It’s tempting to see the chaos in Egypt, with President Mohamed Morsi ousted and his Muslim Brotherhood party discredited, as just another failure of government. But there’s another aspect to this failure — and that is religion.
It’s conceivable that if human beings didn’t have to eat, the holy clerics who have been running Egypt into the ground over the past year would still be in power. But if they want to ever regain their credibility with the people who soured on them, they will have to learn a lesson that every religion needs to learn: God is not great at finding jobs and building economies.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded more than 80 years ago on a philosophy that “Islam is the solution.” Well, it’s not. Islam, like any religion, can nourish your soul, increase your self-esteem, give you an identity and comfort you in times of grief. But it can’t run a government effectively, especially not a democratic government that is accountable to all the people.
The Brotherhood is accountable first and foremost to Allah, their all-powerful God who determines their every act and belief.
A newly translated book on Islam, “The Laws of Da’wa,” published in 1995 by an official Brotherhood leader and reported in the Jerusalem Post, explains the movement’s ideology: “The Brotherhood’s objectives [are] of advancing the global conquest of Islam and reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate, the public and private duties of jihad and the struggle Muslims must wage against Israel.”
Not exactly the kind of ideology geared toward more mundane stuff like creating jobs, attracting more tourism, liberating women, improving education or energizing a country’s economy.
Those millions of people who demonstrated throughout Egypt weren’t just screaming for their rights and their freedoms. They were screaming because so many of them are jobless and hungry.
Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalists took a suffering nation desperate for life’s essentials and managed to make things even worse. “Inflation, unemployment, government debt and poverty have all swollen markedly during Mr. Morsi’s short tenure,” the Economist reported. “Shortages of fuel and power are now chronic.”
In the end, hard reality — things like, “What will our children eat tonight?” or “We don’t have enough gas to go to the hospital” — always trumps religion.
Religion, when followed zealously, imbues zealots with the arrogance that comes from “owning” the divine truth. When you’re so intoxicated with this truth, when you believe with absolute certitude that everyone else must have this truth, it is impossible to allow other truths and realities to penetrate your consciousness — which is precisely what a democratically elected leader is obligated to do. As Daniel Brumberg wrote on CNN’s Web site, “Despite [Morsi’s] inauguration day promise to represent ‘all Egyptians,’ in the year that followed, Brotherhood leaders communicated intolerance and arrogance to both their secular rivals and their Salafi competitors.”
Drunk on their truth, devoid of good ideas and suddenly in a position of power, the Islamists couldn’t help themselves: They simply made a grab for more power.
It’s not a coincidence that the Brotherhood was more respected and valued in Egypt when it was not in power — when it was focused on being a religion, and not on coercing a country.
Blinded by their arrogance, Morsi and the Brotherhood forgot the one crucial ingredient that comes with gaining democratic power: accountability.
Whoever runs Egypt in the future is now on notice: Don’t ever forget that above and beyond everything else, above religion and above fancy statements of freedom and constitutions and human rights, the most fundamental human right is the right to work and feed your family.