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Opinion

Egypt's protesters aren't the ones betraying democracy

Since the 2011 revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have undermined crucial state institutions.

Last Modified: 02 Jul 2013 18:48
Sara Khorshid

Sara Khorshid is an Egyptian journalist and columnist.
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Protesters have been on the streets in their millions since June 30 [Reuters]

Cairo, Egypt - The revolutionary forces taking part in the massive June 30 protests which called for the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi are now under fire from those who want to give Morsi the chance to complete his term. Opponents of June 30 say that the wave of protests have resulted in a possible return to military rule, and the overturning of a democratic presidential election that brought Morsi to power in June 2012.
 
The June 30 protesters stand accused of defying the democratic process and betraying the revolution, by paving the way for military intervention in civilian affairs. 
 
While this is indeed an imminent threat, such interference has always existed, and moreso after the Muslim Brotherhood helped the military keep the powers and privileges that it has held since 1952. Through a constitution written by a Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly and openly endorsed by Morsi, the army has even been given wider non-democratic powers, such as a constitutional right to try civilians in military tribunals, immunity for the army's budget from public and parliamentary accountability, and a military-dominated National Defence Council authorised to veto draft laws. The constitution's preamble also acknowledges the armed forces' role in supporting the 2011 revolution.

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And while democracy cannot be complete unless the military is subject to civilian authority, the rule of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood does not put Egypt on the track for democracy to take root.
 
In fact, it poses a grave problem that threatens the democratic notion of state institutions and Egypt's social fabric. Over the past two years, the Muslim Brotherhood has positioned itself as an organised force that stands as an alternative to state apparatuses such as the army and the police.
 
A case in point is the ongoing anti-June 30 protests being led by the Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly in defence of "constitutional legitimacy" - as if the constitution and the legitimacy derived from it belonged to the Brotherhood and not to the collective Egyptian people. The Brotherhood's claim that it is out to defend "legitimacy" also ignores the democratic notion that the people are the source of political legitimacy. In this sense, the legitimacy of Morsi's rule has been shaken, if not eliminated, by the millions of people taking to the streets across Egypt's governorates since June 30.

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A further, vivid, example of the undermining of political legitimacy took place in January 2012 - when Brotherhood members barricaded parliament's lower house, in which the Brotherhood's party constituted the majority of MPs, to "protect" a state institution from protesters - a job that, in reality, belongs to the interior ministry. Tellingly, when the protesters were demanding that the then-ruling military council handed power to the speaker of parliament, who was a Muslim Brotherhood member, the Brotherhood members confronting them chanted "the army and the people are one hand". Fighting broke out, resulting in 20 injuries.
 
A similar situation happened outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace on December 5, 2012. Brotherhood-led supporters of Morsi - himself a former leading member of the Brotherhood - stormed a sit in protest against the presidential constitutional declaration in which Morsi gave himself sweeping powers and placed himself above judicial review. According to Human Rights Watch and numerous other sources, the Brotherhood members detained anti-Morsi protesters outside the palace, beat and abused them, then handed them over to police.
 
These examples indicate that the 80-year-old movement has been playing a role that would have been otherwise played by the nation state. The fact that state institutions are dominated by Mubarak loyalists who refuse to accept the result of the revolution and accept Morsi's rule provides no justification for the Brotherhood to fill in for these bodies. It is Morsi himself who refused to restructure state institutions, and has often wooed them, stating that they played an honourable role in the revolution.

Alaa Moustafa, of the Brotherhood's FJP, talks to Al Jazeera


More importantly, those institutions, despite the human rights abuses that they systematically committed before and after the revolution, do belong to all Egyptians, and are funded by taxpayers' money. At least on paper, they are accountable to the people as per democratic norms. To defy Mubarak's loyalists inside such apparatuses, they must be cleansed of corruption and restructured, not replaced by members of a single political cadre accountable only to the Brotherhood's leadership. This is particularly dangerous considering that the group has no legal basis - it is a vague organisation that engages in Islamic evangelicalism, charity, politics, and perhaps other tasks. This vagueness enables it to manoeuvre around legal rules, which further defies the rule of law.
 
Another difference between state apparatuses such as the police and the Muslim Brotherhood as an organised entity that seeks to play roles otherwise played by the nation state is that those apparatuses theoretically claim to be speaking in the name of the people and protecting the nation as a whole - but the Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation which has a religious missionary mission, and which has raised the "Islam is the solution" slogan, which could leave its opponents accused of opposing Islam. 
 
This presents a genuine threat to the principle of the rule of law, which is directly tied both to democracy and to Egyptian social harmony. Angry Egyptian protesters have rejected violent practices by the police and the military - let alone by unauthorised and unqualified Muslim Brotherhood youths assigned by their leadership to protect "legitimacy", the president or the parliament.
 
Military rule runs contrary to democracy and it should be rejected and overturned by civilian, democratic rule. At the same time, the Brotherhood's attempt to replace state apparatuses and seize the nation state's role in society is clearly undemocratic and cannot be justified on the grounds of advancing the revolution.
 
Democracy falls within a framework that is wider than just the ballot boxes, and the rule of a group that has constantly defied democratic principles cannot be accepted under the pretext of honouring the "democratic process" or "electoral legitimacy". 
 
The ultimate goal must be to subdue the military to civilian will, as per democracy's basic tenets - but also to oppose a president and a group that has attempted to put itself above constitutional-based accountability.
 

Sara Khorshid is an Egyptian journalist and columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @SaraKhorshid

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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