A few days after the first Egyptian parliamentary elections since the January 25 popular uprising, all indications are that the Islamists are heading for a landslide victory. As an Egyptian liberal, I congratulate them on their victory, for this is how democracy works –one respects the results no matter what the outcome is.
Even though there are some limited policies on which Egyptian liberals and Islamists agree, though they differ on methodology and justification, there is a lot that we generally disagree on. Therefore, policy-making and dialogue between liberals and Islamists will be cooperative at times, but it will mostly be competitive at all other times. Differences of opinion, as long as there is a freedom to express them, engenders creative solutions for the very difficult problems that our nation faces today.
But regardless of our differences and agreements, there are liberal values that neither I nor Egypt’s true liberals will ever compromise. In this brief post, I highlight what these fixed values are.
1. The right to criticize the policies of the Islamists is an absolute right that political opponents will never concede, for freedom of expression is a right and a patriotic role in the context of this manifesto. Islamists may choose to ignore liberals’ opinions, for that is their right. Or, they may choose to consider these policy opinions and engage liberals in dialogue without the ever-so-popular accusations of treason and conspiracy theories that permeates Egyptian culture. In that case, liberals will engage in dialogue with open arms, for this is all for the sake of our country. However, if Islamists choose to pursue authoritarian, single party policies–-imprisonment for political opponents to name one–-one can only remind them of the former regime and how its oppression of opponents ended. Oppression will not benefit Islamists on the long run. Islamists, in particular, should have learned that lesson very well as the subjects of political oppression over the last 60 years.
2. Islamists do not have a monopoly over religion. Criticism of their policies is not a criticism of either God or the religion of Islam. Islamist parties may believe that they are the parties of God, but they may not deny faith to others. Anyone who opposes Islamists policies is neither, by necessity, an atheist, apostate, or infidel.
3. I personally, as I am sure many other Egyptian liberals do, will abide by the most general principles of liberalism that sees a critical role for religion (and values) in society. These principles and their implications were described in a previous article (Arabic) on this website and that was also published on the Muslim Brotherhood’s own English website (English).
4. Based on that interpretation of liberalism, the rights of the individual and her/his freedom in using her/his mind, thoughts, beliefs, body and property are absolute rights. The only way to influence an individual’s choices would be through voluntary discourse.
5. This discourse will not be free or voluntary if any governmental agencies (paid for by religious and non-religious Egyptian tax-payers) are used to socially engineer individuals’ choices. Liberals will stand opposed to using State media agencies in changing public opinion or influencing their opinions. The only entities, religious or secular, allowed to influence public choices are the nongovernmental ones.
6. Any economic policies built on some interpretation of religious scripture and that are not founded on any solid scientific or logical reasoning will be criticized freely and constructively.
This manifesto is by no means a rejection of the results of the elections, but it is a mere reminder about how the democratic process works. Again, I salute Islamist parties for their victories, for this could indeed be a victory for the nascent Egyptian democracy. Though if Islamists choose to participate in the democratic process, then they have to accept this process in its fullest meaning. This manifesto seeks to spell out that meaning.
For this Islamist victory to mean anything to them, and to the whole of Egypt, Parliament has to have real powers. As of this moment, all power remains in the hands of the unelected Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). For Parliament to have any powers, full transition of power to an elected civilian government has to be achieved, and soon. Islamists have to work hand in hand with their opposition parties to help force SCAF to give up powers. While we all thank the SCAF and the Armed Forces for the role they played in recent events in Egypt, our gratitude will be a thousandfold if they give up power and soldiers go back to their barracks. For that is the only proper role for any armed forces to take up. When they do well protecting this country, and not rule it, we will genuinely salute them for their work and sacrifices.