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Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Stories of the demise of authoritarianism have been greatly exaggerated: Senegal’s elections and prospects for democracy

In David Meyer on February 24, 2012 at 10:41 am

Western Africa is often looked to as the best example of democratic development south of the Sahara. Of course, as any Africanist can tell you, trying to make generalizable statements across multiple African states is a foolhardy endeavor at best, given the vast diversity of the continent, not only from sub-region to sub-region, but in internal state politics as well. However, with Hillary Clinton’s recent democro-tour of four West African states and the amount of self-congratulation and feel-good speeches about the future of democracy in the region, the average outside observer would be forgiven for thinking that things are only looking up for free and fair elections.

In fact, democratic activists are quite concerned about the February 26th first round of the presidential election in Senegal, and with good reason. The incumbent, President Abdoulaye Wade, has carefully positioned himself for another victory while opposition groups have decried his candidature, which they view as illegal, and taken to the streets, facing off against heavily armed state security forces. Mr. Wade, who, for some reason, looks supremely unhappy in the majority of photos he appears in, won the approval of Senegal’s Constitutional Court to pursue a third term in office, despite the new constitution, which he designed, limiting presidents to two mandates. The reasoning behind the ruling was that, since the new constitution came into force after he took office, Wade is only subject to the new law from that date onward. Opposition groups were quick to point out that this flimsy legal reasoning takes a turn for the absurd when one considers that the five-member Constitutional Court was fully appointed by President Wade.

The court decision, on January 27th, led to an immediate outbreak of protests against the regime, largely spearheaded by opposition groups, namely Y’en a marre (colloquial for “fed up” or “sick of”), which has been focusing on youth mobilization, and Mouvement du 23 juin (named after the successful June 23, 2011 protests against the ruling party’s proposed amendments to the new constitution, which were decried as an attempt to further entrench the current regime in power), an opposition alliance that includes political parties, civil society organizations, and human rights groups. At least seven people have been killed in protests since the start of the presidential campaign and many more have been injured in clashes with state security forces, including Africa’s most famous singer, Youssou N’dour, who was banned from contending the presidential election (the remainder of the links are in French). President Wade has expressed his regret for the deaths, but was quick to blame one of the main opposition candidates, Idrissa Seck, for the deadly clashes.

The latest drama has focused on state security forces blocking opposition groups from protesting at the Place de l’Indépendance in central Dakar. Thankfully, though scuffles have continued this week, the protests have been largely non-violent, which gives hope to those praying for stability in the country. EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton has called for the Senegalese authorities to respect the right of the people to protest, while the small EU observation mission had previously promoted an end to violence in the wake of the clashes in the capital. Ashton also praised the arrival of an African Union observation mission led by the ex-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo has the unenviable task of attempting to maintain a peaceful situation on the ground, especially as the fractured nature of the opposition has led many observers to conclude that Wade is headed to victory and thus uncharted waters in terms of opposition response. At the very least Obasanjo has pulled off the zinger of the campaign thus far, noting, in reference to his standing down from the Nigerian presidency under pressure from the opposition and other African leaders, including Wade, “If President Wade advised me not to run for a third term, which I didn’t do, he is without a doubt capable of advising himself [on the matter]” (translated from French, apologies as I wasn’t able to locate what he likely said in English).

So, what is there to do on this matter? As noted above, many are already calling the election for Wade because of his power of incumbency and his image which, though it has been recently dragged through the mud, still stands as someone who has worked hard to pull Senegal out of economic stagnation. The opposition and many average Senegalese are likely to disagree with this, especially as questions over how much Wade’s reforms have helped the poor and how much they have fed corruption in the country remain quite salient. There is also worry that Mr. Wade is grooming his son, Karim, to take his place and thus establish a political dynasty (this was implicit in the June 23 protests mentioned above since one of the failed proposed amendments created a new position of vice president, which was viewed as a not-so transparent attempt to allow Wade to consolidate familial power). The best chance the opposition groups are going to get is if they’re able to rally behind a candidate for the second round of voting. Hopefully whoever makes the runoff will be able to mobilize a large enough anti-Wade contingent to make the contest close. Of course, this presupposes that Wade will be unable to win in the first round and, given the strength of patronage politics in Senegal and the power of incumbency, this might not be too farfetched, even without any vote rigging.

