Problems with Political Movements with Religious Identification

Islamists in Egypt May Technically Be in the Right Now, But Long-Term Prospects are Poor

Events in Egypt following President Mohammad Morsi’s decrees of November 22, 2012 trouble me greatly. The opposition calling for a suspension of the referendum on the Constitution is rejecting the flawed elections process which brought the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) into power in both the legislative assemblies and the presidency and thus is anti-democratic. It believes the proposed constitution is terrible, yet it is convinced that it could not defeat it in the referendum. So it has chosen the path of obstruction of the process. Terribly disturbing reactions of the government and its supporters have further escalated the situation. I hope that a compromise can be reached and that a stable, democratic, nationalist, social-justice and human-rights respecting process can be implemented. My fear is that the FJP will align with the military to enforce a neo-liberal, socially conservative regime characterized by widespread human rights abuses and disregard for the poor.

The real problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and all other religiously-identified political movements, be they among Muslims, Christians or others, is that they confuse the ethical teachings of religion which may be applicable to national development with the ritual teachings of religion that have nothing to do with national development.

Is Egypt weak because Egyptians are bad Muslims? I say, “Yes, that is certainly a factor. Good Muslims don’t lie. Good Muslims don’t participate in torture. Good Muslims work hard. Good Muslims blow the whistle when they discover that the government or a corporation is doing something to threaten the public’s welfare.” Now substitute the word Christians or atheists for Muslims in the above passage, and it is just as true.

Is Egypt suffering because of the recreational intoxicants, religiously-prohibited sex, and expressions which contradict religious teachings which draw the ire of Islamists? From a religious point of view, I say, “Yes, it is.” But what can an Islamist-dominated government do to solve this? Does repression actually make a population more pious? Iran’s experience should demonstrate that the quickest way to cause the population to hate Islam is to govern repressively in its name.

So if the government based on ideology (capitalism, socialism, Islam) fails to solve problems such as poor public education, widespread substance abuse, environmental degradation, colonialist encroachments and food shortages, the government’s typical solution is to double-down on its ideological commitment, typically accompanied by imagining historical golden ages.

Combine this with idealogues’ ambivalent relationship to diversity and pluralism, and repression of political and cultural opponents is a strong possibility.

Read Shirin Ebadi’s memoir for another perspective on this issue.

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