Inclusion, Inclusion, Inclusion – is the way to go in Egypt!

Date: July 9, 2013

As Egypt seethes, the experiment with including the Muslim Brotherhood in elections and governance for 14 months in office grinds to a halt with the arrest of former President Morsi and his comrades. It is a sad ending to an upbeat beginning which started with the youth revolution in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011.

Tamarod (“rebellion”) was the brainchild of five young men. Fueled by social media, 10-14 million people on the streets brought down the Morsi government in three days vs. the three weeks it took to bring down former president Mubarak. Morsi had plummeted in his approval ratings with non-Brotherhood supporters as the economy tanked and unemployment was rising fast. The Economist highlights “a hard lesson for Islamists: for all the powerful attachment Egyptians have to their faith, in politics, they want practical results.”

Egypt is caught between two warring instincts, each seeking to exclude half the country from public space and influence. Egypt’s secular, military rulers since 1952 have sought to exclude piety and religion from political life.

Lama Omar, 26

In The Guardian, Lama Omar, 26, a human resource supervisor, said:

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a democracy at all. All its actions were very, very bad. He was never going to leave his office. Morsi had already destroyed much of the country in one year and what would have happened, God only knows. I was not with the first protest until Omar Suleiman [the former intelligence chief] made the announcement that Mubarak was gone. But this one I have been with from the bottom of my heart. I am very, very optimistic. I am very proud of my nation and for all of us. My home is near Tahrir Square, and I heard the noise of the celebrations last night. It was a thrilling night for everyone. Something I will always remember.

Asmaa Fathi

Asmaa Fathi, 30, said:

We came here to celebrate with all Egyptians. I was not enthused to vote last time, not for Morsi or for anybody else. This time it is different. So long as we have strong armed forces, the country will be strong and we will be strong. Morsi made the days of Mubarak look much better … all I care about now is for my children to live well. I want a good education for them. I want them to have good lives. The security in Egypt gives us peace of mind. Ramadan starts soon and we will be coming home after dawn prayers. We can do so in comfort and safety now.

Nour Zakaria

Nour Zakaria, 24, a university student, said:

I am here to support the legitimacy of President Morsi, because if we do not support him the country will descend into chaos. I want to prove to the world that we are not barbarians, that we believe in democracy and in a democracy you don’t do things this way. This was a well-planned conspiracy, made with the help of the former regime, the military and a corrupt Egyptian media. If Morsi is forced to leave the palace, we will remain here and the cycle of street protests will become a permanent fixture in Egyptian life. I was never with Hosni Mubarak, but I did not participate in the last protests. This time I slipped away from home. Nobody saw me leave. This is a matter of principle.

Egypt’s post colonial history can be divided for simplicity into three phases:

In phase one, President Nasser arrests and tortures members of the Muslim Brotherhood for being Islamists rather than secularists. President Sadat also suppresses members of the Brotherhood and in turn is murdered by one of his Islamist body guards. President Mubarak allows the Muslim Brotherhood to operate as an underground political party, but suppresses more liberal political organizations.

In phase two, after the January 25, 2011 revolution steered by the youth, President Mubarak is de-throned, the military steps aside and President Morsi, is elected. For the first time an Islamist holds the highest office in Egypt. This was a significant step, tragically followed by clear signals from Morsi that he would roll back the participation of women in Egyptian public life, in spite of their prominent role in the Arab Spring at Tahrir Square.

In phase three, where we stand today, Morsi has been arrested along with other key leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood — and the experiment with inclusivity has been shut down!

Bottom Line: Why is it so difficult for Muslim countries to simultaneously include people of faith and women in the political arena? Excluding key segments of society, people of a particular political or religious persuasion does not work — nor does trying to keep one gender out of political life. Political integration is the first step towards social inclusion. The lack of inclusion results in disenfranchisement. Exclusion radicalizes those who feel left out of the common communal space. (Radical Islamism emerged not from the mosques but from Nasser’s jails.)

What’s the solution: INCLUSION! Bring the diverse subsets of stakeholders into an integrated society. Let every voice participate in the discourse and decision making of government. Exclusion commands a high price — instability and distrust — which destabilize the society.

This was true for the Egyptian military when they excluded the Muslim Brotherhood. But it was also true for the Brotherhood when it tried to disenfranchise women from political power.

Why do that when we have successful precedents from other democracies like Spain and Italy, which integrated religion and piety into their political systems through Christian Democrat Parties, without excluding women? Faith, women’s rights and democratic electoral politics co-existed in those societies, even as they evolved away from traditional religious views. The Muslim Brotherhood’s marginalization of women (along with religious minorities like Coptic Christians) and the denial of basic civil liberties and rights are their fatal flaws. Egypt, they have now learned, will not accept an exclusionary party which seeks to deny women — the mothers of their children — basic civil rights, human rights and dignity.

Tom Friedman writes in his Sunday op-ed: “Anyone who tries to govern Egypt alone will fail: Mubarak, the army, the Muslim Brothers, the liberals. Egypt is in a terrible deep hole…. The only way it can pull out is with a national unity government that can make hard decisions and do the required heavy lifting.”

With a population of 80 million, a shattered economy, lack of education, lack of water, food and fuel… the challenges are staggering for Egypt.

While the Muslim Brotherhood has integrated women into their social services, and many of the women are well-educated academics, women seem to be powerless within the movement.

In India where I grew up, we are still dealing with traditional castes and classes which disproportionately damage and impact women. Before India gained its independence, prominent women led the political struggle, as leaders, not just followers. Fractious as India is, and controversial as issues like gender equality remain within the household, no significant political movement in India’s independent history has sought either to exclude women or religion from the public sphere. India might be a cacophonous country but it functions as the largest, most diverse democracy in the world.

Inclusion works. Egypt should give it a fair chance.

Stay tuned to more on Egypt
Khadijah’s daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad’s first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.

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