And where does the U.S. stand on all of this? Following Wade’s court victory, the State Department called on the incumbent to cede his place to the next generation of leaders. This is fairly strong language, despite the fact that the U.S. noted its respect for the Senegalese political and legal process. In addition, the White House released a generic statement on respecting electoral norms and guaranteeing a free and fair election. This can be seen as a weak follow up to the earlier semi-attack on Wade. However, it’s more than likely a slight recalculation on the part of the U.S. government, as a peaceful electoral process may seem preferable to the incitation of more violence in the capital. U.S. leaders may fear a variation of the post-electoral crisis that gripped Côte d’Ivoire in 2010-11. At this point, all the international community can do is wait out the results, the die has been cast and it’s too late to keep Wade off the ballot. In fact, pushing too hard against the incumbent may lead to a panic compounded by the popular protests, which could only lead to further crackdowns. If the monitors find few irregularities in the process itself the key truly will be the mobilization of the opposition, but don’t hold out too much hope for Wade’s democratic defeat. While some opposition groups are also demanding the cancellation or delaying of the polls, this might only allow Wade to consolidate his position. I’m pessimistic that that type of action would foster greater stability or democratic accountability. As mentioned, for better or for worse Wade is going to remain on the ballot, the actual results and reactions thereof will determine how the international community can properly respond.

Ironically, in September 2011 Mr. Wade made an appearance at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to accept the “prix Houphouët-Boigny,” awarded to those who have “contributed in a significant manner to the promotion, seeking, safeguarding, or maintenance of peace.” Though the prize in and of itself is somewhat of an irony (named after the first President of Côte d’Ivoire, who is often accused of promoting “peace” only in a manner that benefited the interests of the former colonial master, France), the instability that has gripped President Wade’s Senegal since then has led to fears that more sustained violence may break out if he wins reelection. Of course, protests against Mr. Wade have been a part of Senegalese political life for many years now and the tepid reactions of Western states recall the stability and profit-seeking Françafrique that defined Houphouët-Boigny’s rule in Côte d’Ivoire. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Wade poked fun at his age, which his critics like to seize on in calling for his resignation, declaring “There is no age limit for fighting” (my translation of “Il n’y a pas d’âge pour combattre”). While the context was a fight for peace, a much different battle has been taking place on the streets of Dakar and within Senegal’s fragile democracy. Let’s hope that President Wade realizes that this type of prolonged fight for political power would be devastating for both his country and his people.

-David Meyer


The Changing World: Brazilian Values in International Politics

In Rajiv Gopie on February 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

The world is changing, fundamental structures of power that supported the international system are being challenged. The emergence of the BRIC countries has been viewed with fear and apprehension by some, but for the billions in the developing world these emerging powers represent a beacon of hope. The economic and military implications of the rise of the BRIC countries have been written and theorised ad nauseum but what has for the most part been ignored are the socio-cultural ramifications that will ensue from the rise of these great power. Perhaps most interestingly Brazil may be poised to exert a bigger influence in the social sphere than the other BRIC powers.

Brazil has a long and colourful history too complex to engage in here but suffice it to say that the Brazil of the past decade shines as an example of a socially conscious society. Brazilian politics offer a nuanced approach to socialism and capitalism preferring to use a Latin American model of free markets but with state intervention on the behalf of the people. The “left-wing” politics of Brazil looks much different from the evil communist narrative espoused in America; it resembles more closely European models but with more sensibility and a more robust economy. What is interesting is Brazil’s record on human rights, humanitarian intervention, gay rights, green policy and personal liberty.

The ideas of the “liberal west” meet with the traditions of Catholic Brazil to produce a compassionate society that embraces the new and the different but has a toehold in the institutions of home, family, community etc. This model of old and new ideas interacting may in my humble opinion be the course that the rest of the world should embrace. Following the financial crisis our world did a little soul searching and many were the musings of the “fairer” past when people cared about each other. This nostalgia for the past may be selective but it is accurate to say that past generations were more family and socially oriented. This was sacrificed on the altar of the economy and for personal gain. Brazil, however, in its transition is managing for the moment to hold on to its culture whilst at the same time growing and developing at a dizzying rate.

