Forcing political Islamists into a ‘nothing to lose’ position – the right move?

‘Political Islamists are criminals and must be prosecuted!’ is an argument frequently made by many Egyptians who believe that this segment of society forms the only clear and present danger to their country. However (and regardless of the fact that neither ethical values nor the rule of law are truly functioning in Egypt today), can we realistically envisage prosecuting and criminalizing a few million Egyptians? After decades of unsuccessful attempts to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood, followed by 365 days of empowerment, has severe and aggressive prosecution managed to dispose of this portion of Egyptian society?

In my opinion, political Islam may be likened to a chronic disease that is spreading randomly through the Egyptian body. As it spreads, the disease is harming and damaging numerous healthy cells and could very well end in full body failure. So long as the government (especially in light of its overall economic shortfalls) maintains its repressive policies and continues to deal unjustly with this segment of society, political Islamists will continue to be active, hiding behind the label of Islam and propounding political Islam’s illusions and its unattainable vision.

I beleive the current conviction that the ruler can perform surgery to remove the unhealthy cells and retain the healthy ones is based on a false and temporary line of reasoning; unjustly criminalizing thousands of innocent people might temporarily weaken the Muslim Brotherhood’s organizational capabilities – but it will not affect their organization’s appeal among Egyptians. The Muslim Brotherhood may be experiencing a period of temporary dysfunction but it will revive itself as soon as the opportunity arises.

Enhancing sympathy

Persistent media harassment of the Muslim Brotherhood has succeeded in making a few TV presenters wealthy, but it has not diminished the validation that the organization receives from its members or reduced its ability to mobilize the poor during elections (especially since the current ruling regime has not offered misguided Muslim Brotherhood followers any attractive structural alternative). The government’s postponement of Parliamentary elections testifies to the soundness of this argument.

In my opinion, the current blatantly unjust government policy vis-à-vis political Islamists serves to enhance affiliated citizens’ sympathy for political Islam organizations. There is a great deal of diversity among political Islamists; they do not all belong to one entity and they cannot be lumped together in a single basket. The current policy is simply pushing moderate Islamists to become outraged Islamists, outraged Islamists to become extremists and extremist Islamists to become terrorists. The obvious result of this policy is to transform most members of political Islam either into active terrorists or into passive potential ones.

People engaged in wars are well prepared by their respective nations for the possibility of being injured or losing their lives in the course of battle. Terrorists, meanwhile, are equipped and ready for the worst, knowing full well that their bodies will certainly be blown into pieces in the aftermath of their terrorist acts. Rather than extricate citizens from political Islam, the government’s current severe and unfair policy is forcing political Islamists into a ‘nothing to lose’ position, thus definitely motivating more citizens to become terrorists. The government should focus its efforts on undermining the motivational factors that drive political Islamists, not on intensifying these factors further.

While it is my opinion that political Islamists should not rule Egypt, I also believe that they must not be unjustly criminalized. We need to contain this segment of our society somewhere in the middle ground by including it in the political decision-making process without allowing it to be at the helm. Exposing the false beliefs of political Islamists will take some time and will also require providing an alternative ruling regime structure (that we currently lack). We need to give these people hope for a better future, which entails engaging them to become positive, productive members of Egyptian society. Proper application of the rule of law will help to alleviate the enormous tension that Egypt is now living with and could enable us to break free of the present deadlock that the government has created.

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