Thursday, April 26, 2012

Islamists losing support? Is there an alternative?

A couple of days ago a colleague at work told me this story.

“I went to my barber whom I know voted for the Muslim Brotherhood. He kept telling me about how he regrets voting for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and he won’t repeat the same mistake the next elections,” said my delighted friend.

Stories likes these are found all over Facebook and Twitter. I have my own story too. An acquaintance who owns a factory told me about her employee who regretted voting for the MB after watching our parliament decent into the useless circus it is now. “This guy is even a member of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party,” she added. Even my own housekeeper told me about how she overheard passengers on microbuses expressing their discontent with the MB led parliament.

Nevertheless, we do not have concrete evidence that the Islamists are losing support. In light of the absence of any solid research data, we cannot presume that voters are turning away from neither the Salafis nor the MB on a national level.  However, let us assume that Islmaists are in fact losing support. The question now is: do we have an alternative to present to the people? The answer is a no. We do not have the political or the religious alternative to the Islamists.

Political Alternative:

The civil forces are all in disarray. They’re unorganized and out of touch with the street. They’re all mired by arrogance and egoism, any attempt of unity disintegrates into quarrels and disagreements. The civil forces, whether liberals or leftists, do not have the political machine of the MB nor the finances the Salafis get from Arab sympathizers in the Gulf. And above all, the civil forces do not have the mosques.

However, I still truly believe that if a viable political alternative was presented to the Egyptian people, they will consider voting for it if they decided not to vote Islamists. Look at the student union elections at Ain Shams University, one of the MB’s strongholds. The MB lost massively to a coalition of pro-revolution independents. Angry at the Islamists’ indifference to last year’s Tahrir clashes, Ain Shams University students, who lost more than one of their colleagues in these clashes, voted for the alternative. And kudos to these young independents who managed to win in spite of their meager means and the fact that they don’t have a political party supporting them.

I am waiting eagerly for the presidential election results. If the winner turned out to be a non-Islamists, that will be proof Egyptians vote for whomever they think will put bread on the table and not necessary those who want to ban porn sites. In a recent Al Masry Al Youm poll, only 4% of respondents mentioned “Shariah law” among the things they want the next president to do.

So who will be that political alternative? Who is willing to brush aside their personal interests, leave the comfortable seats of the TV talk shows and get their hands dirty in the street?

Religious Alternative:

The quest for a religious alternative is as crucial as the political alternative we’re looking for. By religious alternative I mean someone who can present a different religious discourse than what the MB and their more radical cohorts are presenting, an interpretation of religious law that is more compatible with our age.

Currently, in light of an Al Azhar that was weakened years ago and has lost its credibility in the street, our religious discourse is monopolized by the political islamists.  I believe what Egypt needs is not a radical secularist, but someone who can incorporate the overall tenets of religious law into modern day life. Someone who can differentiate between what was suitable for life 1400 years ago and what needs to be reformed and reinterpreted.

I’ve discussed the historical events that led to the demise of our religious reform movement in my post Islam Needs Another Revolution

In Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, the voice told him “If you build it, he will come”.  I here say “If you offer an alternative, they will vote”.

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