Despite its many social problems and the stark poverty still present in the favelas, Brazil is community oriented and tilted towards a more humanistic society. The sponsoring of sexual minority protection initiatives and green initiatives by Brazil in the UN are examples of the socially liberal and responsible nature of Brazil. As the country continues to rise in influence it may continue to spread its socially liberal humanistic identity across the globe. Whilst the other BRIC powers are all status quo powers with China and Russia concerned with self interest at the expense of international responsibility (Russian veto on Syria, China and human rights) and India is starting to struggle, Brazil is a transformative power and comes with many cultural and ideological principles. It will be interesting to watch how far Brazilian social ideology will spread.

(Author admits to a great love for Brazil and Latin America).

War Games: While Expedient, Drones Present Their Own Set Of Problems

In Joe Raimondi on February 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

Drone technology has come a long way since 1995, the year the first Predator drone entered service. That unmanned aircraft hardly resembles those in use today – given that it lacked GPS and was unarmed. Even on September 11, 2001, the U.S. Air Force possessed exactly one MQ-1 Predator drone. Today, there are “57 Predators up, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, looking at different target points around the world,” according to Air Force Major General James Poss. Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute, notes “the United States military has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial systems, popularly called drones. There are 12,000 more on the ground.”

As the number of drones increases, so too do debates and speculation about their present and projected roles in conflicts, usually oriented around questions of accountability, proliferation, international law, and morality. How does the public feel? Some opinion polls indicate that only a minute percentage of U.S. voters oppose the program (9%), while approximately three-quarters of likely voters support the use of unmanned aircraft to kill terrorists. Perhaps augmenting a more pronounced role for drones going forward is the notion, advanced by Andrew Bacevich recently, of an “endless war.” In this scenario, drones are a useful, if not necessary technological component, because unlike conventional military strategies that require large-scale mobilization of human and material resources, they “insulate the people from war’s effects.” The American public’s support for the use of drones combined with new Department of Defense policies suggest that there will continue to be a variety of roles for robotic technology in warfare.

Political expediency is a huge factor in the decision to make these attacks more widespread in the war on terror under the Obama administration, in marked contrast to the Bush-era emphasis on interrogation and detention (and torture) of suspects. “The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter – and the impact that military casualties have on voters and the news media – they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way” (“Do Drones Undermine Democracy?”). Singer remarks upon one of the primary reasons drones have become increasingly utilized as components to warfare: they carry virtually no risk when weighed against putting human lives on the line. As the security situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan have deteriorated and the domestic political costs of both the Iraq (until recently) and Afghanistan wars have increased considerably, employing Predator drones rather than soldiers (on the ground) for both intelligence-gathering and lethal operations, where feasible, is at the very least politically smart.

While public support for the use of drones in the war on terror remains high, there has not been a lack of debate about the issue of accountability. Joshua Foust writes, “Obama is asserting a unique, new authority to use drones to kill people. However, the president is asserting the right to summarily execute people around the world in part because Congress authorized him to do so.” He is referring to the Authorized Use of Military Force, passed September 18, 2001, and suggesting that Congress is, to a large degree, accountable, insofar as it was Congress’s “ceding all authority on lethal operations to the president” that is to blame for creating broadly-worded and easily manipulated executive powers over the past ten years. Foust is correct to hold the legislature accountable, but perhaps pays too little attention to the context in which the AUMF was passed. Both the House and the Senate votes on this joint resolution illustrate the incredible mandate Bush was given to conduct counterterrorist operations, driven in part by the climate of fear, rage, and uncertainty. In this sense, while both branches of government are accountable for the capacity to employ unmanned aircraft in lethal operations, the bigger issue is the expansive set of executive powers that have been granted over the past ten years.

Since their inception, drones have existed in nebulous moral and legal space for the general public and for politicians, as one would expect when we arrive at a point in time when it’s technologically possible to patrol the skies of Pakistan from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, 7,000 miles away. The dilemma that immediately comes to mind, for many, is the dangerous precedent being set by utilizing unmanned aircraft to target and kill people, to say nothing of the fact that “the vast majority of suspected militants targeted are not members of al-Qaeda, nor are they involved in plots against the U.S. homeland.” This signifies both the collateral damage that is incurred in a drone strike and the incapacity for anyone to really have access to much factual information about these attacks, given their covert nature. The precedents that are being set by increasingly and continually utilizing drones are manifold. On one hand we have technology that not only enables but potentially facilitates a misunderstanding of the costs and dangers of warfare. On the other this technology simultaneously allows us to skirt international law and state sovereignty – via cross-border strikes in places that the U.S. doesn’t have hostile relations with – and has thus far been shrouded in secrecy and non-transparency.

Between 2004 – 2011, under the auspices of the CIA – the lead executive authority – the U.S. carried out approximately 300 drone attacks in Pakistan alone, classified as “covert actions.” The vast majority have occurred in North and South Waziristan, border regions in Pakistan that are often described as safe havens for terrorists. It is well known that under the Obama administration, these attacks increased and have been utilized in a prominent tactical role in the global war on terror, via both intelligence gathering and more (in)famously, the targeting of alleged terrorist leaders, militants, suspects, and affiliates. Between 2009 – 2011 (as of November 15), there were an estimated 241 drone attacks just in Pakistan, compared to 42 total over the preceding four year period. More than one-third of these attacks came in 2010. While technically covert, the usage of drones in the war on terror has in fact been a “poorly kept secret,” an elephant in the room whose presence is obvious to those around it and yet never officially remarked upon – because as a covert program it didn’t need to be. Perhaps Obama’s decision to acknowledge these attacks on-the-record was more a function of coming clean about an open secret, noting during a Google+ “hangout” that “obviously a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] going after al-Qaeda suspects.”

These attacks have been employed in no less than six states, famously in Yemen in September 2011 when a drone attack was responsible for the killing of al-Qaeda operative – and American citizen – Anwar al-Awlaki. The case of Yemen is indicative of one of the more troubling long-term effects of a growing drone program: blowback. Jeremy Scahill writes:

“The October drone strike that killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a US citizen, and his teenage cousin shocked and enraged Yemenis of all political stripes. ‘I firmly believe that the [military] operations implemented by the US performed a great service for al-Qaeda, because those operations gave al-Qaeda unprecedented local sympathy,’ says Jamal, the Yemeni journalist. The strikes ‘have recruited thousands’ Yemeni tribesmen, he says, [and] share one common goal with al-Qaeda, ‘which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge.’ Even senior officials of the Saleh regime recognize the damage the strikes have caused. ‘People certainly resent these [US] interventions,’ Qirbi, the foreign minister and a close Saleh ally, concedes.'”

In the same manner that al-Qaeda’s popularity has plummeted among Muslim communities across the world as a consequence of indiscriminate targeting, local communities’ perceptions of U.S. interventions have similarly fallen and are here intertwined with both revenge and radicalization. Going forward, utilizing drones as a low-risk tactic to target militants without simultaneously taking into account the fact that collateral damage may lead to radicalization is incredibly reckless. Stephen Walt remarks on the danger of blowback in a recent blog post: “Are we going to understand that such hostility didn’t emerge solely because these people ‘hate our values,’ but rather because a cousin, brother, or fellow countryman was targeted by an American drone, and maybe in error?”

What have the human costs been? Data from the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative (CSI) at the New America Foundation (not yet provided for 2012) gives high and low estimates for the number of total deaths and the number of militant deaths. The low figure for 2010, for example, puts the total number of deaths at 607, of which 581 were alleged militants. The ratio of militants-civilians/noncombatants killed via drone attacks is similar for the high number, which estimates the total dead at 993, of which 939 were militants. The CSI’s low figure for total deaths between 2004 – 2011 is 1,717, while its high figure is 2,680. The level of uncertainty in gauging the human cost of these attacks is astounding, in terms of accurately gauging the number killed and even delineating those killed between noncombatants and “militants.” We are thus neither able to measure how many people are being killed nor who these people are. In fairness, our notion of collateral damage has over time become increasingly narrower as a function of the changing nature of conflict and the technology of warfare. “During the Second World War, it took an average of 108 bomber missions to get one bomb to hit the intended target. As a result, we accepted a broader notion of collateral damage and civilian casualties than we would now. These days, one Predator can hit multiple targets with laser precision. Thus, when just a couple of people are killed accidentally, we consider it a tragedy. If the same number of casualties had been lost during the Second World War, we would have considered it an unimaginable success” (“When RoboCop Replaces Private Jackson”). Historical perspective is useful to some extent, but ultimately is limited in what it can tell us about the long-term effects, like blowback, of an extensive transnational drone campaign.

If Andrew Bacevich is correct in his assertion about the U.S.’s embroilment in a kind of “endless war” going forward, it will only enhance the role for drones (as well as special forces) given that this type of war would be “small” in nature and unlike the over-ambitious and expensive statebuilding projects of the past. The scenario is Orwellian, but given what we have seen the past ten years in terms of enhanced executive power, characterizations of the war on terror, and general public support for it, it’s a scenario that isn’t inconceivable. Perhaps just as dangerous as the legal and moral issues surrounding drones per se is political and public insulation from the effects of these small, shadow wars.

The road not taken – How Frost is teaching us to understand the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight against Al Qaeda

In Meor Alif on February 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both”

For decades the international community pretended to lose sleep over the fate that had befallen Egypt. It wasn’t too long ago when instability, oppression, deprivation and the lack of respect for human rights were all words that we didn’t even think twice to use when describing the domestic conditions that the country was under. Despite our supposed best efforts to facilitate change, Egypt remained a quicksand for hope and with its hopelessness, thousands upon thousands of fellow human beings were left to rot under a government that they simply had no say in. And as though that was not bad enough – the real irony of the bigger picture was that Mubarak and his league of truly extraordinary gentlemen claimed to be coherent with democracy, and worst of all, our tacit acceptance and cooperation with his regime made a mockery out of the universal principles that we claim to stand for. Rather than change it – we lived with it. And we tried to make a profit out of it – after all what were we to do? It was just how it was and we were just making the best out of it.

Well, when enough is enough, three weeks is all it takes.

The events that unfolded between 25th January and 11th February 2011 were magnificent. The word uprising has never described something so meaningful in the 21st century until it was used to describe the protests that occurred in Egypt. The near impossible was achieved through several series of mass protests in Egypt, and now, almost a year after that fateful February day when Hosni Mubarak was escorted to the dustbin of history, the world and the entire Egyptian nation is still reeling from the shockwaves that Tahrir created.

However, the bigger question remains, how will the future look like? Can we support the change that is happening in Egypt? Can we, against every fibre of our conviction that is unwilling to support ‘evil Islamists’, rally behind the Muslim Brotherhood?

The devil is in the detail.

“Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim”

As the story goes, and we thank god that it turned out the way it did – Egypt ascended into elections and avoided the long and painful descend into civil strife. And today, as the ‘democratic system’ has allowed it to be so – we have the Muslim Brotherhood supposedly emerging as the ‘will of the people’ at the ballot boxes.

But what is Al Ikhwan Al Muslimun? Or rather, what is the Muslim Brotherhood?

To many, the Muslim Brotherhood is a statistic – it reads; Freedom and Justice Party; 253 from a total of 498 seats translating into a 47.2% majority. To others, the Brotherhood is less Hassan Al Banna and more Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, and to the rest, the Muslim Brotherhood is the new (old) Egypt. Either way, the Brotherhood is now at the cusp of meaningful historical institutional change in Egypt and for the first time since 1928, they have the means to make it count. However, despite their electoral gains (many say expectedly so) in the recent lower house elections in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is slowly feeling the squeeze of responsibility – Egyptians are hungry for progress and the Brotherhood must now deliver.

Here in the West, there are still certain sections that see the Muslim Brotherhood as the bud of a greater evil that needs to be avoided at all cost. The memory of Hosni Mubarak’s removal on the 11th of February last year is now being replaced with the possibility of having to deal with Islamists at the helm of the Egypt of the future. To the sceptics, the uncompromising ambition of the Brotherhood to establish a state ruled by Sharia, the stance it adopts against Israel and the United States and the Brotherhood’s commitment towards human rights is of great concern. Understandably, as with any new regime anywhere in the world, old friends as well as old foes have good reason to be wary of what is to come.

It is a real mystery why it has taken so long for the international community to realize that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going away anytime soon. The once ally to Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser has seen purge after purge attempting to eliminate it, and yet despite Nasser’s best efforts at violent crackdown on the Brotherhood’s political role, it survived throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. Even under the restrictions and hurdles that the Brotherhood had to endure under Sadat and subsequently under Mubarak, the Brotherhood still managed to somehow find a nice quite corner on the political spectrum in Egypt for itself.

