Shape Up or Ship Out

H.A. Hellyer

Five months into a Muslim Brotherhood presidency, they have managed to squander a huge portion of their support base. In that, there are lessons for both the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the opposition. Of course, it is not clear whether either will be paying much attention, or take the necessary steps.

Prior to the 25 January revolution, there were certainly people active in civil society in Egypt. There were not, however, very many. Hosni Mubarak’s lasting achievement in Egypt was to enforce a regime that systematically relegated civil society to the extreme sidelines – an achievement that, incidentally, has much to do with the incredible instability of Egyptian society today.

Recently, I was with one of those few, rare examples who was deeply active in civil society organisations prior to the revolution. He was not particularly enamoured with Brotherhood-style political Islamism – he was more of a secular leftist, by his own appellation, although not anti-religion by any means. Like many, if not most, civil society activists in the days before the 25 January revolution, his stance vis-a-vis the Brotherhood in those days was quite straightforward.

Their ideology was not particularly his cup of tea, but he defended their civil and political rights to the hilt, and was vigorously opposed to Mubarak’s repression of them. In the aftermath of the uprising, he was sure that the Brotherhood represented a “moderate understanding of political Islam”, even if it was not quite what he thought Islam was all about, and would be a welcome, positive force on the Egyptian political stage.

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