The Egyptian government has stepped back a few inches from the brink, by postponing the immediate effect of a court order disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood, prohibiting its activities and confiscating all its assets, but it should take a stronger position, by actively opposing in court the lawsuit brought by the National Progressive Unionist Party, a left-wing secularist group. Instead, the Minister of Social Solidarity, Ahmed El-Borai, said that enforcement of the order would simply be on hold until the legal action is concluded.
For all the Brotherhood’s numerous faults, Egypt can hardly become a functioning democracy without the participation of a movement that has the support of a very large section of Egyptian society, as was demonstrated by the election of Mohammed Morsi as president in 2012, with 52 per cent of the voters on the second round. He has since been deposed and is in detention.
On Monday, the NPUP (commonly known as Tagammu) obtained an order from the Court of Urgent Matters, dissolving the Brotherhood, outlawing its activities and seizing all its property. In a sense, this is nothing new. The Brotherhood has been underground for most of its existence, but by the same token, Egypt has never been a democracy.
The very fact that Tagammu was successful in winning an interim order to suppress a whole party and movement tends to confirm the view that the Egyptian judiciary is overcommitted to the military regime that lasted from the Free Officers’ coup of 1952 to the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 – and which in effect has been renewed and restored by the takeover this year by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, under General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi.
Some may say that this litigation has little relevance. The Muslim Brotherhood continues its activities in many parts of Egypt – both its social, even charitable, activities and its currently low-level violent conflict with the police and the army.
Nonetheless, Egypt will never arrive at the rule of law and democracy unless the secular nationalists and the Islamists achieve some kind of mutual tolerance and an acceptance of peaceful changes of government, as a result of reasonably fair elections.