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07/05/2013

Muslim Brotherhood's winner takes all mentality alienated Egyptians


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Ousted: A sand sculpture of president Mohammed Morsi in a beach in Puri, India Reuters/Stringer

Egypt is in unchartered waters. The region and the world is watching to see how the Muslim Brotherhood reacts to one of its own, president Mohammed Morsi being thrown out of office by the army. So far, three supporters have been killed in protests.

How the Brotherhood reacts will have huge ramifications for other Islamist groups ranging from Hamas to, a lesser extent, the Taliban in Afghanistan who may finally come in from the cold.  This is because Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest and best organized Islamist organization in the Arab world. It is a model for other such political groups in terms of how they win credibility and support from the public: a combination of social work and steering clear from violence. In Mubarak-era Cairo, for example, Brotherhood volunteers were often the only ones organizing garbage collection in poor neighbourhoods.

However, one reason for Egypt's current crisis is that the Brotherhood overreached itself after Morsi became president. The country's first freely elected leader may have been an Islamist but it did not mean Egyptians of all political and religious stripes supported him.  In the 2012 presidential election Morsi did not win with a clear and resounding majority. During the first round, he received 24 per cent of the vote. His 12 opponents were mostly a smattering of secularists, nationalists and leftists. They split the vote among them. There was a second round with a secular candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister in Hosni Mubarak’s administration. Morsi narrowly won with 51 per cent. 

In a mature democracy a new administration would recognize the need to proceed slowly and build consensus among all groups before introducing legislation. Instead, as the International Crisis Group points out, he tried to sideline the judiciary and co-opt the security services.

“The current crisis to a large extent is the product of a fundamentally flawed political transition. Political actors were unable to reach basic agreement on rules of the game or the desired political system, instead proceeding with a winner-take-all mentality that was sure to alienate – and frighten –losers.”

It added: “Instead of consultations and consensus-building, elections and referendums – in which an organisationally superior Muslim Brotherhood excelled – became arbiters of an ever-more polarised political stand-off. As Egypt moved from one electoral contest to another, Islamists perceived their successive, though sometimes narrow, victories as mandates to shape the nascent polity as they deemed fit, overlooking the need to share power.”  

READ MORE:  Olivia Ward on why economic troubles are driving Egypt's crisis

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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