Egypt’s opposition risks a dangerous hypocrisy | Rachel Shabi

A Muslim Brotherhood witchhunt and an army takeover are not be celebrated. The principles of the revolution are at stake

There is a terrible smell of hypocrisy coming out of Egypt’s opposition camp. As Adli Mansour, the transitional president, was sworn following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi, the army has been busy rounding people up. But instead of condemning the arrest of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members (including the group’s spiritual leaders) and the forced closure of Islamist media, key opposition figures have been justifying it.

Speaking to the New York Times, the prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei gave some caveats and guarantees, but broadly deferred to the military: “They are taking some precautionary measures to avoid violence; well, this is something that I guess they have to do as a security measure,” he said.

That’s an alarming stance to be taking right now, whilst also claiming to be dedicated to building consensus and inclusion – including for the Brotherhood.

One of the opposition’s many valid beefs with the Muslim Brotherhood was that arrests on jumped-up charges persisted under Morsi, and were in some ways worse than under the hated, overthrown dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. So how is it now OK for the opposition that fought so hard for such freedoms to be condoning what looks like a witchhunt of Brotherhood members?

It fits in with a wider pattern of dangerous inconsistency. Most obviously, the fact of inviting the army in to enforce this transitional period to begin with. To be clear, president Morsi was a disaster – power-grabbing and divisive, his majoritarian take forced the opposition out of any formal political process and left them with no choice but to play him at his own majority game, on the streets. The opposition’s resolve is both formidable and admirable: refusing to let go of those guiding principles of bread, freedom and dignity no matter what the military council and president Morsi have thrown at them over the past two years. That’s an enviable level of political engagement, as viewed from jaded, apathetic Britain.

But the manner of Morsi’s removal is nonetheless a tactical error. That’s not just because it gives the Brotherhood – already insular and defensive after years of persecution – a justified grudge to bear about being forcibly ejected from politics. It also comes across as an unprincipled flouting of the rules – the sort of flouting, in fact, that the Brotherhood became so hated for.

And, with Egypt being such a weather vane and influence in the Arab world the consequences of what just happened are far-reaching. Morsi’s foreign policy adviser Essam al-Haddad (now detained) had a point when he warned: “The message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims.”

The Brotherhood has always been mocked by al-Qaida and other violent extremists for choosing democratic politics. Now, those same extremists can use this turn of events in Egypt to prove their point.

The trouble now is that the media focus on political polarisation in Egypt – and its seeking out of voices to confirm that – has obscured the shading that exists between those two stark positions. Many Brotherhood supporters think that they messed up and need to learn hard lessons from the experience. Many revolutionaries are horrified at the sight of the army seemingly being welcomed back into power by cheering crowds. And some campaigners and protesters, such as Human Rights Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef, are speaking out over the arrest of Brotherhood members.

Those voices are critical now more than ever – and they need to be heeded. Like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood is a sizeable part of the political landscape and has to be a part of Egypt’s political future. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds