The People Chose Us: Inside the Mind of the Muslim Brotherhood

It is a simple matter, really. No matter how many people poured into the streets on June 30 to demand early presidential elections, Mohamed Morsi had a mandate to govern for four years. “We cannot accept the loss of legitimacy because this is not our demand to compromise,” said Ahmed Kamal, youth secretary for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Helwan. “It is the will of Egyptians who chose Morsi in the democratic process.”
Fair enough. But in the mind of his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, he had a mandate for far more. “The people chose us,” he continued. “The Islamic ideology is to apply to the whole of life, and this is the view of our party.” Kamal’s words are punctuated by one of the key issues Morsi’s supporters grasp at: legitimacy. “When Egyptians chose it – and we do not wish to impose it – we cannot accept the idea of jumping over its legitimacy.”

Many commentators over the past year have criticized the Brotherhood for a majoritarian view of democracy. Kamal’s comments appear to bear this out. Morsi’s narrow win in the presidential elections, perhaps coupled with the sizeable Islamist win in parliamentary elections, was enough to confirm and empower the triumph of Islam. In their view, opposing their political project, therefore, is opposing Islam itself.

This is made clear in a Facebook message issued by the Helwan FJP. As churches were burning across Egypt, they issued a statement listing a litany of the pope’s offenses. “For the Church to declare war against Islam and Muslims is the worst offense,” it read. “For every action there is a reaction.”

The above quote was, however, preceded by a sentence declaring the burning of churches to be a crime, and Kamal wished to clarify the meaning. “Islam is both acts of worship and a methodology for life,” he said. “We don’t say they are against us in our prayers and fasting, only that they are against Islam as a methodology.”

In fact, Kamal had reassuring words for Christians, even ironic in his description of the ideal state. “We have no problem with Copts at all, even after what they did. They allowed the church to manipulate them into a political position,” he said, equally criticizing the Azhar.  “This is not right in a civil country.”

Copts should freely enter politics as individuals, Kamal believes, for whatever trend they believe in. But men of religion should have no influence on the process. He stated this for both sides, although while in office the Brotherhood took little offense at imams who argued on behalf of Islamism.

But the Copts are victims also in the conspiracy to crush the Brotherhood. “Attacks on churches are being done by the feloul and their thugs,” he said, “Not pro-Morsi demonstrators.” He likened these attacks to the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria before the revolution. In the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, news emerged that the bombing was a state security operation meant to tarnish Islamists, but to date no one has been brought to trial. Kamal also noted testimonies of Coptic priests who called out for army and police protection of their churches, but to no avail.

“The oppressive regime is doing whatever possible to make people fight against each other and leave the regime alone,” he said. Kamal rejects the idea the Brotherhood has a hand in this fighting. “It is not fighting,” he said. “It is struggling, because we maintain our peacefulness. We are expecting more violence and killing in order to make us lose the acceptance of the general public.”

Why then does the Brotherhood continue? It is to stand in defense of their principles, Kamal says, whether the group is popular or not. But there is also a role for martyrdom. “We are waiting for death, but this is not a willingness simply to die,” as he tried to clarify the concept. “In Islam it is honorable to die for your country, your principles, your family, or your money.”

Many commentators here are critical also, blaming the Brotherhood for whipping the people into a religious frenzy.  Kamal wished to differentiate. “They are not ‘our’ people,” he said. “They are a collection of all Egyptian people. We can only be accountable for our people’s actions in the Muslim Brotherhood.”

This is necessary due to the result of the repressive attack on the sit-in. “Of the masses of people, most are peaceful but some can surrender to being pushed to the extremes,” he said.  “Some of them had weapons, maybe. But most violent people were thugs put there by the police.” Even so, Kamal explained what can be seen as a difference between non-violence and non-resistance.

“Gandhi is not necessarily our role model,” he said. “He was good and his people were brave, but we have our peaceful model as well as per our book and our principles. We do not have to be extremists in peace, just as we should not be extremists in violence.”

Kamal does not view the security forces as the enemy. They are only following orders and do not know any better. Still, their deaths pale in comparison to Brotherhood losses, and serve to prove his overall point.

“The number of police killed is almost insignificant compared to the two thousand killed and ten thousand injured on our side,” he said, citing Brotherhood figures. “This confirms our peacefulness.” While no definitive numbers have emerged on the death toll, the Ministry of Health has placed it at almost 900 since August 14, of which just over 100 are members of the security force. An independent count maintained by activists places the complete total death toll at over 1,600.

But just as the Brotherhood mixes between the legitimacy of democracy and Islam, they mix between the legitimacy of nonviolence and resistance. Their peacefulness is relative. “We are unarmed in front of their weapons,” he assures, “but we will resist them.

“To be peaceful is not just to stay silent and wait for bloodshed. We must defend our lives even by throwing stones.We cannot just accept that our country is being stolen.”

Image: Photo: Jayson Casper