In Translation: Houdaiby on why back Morsi

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I first met Ibrahim Houdaiby years ago, probably around 2005, when he was still a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a young protégé of Khairat al-Shater. More than anyone at the time, he articulated the extent to which the Kifaya protests of 2005 and the solidarity showed by these new activists with Islamist activists at that time were crucial in finding common ground across the political spectrum to oppose the Mubarak regime. Houdaiby, who comes from a family that has produced two General Guides of the Muslim Brotherhood, a few years later decided to end his membership of the group. He also began to write in various venues, gradually forming an elaborate insider’s critique of the contemporary Islamist scene in Egypt.

For some, Houdaiby represents the intellectual cutting edge of “reformist” or “moderate” Islamist current in Egypt. I think it’s more accurate to say that he represents an important advocate for a historic reconciliation between progressives and religious conservatives who agree on the need to fight the regime, as well as a call for the revival and self-critique of Egyptian Islamist thought. Being still a young man, I have no doubt his thinking will evolve into a more profound challenge to Islamist thought in Egypt from a religious perspective — perhaps the development of an “Islamic left” perspective that we see slowly grow across from the region against the orthodoxies of Saudi-backed fundamentalism, the lack of intellectual vitality of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at least, and the insufficiencies of the secular critics.

In the article below, he makes an impassioned case for an alliance between the Brotherhood and revolutionary forces against a restoration of the Mubarak regime represented by Ahmed Shafiq. I think he makes a good case.

We shall be saved or perish all together

By Ibrahim Houdaiby, al-Shorouk, 8 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood is in need of all the political factions in order to succeed in the election, and it needs them to take part in running the country afterwards, just as these factions need the MB in order to forestall a complete reversion to the Mubarak regime. If these various actors do not realize that, they will all face disaster.

The fact that Mubarak’s Prime Minister has reached the run-off in the presidential election reflects the manifold errors that the political forces stumbled into, while it also proves – with no room for doubt – that Mubarak’s state is still alive and well. Its strength has not only shielded its candidate from the political isolation law, but it has also used its networks on the ground, including the established economic interests linked to the former NDP, as well as the State Security establishment – which the revolution has failed to dismantle – to help Shafiq reach the second round.

The possible scenarios give cause for concern, since a victory for Shafiq means a complete return to the Mubarak regime. As soon as he reaches the presidential palace, he will get started rebuilding the repressive security establishment, defending the state’s authoritarian structures, and making sure that no amendments concerning these structures make it into the constitution. Meanwhile, he will leave the task of forming the government – as he has stated – to the majority in parliament. However, the regime will maintain a total dominance of those critical sectors that could be used to manufacture problems, such as diesel, butane gas, and bread. These issues are enough to topple any government through popular opinion, since they can cause emerging popular forces to lose favor among their base.

The scene is not very different should Mursi win, since the apparatus of the deep state will constrict him and not be cooperative. It will use these very same issues to stand in his way, and perhaps add sectarian strife into the mix to open the door for a gentle or rough military coup that once again strips the popular forces of their bases of support. No players will remain in the game except Mubarak’s men and their domesticated opposition.

In both scenarios, the MB is not the only loser, since the deep state’s determination to cause them to fail has nothing to do with the MB’s political or intellectual orientation, but is due to the fact that they are the sole organization with a wide presence on the ground, and they are the most able (and I am not talking about mere aspiration) to mobilize the masses against the regime, and to take political action past mere protest. As a result, if they fail in this way, it will not open the door for deeper, more structured forces, or those closer to other national factions to rise; rather, it will pave the way for the redeployment of the Mubarak regime, with its regional and international alliances, and the squandering of Egyptians’ value and the degradation of their dignity.

The way to preempt those two scenarios is for revolutionary forces to close ranks and come to agreement. In the first place, this is necessary in order to defeat Shafiq, either through a political isolation law or the elections, and then to remain allied after this battle — whether Shafiq wins or loses. If he loses, then the wide national framework gives the new rulers popular cover enabling them to dismantle – if only partially – the deep state, and render it incapable of paralyzing the country in such a way as to topple the new rulers through the means previously described.

On the other hand, if Shafiq wins, it becomes even more important to maintain solidarity and accord, since it increases everyone’s ability to counteract the return of the full-fledged oppressive structure, and gives hope – however faint – of a victory in the next round, achieved by addressing the myriad errors committed these past months. As far as the government is concerned, it gives these forces the ability to step forward as a group to assume responsibility, instead of each one fearing to bear responsibility alone, so as not to bear the brunt of the state apparatus’ attempts to thwart them. By refusing to form a government, they can also avoid giving Shafiq the opportunity to arrogate the executive branch of the government to himself.

Above all, this effort at solidarity requires that the various actors realize how critical this moment is, and that they need to place the effort at building the future above settling past scores. Each side needs to put forth enough well-intentioned initiatives to reassure their rivals. The MB’s main responsibility is to reach real understandings that confirm that they have realized that in order to win, their presidential candidate needs twice the number of votes that he received in the first round, and that if he contests the second round of elections in the same way that he did the first round – as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood – he will not garner the extra votes necessary. Changing his definition from the MB candidate (or the sole Islamist candidate) to the candidate of the forces of change requires more than just changing the campaign slogan from “Renaissance is the will of the people” to “Our strength is in our unity,” but rather, this change needs to manifest itself in the negotiations on the ground over which the election contest is taking place.

My assessment is that negotiation must revolve around four pivotal issues. First is the program and formation of the government. Mursi’s program, both in his vision of how to reform the security apparatus and his economic platform, is to the right of the candidates who occupied third through fifth place in the first round (and whose share of the vote totals 50%). Then, as concerns the formation of the government, he should orchestrate it in such a way as to guarantee that Parliament can hold it accountable, and that it is able to operate independently of the dictates of the Freedom and Justice Party. Second, concerning the constitution, he should conclude the criteria for forming the constituent assembly and announce the main principles involved before the elections. Third, he must discuss how he will manage the presidential office with respect to people and responsibilities. Fourth, he needs to elucidate the criteria he will employ in making appointments to the highest political offices in the state, such as guarantee that all the political currents will be included in the state and oversee its operation – after having been excluded for decades.

The MB’s flexibility in reaching understandings will play a decisive part in determining whether their candidate wins or not. This requires silencing the voices of the organization’s higher echelons, who are asserting that there is no need for coordination. Likewise, it requires that that the MB’s grassroots supporters put pressure on their leaders to reach such understandings. Otherwise, all their efforts on the ground will have been in vain. My assessment is that this sort of pressure would be able to overrule what seems to be a tendency among some of the MB’s leadership to lose these elections (even with understandings), in order to protect the organization’s cohesion by placing it under another external threat that enables it to put off its differences and justify its mistakes.

In return, the political forces should not make excessive requests, since they have been asking for things that are inconsistent with democratic norms (such as their request that the MB candidate step down, or that a “presidential council” be set up, in which the president would be the weakest member). Rather, they should make requests commensurate with their weight on the ground, such as guarantee the political, economic, and social rights of citizens, and not get caught up in settling past accounts with the MB (whether from the distant or the recent past).

There is no room for selfishness or clowning around in this electoral battle, nor is there room for settling scores or seeking out narrow personal or organizational gains. Whoever supposes that he can achieve anything of that sort in this contest will get himself and others caught in the old regime’s trap, and will compromise both his and others’ remaining ability to bring about the success of the revolution.

Have I given the message? O God, be my witness.