The important thing to consider is this;

If the Brotherhood were really Islamists who were interested in being radicals, by right, they would have done so a long time ago. Instead, the Brotherhood has, since the 1970’s, refrained from engaging in any violent activism. Furthermore, it has also over the years, consciously made an effort to move into mainstream politics in Egypt, which is remarkable considering how futile and pointless mainstream politics really was during the Mubarak years. The Brotherhood first participated in local and parliamentary elections as independent candidates in 1984 and has consistently been involved in subsequent elections since then. In 2005, it won 88 seats in the parliament which made up about 20% of the legislature and at that point, it constituted the largest opposition block against the Mubarak regime. Tactically, it has displayed that it is willing to work within the system even when the system was broken – something which is worthy of a mention, a testament to their patience and an indication of a more moderate motivation than a radical one.

Moreover, and rather cynically, I would point out that the beauty of a democratic system lies in its respect for the public’s will. And it would be rather arrogant to discount the validity of the choice that the Egyptian public has made at the polls on the account that the outcome fits rather awkwardly with what all of us had in mind.

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back”

What about the Brotherhood’s historic ties with Al Qaeda?

One of the biggest concerns when discussing the Brotherhood is that of the connection between it and Al Qaeda.

Understandably, there are many out there who unequivocally deem the connection to be too close for comfort. They share the view that Al Qaeda is a spawn from the words of Sayyid Qutb who was once a member of the Brotherhood and by the thinnest of implications, this fact is used to pin culpability to the Brotherhood as being ‘just the same’. Moreover, it has become an open secret by now that Ayman Al Zawihiri was a great admirer of Qutb and his involvement with the Brotherhood at a young age makes it that much harder for a reasonable person to ignore the fact that the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and subsequently Al Qaeda has some roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is no denying that the Brotherhood is a strong intellectual movement that has influenced great swaths of individuals – it has inspired many and many have taken inspiration from it. However, as we are rarely convinced by spurious causations to quench our curiosity, it would therefore be, in the words of Ed Hussain, a Senior Fellow from the Council for Foreign Relations, “wrong for us to make the brotherhood responsible for the actions of all of its intellectual offspring”.

The truth is that public spats between Ayman Al Zawahiri and the Muslim Brotherhood have become somewhat of a permanent fixture in the Islamists fight for broad based support amongst Egyptians and the Arab world in general. In attempts at ‘out Muslim-ing’ the Muslim Brotherhood, Zawahiri has not been shy to be publicly at logger heads with the Brotherhood on issues such as the Brotherhood’s participation in previous elections under Mubarak – claiming amongst others, that the Brotherhood had ‘abandoned’ the religion for democracy. It would be careless for us to forget that even early on during the Egyptian revolution when Al Qaeda called for violent Jihad amongst the Egyptians in the midst of all the protests – the Muslim Brotherhood was quick to disassociate and condemn these statements from Al Qaeda by insisting on their firm stance against using violence. The long standing exchange of blows (no pun intended) between the two entities is indicative of the undeniable gap between the Brotherhood and the more robust militant Salafists approach of conducting politics and promoting Islam.

Moreover, further proof of the Brotherhood’s moderate tendencies is the restraint that they exercised in the early stages of the revolution in self limiting their own involvement in the revolution to maintain the pedestrian character of the protests. Keep in mind that members of the Brotherhood were also amongst the many whom alongside others, protected Christians during prayers and pledged early support for the seemingly western oriented El Baradei.

Frightening as it is, an objective observer must firstly come to terms with the reality that although the discourse coming out of the Brotherhood is wrapped rather thickly with religious overtones, the Brotherhood’s true bite which allows it to resonate convincingly with the larger Egyptian public has more to do with its sensitivity towards very real contemporary social and economic problems in Egypt rather than the seemingly abstract conception of an Islamic state. Today, their political grievance is only different from others in so far as it is expressed through a religious worldview, in which other worldviews, like that of the Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism, can equally perform the same function. Hence, although these real life ‘worldly’ problems like unemployment and social welfare are expressed through reference to religion instead of a 20th century thinker, it does not necessarily make those grievances a purely religious one.

