The Path to Egyptian Democracy

Feb 17, 2011

Update from AIJAC

February 17, 2011

Number 02/11 #05

With the military now in charge in Egypt, and promising to submit a revised constitution to a referendum in two months, and then proceed to a general election, the obvious question is; will this lead to something resembling genuine democracy in Egypt? This Update deals with this question, as well as the best way to encourage this outcome.

First up is American academic Michael Mandelbaum, an expert on democracy, who looks at the obstacles and advantages that Egypt enjoys in terms of achieving successful democratisation. He points out that democracy is about personal liberty as much as elections, and the best-organised opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is fundamentally opposed to such liberty, as evidenced by the behavior of its offshoot, Hamas, in Gaza. However, he notes a number of advantages for democratisation in Egypt compared to other Arab states – high levels of national unity, little dependence on oil revenue, and a relatively peaceful  and democracy-oriented revolution and protest movement. For Prof. Mandelbaum’s complete analysis, CLICK HERE.

Next up, looking at the mechanics of a democratic transition is Washington Institute for Near East Policy scholar David Makovsky. He stresses timing and sequencing, and the importance of not rushing matters, using the Palestinian and Lebanese experiences as sources of both positive and negative examples. Like Mandelbaum, he argues that democracy is about more than elections, but also an “independent judiciary, a free press, minority rights, and a security apparatus that maintains the monopoly on the use of force” and that attaining sustainable democracy is more important than pushing for rapid elections. For all the details of Makovsky’ argument, CLICK HERE. Larry Diamond, another democratisation expert from Stanford University, offers his own analysis of the pitfalls and a roadmap to real democracy in Egypt. Plus, some advice to the US Congress on using aid to help the democratisation process.

Finally, leading Egyptian liberal intellectual and writer Tarek Heggy explains the reality behind the conflicting claims being made in the media regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. Heggy goes carefully through what the Brotherhood stands for on a variety of essential issues, from democracy and civil society through women’s rights and the peace treaty with Israel. While he exposes a pretty extreme picture, he does advocate dialogue with the group, but argues it should be centred on making them answer a series of questions reflecting the key problems with their policies from a liberal point of view. For insights on the Brotherhood from an admirable and erudite Egyptian scholar, CLICK HERE. Other valuable views on the Brotherhood come from Somali-Dutch Muslim reformer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, columnists Bret Stephens, Jeff Jacoby and Cliff May, analyst Jonathan Schanzer, and authors Joshua Muravchik and Ron Radosh. Plus, a good profile of the current spiritual mentor of the Brotherhood, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, comes from Germany’s Der Speigel.

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Can Egypt Become a True Democracy?

Michael Mandelbaum
Project Syndicate, Feb. 14, 2011

Hosni Mubarak’s resignation as President of Egypt marks the beginning of an important stage in that country’s transition to a new political system. But will the political transition ultimately lead to democracy?   We cannot know with certainty, but, based on the history of democratic government, and the experiences of other countries – the subject of my book, Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government – we can identify the obstacles that Egypt faces, as well as the advantages it enjoys, in building political democracy.  Understanding any country’s democratic prospects must begin with a definition of democracy, which is a hybrid form of government, a fusion of two different political traditions. The first is popular sovereignty, the rule of the people, which is exercised through elections. The second, older and equally important, is liberty – that is, freedom.   Freedom comes in three varieties: political liberty, which takes the form of individual rights to free speech and association; religious liberty, which implies freedom of worship for all faiths; and economic liberty, which is embodied in the right to own property.   Elections without liberty do not constitute genuine democracy, and here Egypt faces a serious challenge: its best-organized group, the Muslim Brotherhood, rejects religious liberty and individual rights, especially the rights of women. The Brotherhood’s offshoot, the Palestinian movement Hamas, has established in the Gaza Strip a brutal, intolerant dictatorship.

In conditions of chaos, which Egypt could face, the best-organized and most ruthless group often gets control of the government. This was Russia’s fate after its 1917 revolution, which brought Lenin’s Bolsheviks to power and condemned the country to 75 years of totalitarian rule. In the same way, the Muslim Brotherhood could seize power in Egypt and impose a far more oppressive regime than Mubarak’s ever was.   Even if Egypt avoids control by religious extremists, democracy’s two-part anatomy makes swift and smooth progress to a democratic system problematic. While elections are relatively easy to stage, liberty is far more difficult to establish and sustain, for it requires institutions – such as a legal system with impartial courts – that Egypt lacks, and that take years to build.

