiya Palace saw to it that liberals, Copts, women and any secular thinking individuals were impediments to its long march to the Islamic Emirate of Egypt.
And with non-Brotherhood elements abandoning efforts at keeping Egypt secular, the Islamic constitution was readied for a plebiscite a few days before the vote in December 2012. There as no national debate, no transparency, no voicing of any opposition to that illegal take-over by the Brotherhood under the guise of Islamism. The battle cry of “Islam Is the Solution” became the ideology of a movement that felt emboldened by one important fact – that the armed forces, as seen in January 2011, would not intervene.
In spite of Brotherhood confidence in the ultimate success of its coup from the ballot box to an Islamist dictatorship, Morsi declared in November 2012 that he was immune from any accountability before the law. His move, reminiscent of Hitler's becoming Germany's fuehrer as an epitaph to the Weimar Republic, was not contested by even moderate elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Not even the country's judiciary, a venerable institution with a glorious tradition behind it based on a sophisticated fusion between Islamic Law (Sharia) and the Napoleonic Code, protested. It had been smitten into submission by the instrumentality of masses encouraged among other things to besiege the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo.
The court had committed an act unforgiven by the resurrected Islamists: The nullification of the legitimacy of one third of the Egyptian parliament, which had been convened as a vehicle for the recalibration of Egypt to fit the Brotherhood mould.

BROTHERHOOD MOVES:By the time the Islamist constitution, which had no provision for the eventuality of the recall of the president, was rushed for approval, other moves were put in place by the Muslim Brotherhood.
They included the de facto lease of eastern Sinai to Hamas, which through tunnels as well as porous borders had begun to shift its armed confrontation with Israel to Egypt, and the borrowing of the Iranian pattern of the Revolutionary Guard Corps to create an Egyptian military institution that was a parallel to the regular army. There was also increasing hostility towards the Copts and the Shias, which expressed itself in attacks and hooliganism.
Egypt's foreign relations in the Middle East changed through enhanced amity towards Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan, which was being increasingly Talibanised through apostasy laws, the harsh treatment of women and anti-minorities practices. There was the threat of military intervention in Ethiopia as a result of the country's plans to build the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile and the downgrading of Al-Azhar as the historic citadel of Islamic learning framed as the ideology of tolerance, inclusiveness and outreach to other faiths and creeds.
The Brotherhood also declared Egypt's historic monuments to be “un-Islamic idols” that could not be tolerated by an Islamic state, and there was the systematic weeding out of Egyptian diplomats and consular officials for being “insufficiently Islamic.” Tourism was discouraged and the arts, the film industry, the music scene and the theatre were looked down upon as suspect cultural deviations.
Against this background, in which the Egypt of 7,000 years was being turned on its head, 35 million Egyptians rose up as a human wave of protest. The motto of the 30 June Revolution was “Go!”
But the Brotherhood had a different perspective: Legitimacy (shariyah) was being challenged, and its claimed majority among Egypt's nearly 100 million people was the nuclear option to be used against the crowds in Tahrir Square and all over Egypt. By this calculation, the Brotherhood wrote its own phasing out certificate. Morsi refused the entreaties of Al-Sisi to accord Egypt a new start: A new plebiscite on the presidency, joining the broad national secular forces to avert the horrible spectre of civil war, and the avoidance of military intervention to keep the peace, especially since the police forces had been maligned by the Morsi regime.
A road map aiming at having all sectors and ideologies in Egypt come together had to be put in place even with the Brotherhood opting to stay outside the broad national consensus. There should be the launching of a transitional government headed by the jurist Adli Mansour, president of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
These proposals were met by the launching by the Brotherhood of the occupation of two public squares in the heart of Cairo, Rabaa and Al-Nahda. Those locations were declared by the Brotherhood as “mini-emirates,” and for six weeks, from 3 July to 14 August, 2013, appeals by the new transitional authorities for the sit-in participants to peacefully disband went unheeded.
In both Rabaa and Al-Nahda crimes were committed, weapons were stored and at times used, foreign intervention was invited, and the banner of “legitimacy,” though false, was unfurled. Finally, the new authorities had to move on these two locations, where exits of safe passage were repeatedly declared. Yet, these defensive security measures were manipulated by the Brotherhood in its deceptive cry of victimhood.
The battle lines changed in August 2013, when terrorism in Sinai, Cairo and the Western Desert began in earnest. Yet the new secular constitution was enacted in 2014 followed by presidential elections which produced a winner in Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
Facts are facts – hard to ignore and impossible to contest. The 2014 secular constitution provides in Article 5 that “the political system is based upon political diversity, the peaceful transfer of power, the separation of powers with checks and balances, authority based upon accountability, and respect for human rights and freedoms, as provided in the constitution.”
None of these provisions had equivalents in the earlier Islamic constitution. The only provision stressed by the Muslim Brotherhood was an emblem of two swords framing the Quran with the words “get ready” at its base. Get ready for what? For so-called Islamic rule which limits freedom of expression and the practice of faith to Brotherhood adherents only?
Laws under which the Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist organisation were enacted, but only after the group had decided to take matters into its own hands regardless of the popular will manifested massively from 30 June to 4 July 2013. Prior to those dates, the Muslim Brotherhood stubbornly refused to join the process of Egypt's rebirth after 60 years of military rule.
Nothing can ring more hollowly than the claim that “legitimacy” resided only in Islamist dictatorial rule. This was a rule that raised false facades, impugned the legitimacy of the New Egypt which had brought peace to the Egyptian streets, and had to give way to a new sense of urgency to make up for lost time.
The Muslim Brotherhood lost any claim to legitimacy in late 2012 when it first put Morsi, its symbols and its ethos above the law. This collapse is nearly impossible to repair for it goes to the very core and to the use of faith for sordid ends and for the purposes of power.
The writer is a professor of law at New York University and the author of The New Egypt: From Chaos to the Strong State(2016).


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