Furthermore, over the years, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown a willingness of moving away from explicit Islamist content as a political platform and has opted instead for more moderate positions on different issues. Even their language has changed to reflect their mood. The Brotherhood nowadays hardly ever mentions an Islamic state anymore, rather they lay claim to the ambition of creating a democratically viable civil state with references to Islam. They have also seen it fit to pledge a willingness to work with other secular and liberal parties, and recently announced that they intend to include as many groups as possible from different backgrounds to work together for the future of Egypt. In addition, the Brotherhood also recently pledged their willingness to respect any treaties that Egypt has previously signed and have indicated that they intend to uphold their end of the Camp David treaty as long as Israel does the same. The rebranding efforts of the Brotherhood is in no means a recent development, and we need only to look at their efforts in 2005, when the Brotherhood launched an internal rebranding effort meant to fix their image in the West and to ultimately soothe any lingering suspicions that the Brotherhood is dangerous.

The Brotherhood’s increasing sensitivity to public opinion is a good sign for the future of Egypt. Their awareness is an indication of a more pragmatic approach towards politics instead of the usual ideological swash buckling, hardcore, and unflinching approach that is synonymous to the kind of Islamist group we have in our minds. Moreover, if the Brotherhood is made to realize that there is more at stake to be in cooperation with the West through Western assistance either in the form of monetary, trade or investment incentives, it will be less likely that the Brotherhood would be willing to engage willy-nilly in precarious and controversial policies. Surely even the Muslim Brotherhood knows that the last thing any transitioning democracy needs are more reasons for its legitimacy to be undermined both domestically and internationally. The Brotherhood would be wise not to squander their decades of patience with rash policy making. In any case, as long as the Brotherhood can keep the gains that it can get from the West to itself without looking too much like the Nasser elites of old and distribute these gains to the public appropriately, they wouldn’t find it too hard to justify their relationship to the West to any reasonable Egyptian.

In the long run, the Brotherhood would see it fit to take positive measures on issues such as internal security from destabilizing forces of terrorism like Al Qaeda to ensure its own survival. Like any government, improving the living conditions of Egyptians and ensuring that the new democratic system in place is not lost in transition to more extreme elements will come naturally – aspirations which to say the least, are congruent with the overall interests of nations in the West.

The rise of the pragmatic, more moderate group of Islamists into government deals a hard hand to the Al Qaeda circles who have for a very long time now advocated for violent resistance and revolution to institute change. However, as it is telling till this very day, their brand of change and the method in which that change is brought about is slow coming – a far cry from the difference that moderate political Islam has made in the past year. The message is clear – indiscriminate violence is so yesterday.

The only sticking point in the new arrangement of power in Egypt for the West is that of the Brotherhood’s stance against Israel and its association with Hamas. Of all of the revisions that will occur, the slowest change will happen here – and this is largely due to the greater context of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and the long history behind it. However, if there is any consolation, the ascendency of the Muslim Brotherhood is slowly having a moderating effect on Hamas themselves. Speaking a day after the Brotherhood electoral success, Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas spoke to the press to highlight that the rising political power of Islamists in Egypt and everywhere else in the Arab world is encouraging Hamas to moderate its policies and adopt more peaceful methods to affect change.

“I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”

Either way, the way I see it, we can either moan all we want and continue to shout at the top of our lungs that we wanted a purely liberal group of individuals with little interest in fusing religion with state affairs to emerge as the replacement of Mubarak in Egypt, or we could start to smarten up and realise that considering the nature of the Brotherhood – the commitment to non violence that they have shown and their more moderate approach towards Islam and its relationship to the state – the world maybe has found the right partner to end this decade with.

In terms of priorities, what needs to be avoided at all costs at the moment is the possibility of Jihadist elements in Egypt (either through government in the form of the Al Nour party or outside government through any other means) hijacking the progress that the country has made. It would be prudent to constantly keep in mind that the Salafi section of Egypt will be relishing the opportunity to capitalize on any short comings of the Brotherhood in attempt to strengthen its own support base. We simply cannot afford to let the claim that the Brotherhood is not Muslim enough to gain resonance with the public for fear that this will be the inroad which will lead to more extreme elements gaining traction in the country and ultimately reverse the progress in Egypt.

Only time will tell and will reveal if the Brotherhood is pulling a fast one on all of us, but as it stands, we have good reasons to be optimistic of what is ahead. Yes, they might not be liberals (not that everyone should be), but at least they are democrats – and it is up to us now take the road less travelled by.

Meor Alif