In other countries that have become democracies, the institutions and practices of liberty have often emerged from the working of a free-market economy. Commerce fosters the habits of trust and cooperation on which stable democracy depends. It is no accident that a free-market economy preceded democratic politics in many countries in Latin America and Asia in the second half of the twentieth century.   Here, too, Egypt is at a disadvantage. Its economy is a variant of crony capitalism, in which economic success depends on one’s political connections, rather than on the meritocratic free-market competition from which liberty grows.

Egypt suffers from another political handicap: it is an Arab country, and there are no Arab democracies. This matters, because countries, like individuals, tend to emulate others that they resemble and admire. After they overthrew communism in 1989, the peoples of Central Europe gravitated to democracy because that was the prevailing form of government in the countries of Western Europe, with which they strongly identified. Egypt has no such democratic model.  

Egypt is, however, better placed to embrace democracy than the other Arab countries, because the obstacles to democracy in the Arab world are less formidable in Egypt than elsewhere. Other Arab countries – Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, for example – are sharply divided along tribal, ethnic, and religious lines.  In divided societies, the most powerful group is often unwilling to share power with the others, resulting in dictatorship. Egypt, by contrast, is relatively homogeneous. Christians, who make up 10% of the population, are the only sizable minority.   The oil that the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf have in abundance also works against democracy, for it creates an incentive for the rulers to retain power indefinitely. Oil revenues enable them to bribe the population to remain politically passive, while discouraging the creation of the kind of free-market system that breeds democracy. Fortunately for its democratic prospects, Egypt has only very modest reserves of natural gas and oil.

The fact that the large protest movement that suddenly materialized has, until now, been a peaceful one also counts as an advantage for building democracy. When a government falls violently, the new regime usually rules by force, not by democratic procedures, if only to keep at bay those it has defeated.   The cause of democracy in Egypt has one other asset, the most important one of all. Democracy requires democrats – citizens convinced of the value of liberty and popular sovereignty and committed to establishing and preserving them. The political sentiments of many of the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square over the last three weeks leave little doubt that they do want democracy, and are willing to work and even to sacrifice for it.  Whether they are numerous enough, resourceful enough, patient enough, wise enough, and brave enough – and whether they will be lucky enough – to achieve it is a question that only the people of Egypt can answer.

Michael Mandelbaum is Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington D.C., and the author of
Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government.

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Egypt should take its time building a democracy

By David Makovsky

USA Today, Feb. 14, 2011

The jubilation in Cairo has riveted the world. The sea of this non-violent protest movement is both inspiring self-empowerment and providing hope that a democratic revolution need not bypass the Middle East. It is a historic moment to savor.

Even as it looks as though the hardest part has been accomplished with Hosni Mubarak’s departure, surely the toughest part is ahead. President Obama wasted no time in insisting that the Egyptian transition retain its momentum. Yet, a democratic transition should not be confused with an instant election. One cannot have democracy without an election, but this is only part of the story.

Timing is key.

Apart from an election, democracy is about building the institutions that ensure there are safeguards for individuals. This means going beyond the obvious of lifting the existing emergency law and amending the Egyptian Constitution. It also requires an independent judiciary, a free press, minority rights, and a security apparatus that maintains the monopoly on the use of force. These institutions provide the opportunity for the creation of a civic culture where parties can negotiate their demands in a peaceful framework. Otherwise, the hope for democracy can be easily thwarted.

As democracy theorists say, the combination of low levels of economic development, concentrated sources of national wealth (crony capitalism), little historical experience with political pluralism (Egypt has lived under military government since 1952), a non-democratic region and identity-based divisions (particularly over religion) all combine for a daunting challenge for Egypt.

Sequencing is important, and the Palestinian example is instructive. In 2006, the Palestinians held parliamentary elections before they focused on creating the foundations of solid institutions. This is a key reason, albeit not the only one, for the success of the militant government of Hamas. Subsequently, Hamas used its militia to expel the Palestinian Authority security forces from Gaza in 2007.

The West Bank has taken the opposite course. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an economist by training, stands for the idea that the quality of governance is a prerequisite for a 21st century modern Arab state in the Middle East. Fayyad has focused on building institutions, supporting the rule of law and improving the quality of life for Palestinians. A high level of economic growth has followed. Fayyad is hoping that four years of institution-building will culminate in a state and a fresh election in the fall.

Such a bottom-up approach should be a sign that democracy in Egypt can occur amid improving conditions for the people. Functioning institutions are key prerequisites for a democratic election. There should be a clear timetable to Egyptian elections, but a hasty vote without institutional safeguards could mean a return to authoritarianism or chaos that can be exploited by the Islamist militants.

