I have studied the Middle East for the good part of the last four years. This far from makes me an expert, but I believe I have an advanced understanding of the region at an introductory level. Unfortunately, I feel like my opinion is less appreciated in Malaysia because of my refusal to engage in dramatic accounts on the present unfolding of events. In simpler terms, I refuse to fall prey to conspiracy theories and the pointing of fingers toward those with a different ideology. It is funny that at the LSE, I am known by my classmates as the defender of Islamists (Ikhwan, AKP, even of Iran’s theocracy), but back home nobody wants to listen to me because they feel I am a ‘liberal’ (which I don’t deny, but only because my conception of liberalism is different and not antithetical to Islam). The point is that I believe I have succeeded at being impartial precisely because of this.
Firstly, I am studying democracy, and my focus is on Islamists (or Political Islam). If nothing else, these two facts about me already show that I am a staunch believer that Islam and democracy are complementary. It is sad that I feel the need to put this out first in order to avoid being called an anti-Islamist.
This is my opinion on Egypt:
Max Weber wrote in the Protestant Ethic that “The appeal to national character is generally a mere confession of ignorance.” I believe the same applies to the current view on Egypt held by certain quarters of the Muslim population. The simple compartmentalization of the belligerents as Islamists (pro-Mursi) and secularists (anti-Mursi) only proves one’s misunderstanding of the situation. It shows that one does not recognize the unique history, demography, expectations, and leadership in Egypt. It is far more complicated than what the media is making it out to be. If Western media is accused of being the mouthpiece of the anti-Mursi, the same can be said of Islamist media. Now, I am not going to debate on the role of the media; instead, what I wish to put out there is the recognition that it is difficult to be objective by depending on the media because they have their own agendas.
So what exactly is my take on the army’s takeover of power?
Personally, I believe that since Mursi was elected in a free and fair election, he should be able to finish his presidential mandate. It is unfair to expect him to turn the country around in just over a year. Democracy is about having a long time perspective on politics. Nevertheless, with democracy being in its infancy, it is not irrational for Egyptians to want immediate changes after years of inflation and unemployment. On the other hand, protest movements are rarely sustained by bread and butter issues alone. What was expected was for the men and women in Egypt to be a part of the wider nation-building process, which Mursi failed to acknowledge in Egypt’s exclusive constitution-writing process.
Of course I find it unfortunate that the army is currently holding leaders of Ikhwan in custody. I truly hope the Algerian Civil War would be enough of a reminder to the effects of brutal suppression on a party that legitimately won a free and fair election. Deep in my heart, however, I have faith in Ikhwan. The party has not advocated violence since the middle of last century, and I doubt they will start now. They have been suppressed and persecuted under Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, and yet they have not called for an armed insurrection. This time, it would not be different. Moreover, since the army quickly handed power over to an interim president and government, I believe Egypt is on the right track toward democracy and away from violence. If time is what the anti-Mursi was demanding, this is their opportunity to prove they could, if ever, build a coalition stronger than the Ikhwan.
(Disclaimer: I am neither an Egyptian nor do I live in Egypt. This is only the personal opinion of a budding academic observer.)