A look at the Middle East in recent years proves the danger is not theoretical. For example, it is critical that the state retains the monopoly on the use of force, or else we will be seeing political parties seeking to use liberal means to illiberal ends. In 2005, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon evoked great hope yet ultimately came apart because a determined minority with its own militia, Hezbollah, used brute force to get its way. Bullets and ballots do not go together. The Egyptian security apparatus seems strong, but this might not always be the case.
Toward a functioning democracy

A functioning democracy also must honor and uphold the rights of minorities. This could be alien thinking to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose statements belittle women and gays. While Egypt’s military leaders have said that the country will be bound by past international agreements, the Brotherhood seems to think otherwise, deriding the legality of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

The world can be of help to Egypt during this interim period, given the country’s strong ties to the U.S. as well as being the center of political gravity in the region. Despite U.S. budget constraints, it is important that American assistance to Cairo reflect our commitment to political reform and institutional infrastructure for democracy. As it is now, the $1.3 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt is military, and additional economic assistance is a relatively minor sum.

Democratic transition is hard enough without pressure demanding that it be rapid. The objective is to ensure that the Egyptian revolution is sustainable. The test is not a first election, but rather whether there is a second one.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the co-author with Dennis Ross of Myths, Illusions, & Peace (2009).

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The Reality of the Muslim Brotherhood

Tarek Heggy  

12 Feb 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood was launched in 1928 to restore a caliphate, a global religious government aimed at fighting the “non-believers” (specifically, Christians, Hindus, and Jews) and at spreading Islam. The group opposed the existence of any secular states in all Muslim societies throughout the Middle East.

The Brotherhood killed Egypt’s Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nuqrashi in 1948 and plotted to kill President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the early 1950s. An offshoot group, Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, later Osama bin Laden’s number-two man, assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981 and tried to kill President Hosni Mubarak in 1995.

I. Muslim Brothers’ Political Thought

The Brotherhood remains extremely opposed to Western civilization and to a political peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hamas is a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This group’s political thinking can be summarized as follows:

 Political Freedoms: Unlike Western democracies, which guarantee the political participation of every citizen regardless of ideology, opinion, or religion, the Muslim Brothers make the political participation of individuals in society subject to the principles of Islamic Sharia.

Freedom of Belief: The Muslim Brothers guarantee freedom of belief only for the followers of the three revealed (Abrahamic) religions, otherwise known as “the people of the Book.”

Personal Freedoms: While Western democracies guarantee the absolute freedom of the individual as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others, the Muslim Brothers set freedom of thought within the strict parameters of a moral code derived from the Sharia.

They call for the restoration of hisbah, which allows a private citizen to prosecute any individual who commits an act he considers a breach of the Sharia even if the plaintiff himself has not been personally injured by such an act.

The right of hisbah was recently exercised by a private citizen in Egypt against the respected intellectual Dr. Nasr Hamad Abu Zayd, whose writings he considered as running counter to the teachings of Islam. The court ruled for the plaintiff, branding Dr. Abu Zayd an apostate and ordering him to divorce his wife on the grounds that a Muslim woman cannot be married to an apostate. Dr. Abu Zayd fled with his wife to the Netherlands.
Women’s Rights:
In Western democracies, women enjoy the same political rights as men: they can hold public office and participate in political life without any restrictions based on gender. But as far as the Muslim Brothers are concerned, women’s political participation would be limited to municipal elections; there is no question, for example, of a woman ever becoming head of state. To further marginalize women and exclude them from any meaningful role in public life, the Muslim Brothers call for educational curricula to include material that is appropriate for women, tailored to suit their nature and role, as perceived by them. In addition to special curricula for girls, they insist on a complete segregation of the sexes in the classrooms, in public transportation, and in the workplace. The Islamist perception of women as lesser beings was illustrated in Kuwait, where Islamists temporarily blocked passage of a bill granting political rights to women.
The Economy:
The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of an economic system based on the respect of private property. At the same time, however, they insist that it be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia, which criminalizes bank interest. They also call for state ownership of public utilities.

System of Government: Contrary to the system of government applied in a democracy, which is based on the peaceful rotation of power through elections, the Muslim Brothers call for a system of government based on the principles of Sharia and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate.

Civil Society: The freedom of movement enjoyed by civil society organizations in a democracy would, in an Islamist system, be conditional on their adherence to the strictures of Sharia.

Government: The Muslim Brothers oppose the notion of a state based on democratic institutions, calling instead for an Islamic government based on the shura (consultative assembly) system, veneration of the leader, and the investiture of a Supreme Guide. In this they are close to Iran’s system.

Political Freedoms
: While the legislative branch of government monitors the actions of the state to ensure that they conform to the rules of democracy, the actions of the state are monitored by the Muslim Brothers to ensure that they conform to the rules of Islamic Sharia.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Muslim Brothers were the first to send volunteers to fight Israel when it was founded in 1948. They have opposed all attempts to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in particular the peace agreements between Egypt and Israel initiated by the late President Sadat. It would be true to say that the Muslim Brothers will never recognize the existence of Israel as legitimate.

Religious Minorities: Although the Muslim Brothers of Egypt do not go as far as their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, where the construction of houses of worship for non-Muslims is prohibited, their position on the question of religious minorities include the barring of any non-Muslim from becoming president and the subjection of non-Muslims to the principles of Sharia on which the entire legal system is based.

The Legal System:
The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of a constitutional and legal system based on the principles of Sharia, including the application of corporal punishments in the penal code (stoning, lashing, cutting off the hands of thieves, etc.)

Violence against Civilians:
The Muslim Brothers have never condemned the use of violence against civilians, except if it is directed against Muslim civilians and even that only selectively.

            Finally, “progress” in today’s world is realized by two tools, “science and modern management”; two qualities that the Muslim Brothers have neither access to nor interest in.

 II. The Necessity to Dialogue
Nevertheless, the harsh and often illegal treatment to which the Muslim Brotherhood is subjected is both unacceptable legally and self-defeating in that it hardens attitudes on both sides. In fact, the only way to resolve this problem with the Islamists is through dialogue, by opening channels of communication and engaging in a frank interchange of views. Debating the issues is the only way to transform a religious party, in the long term, into a civil political party that subscribes to the main tenets of democracy: acceptance of the “Other”, rotation of power, and respect for other religions and for women.

The transformation will be complete when political Islam abandons its distorted understanding of our religion from one rooted in the Middle Ages and reflecting the mentality of Bedouins bred in a harsh and unforgiving desert environment. Civil society is entitled to protect itself from any group that remains locked in a time warp and would have us all retreat with it into a distant past.

As reform in Egypt is a thousand times better than its takeover by any of a number of alternatives so too is reform in Saudi Arabia a thousand times better than its takeover by alternatives that could plunge the entire region into unprecedented chaos. Maintaining the stability of Saudi Arabia and all its neighbours is imperative. But guaranteeing stability is impossible without a historical operation against the extremists. The question is whether the sane elements in Saudi Arabia will follow a course similar to the one taken by their famous forbearer eighty years ago or whether they will continue to coexist with them until the ship sinks with everyone on board.

III. The Requirements of the Dialogue
Dialogue with Islamists should be based on seeking the answers to the following questions:
1.      Some of the Muslim Brothers (MB’s) now expound the idea that Copts (Egyptian Christians) are “Fully First Class Egyptian Citizens.” Would this imply that a Copt could be, in principle, elected president of Egypt?
2.      Would the Muslim Brothers follow the Saudi model of segregating girls from boys in educational institutions such as schools and universities as well as all other organizations?
3.      Non-History-Related-Tourism (i.e., beach tourism) generates in excess of 75 percent of Egypt’s tourism revenues. What are the Brotherhood’s views on the sale of alcoholic beverages, gambling, and casinos, and women dressing in any way they choose?
4.      What is the Brotherhood’s opinion concerning the peace treaties between Egypt and Israel, and between Jordan and Israel?
5.      What do the MB’s think of the different forms of economic cooperation between Egypt and Israel (the Qualifying Industrial Zones [QIZ], in which joint enterprises receive special privileges for exporting goods to the United States, for instance)?
6.      How do the MB’s describe the killing of Israeli civilians in Hamas or Islamic Jihad suicide operations?
7.      Do the MB’s believe that Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine known as al-Hak’imiyya–that government must be based exclusively on Allah’s law and which rejects democracy and human law as apostasy—is still the basis of their political system?
8.      What are the views of the Brotherhood on women holding high government offices including ministries, the prime ministership, and Supreme Court judgeships?
9.      What are the group’s views on the vision of a “two state” solution for Israel and Palestine to live peacefully next to each other? Would they then accept and recognize the right of Israel to exist? Would they also accept that the Jewish section of Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?
10.  Egypt’s legal system since 1883 has been based on the juridical notions of the European legal system. What are the Brotherhood’s plans with this regard? And what do they think of physical punishments, such as the sanctions applicable in Saudi Arabia?
11.  Like all modern societies, the Egyptian banking system is based on the notion of interests for lending and savings. Will the Brotherhood keep it?
12.  Is Iran a factor of stability (or instability) in today’s world?

Finally, one must know that the Brothers are likely to use taqqiyya, a principle which–according to some clerics such as Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya–allows Muslims to lie if so doing assists them in ultimately defeating the infidels!

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