THERE were three elements that led to the Arab "awakening" only to become a political force embraced by the masses and feared by the rulers. These elements are an issue of religion and state. This was the case of the relationship between the state and the Islamic political organizations spanning more than four decades. Then came the revolutions of the Arab Spring accompanied by major political results that favor these organizations, specifically in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won the parliamentary and presidential elections. In Tunisia they won a majority in Parliament, and consequently the position of prime minister. The same also occurred in Morocco. The reason behind this is simple and logical: When the revolutions took place, political Islam in these countries gained the support of stronger opposition organizations and thus could enjoy the most popular base.
But strangely and swiftly, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — after becoming the ruling party — entered in a political stalemate with the community. There is a similar crisis with the “Alnahdah Group” in Tunisia, but to a lesser extent thus far. The most serious issue that faces these organizations is that by becoming the ruling power, it did not change the political process a great deal. Also, more seriously, the street, which had apparently supported them before the revolution, became divided on this subject after the revolution, especially in Egypt. This is an indication of rapid and sudden retreat of the "awakening movement." No one imagined that hundreds of thousands would go out to the streets and stage sit-ins in protest at the first indication from President Muhammad Mursi of the acquisition of all the powers of the state. In Egypt in particular, there is a sharp and bitter conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents, but it seems that this is nothing more than a scene interface.
The scene of the crisis suggests that something has not surfaced yet. Part of the conflict is power-related with the Muslim Brotherhood, along with the Salafis on the one hand, and what has come to be nominated as civil powers on the other. This is evident on the surface, but there is another aspect that is deeper and more important for both sides, as well as for society and the revolution as well. This is the ideological side, which is also undeclared. This aspect is related to the philosophical situation established by the state, specifically to the question of the relationship between religion and a state being democratic. The central question is: Could it be that a democratic state is something to do with religion, and that religion is an essential element, if not a governor, of the state's political vision and legislature? The problem here is not in the religion itself, nor in the state alone, but in their meeting together on one level, a political and legislative level of the community, where they should meet for the formation of a party. The position of the Islamic party, the Brotherhood, and the Salafis is known on this issue, but with differences and details that are no longer declared. The Brotherhood is closest in accepting the principle of pluralism and a form of democracy more than the Salafis are. But even Salafis, through participation in the elections, appear to be budging on some of the basic elements of their old position. It is notable in this context that Salafis accept a clause in the new constitution, which was ratified by the Constituent Assembly, stipulating that the people be the source of authority. But there are other clauses that put many restrictions and requirements on such material and others. What combines the Brotherhood and Salafis is that Shariah is the reference of democracy, and Al-Azhar is the reference in accordance with this constitution.
Civil forces are more divided on this issue. This is normal because it consists of organizations and streams with different backgrounds and with different intellectual and political orientations, and therefore, different interests. In addition, it consists of Muslims and Coptics (Christians), with a predominance of the size of Muslim groups among them. In principle, attitudes of Muslims and Christians are not always homogeneous on the issue of religion and state. Among these forces there are those who see the need to separate religion from the state, because without this separation, it is not possible to come to a democratic system that neutralizes the state on the subject of ideological differences, and thus save human and political rights for all citizens. The question is: What is the size of these forces? Are they the majority? Or, are they the minority among civil forces and not among the political forces in the Egyptian political scene? Some see the need to separate in principle, but are convinced that this position is not practical in political terms at this stage. They therefore find that there is no need to notify or claim it publicly. Also, there are those who refuse religious separation based on intellectual or political convictions, or both, but at the same time reject the formula of linking the state and religion the way the Brotherhood or Salafis want to do. On the Muslim side, they are convinced of refusing separation altogether, on the basis of a possibility of mating religion with democracy. But even Islamists can no longer speak out with all their positions as they did decades ago. Conditions at this stage no longer allow for that due to local and international accountability in particular. Perhaps the Brotherhood adjusted its position on this issue and has not changed in essence. The Salafi position seems to be the same with not much change, but circumstances of the current stage and the alliance with the Brotherhood has its demands. So the focus of power in its speech is the democratic issue of the equation and the removal of issue of religion from interest. We should remember here the question of “governance to God and not to the people.” This slogan raises sensitivities and doubts among the public and opponents both at home and abroad more than it brings forth political interests.
What does that mean? It means that political confrontation is direct, but the intellectual confrontation that establishes the political status quo is not direct. There are symbols and gestures in the speeches of the parties that lack clarity and a direct approach. Even the clash over the constitution, which is obvious, was not direct. Society has changed, and with it, the landscape and the rules of the political game also have changed, but the mechanisms and the interests of the parties in the game have not changed relative to one another and are not even close to doing so. This means that the severity of the current crisis in Egypt and its resistance to the solution as it expresses itself so far, in addition to the escalated crisis in Tunisia, all suggest that the revolution in fact is still in its infancy. There is a consensus to reject tyranny, and what looks like at least a consensus on the need for democracy as an exit from tyranny, and this was evident even before the revolution. The difficult question facing everyone is: What is this democracy? How it can be translated to the constitutional provisions everyone complies with? Who has to pay the price for this democracy? How should a relationship be between democracy and religion? In particular, parameters of the crisis in Egypt indicate that it is no longer in the interest of anyone to delay confronting this problem directly. In all honesty and sincerity, delay means continuing to play a political game under the cover of darkness and to play around the problem. This is compounded by the uncertainty, lack of confidence and a deepening of the crisis.
An intractable crisis on a compromise could push the scene to confront the real problematic issue of the revolution. The forces that hold the reins of the scene are not revolutionary forces and their interest is not to reach to the point of confrontation, and thus, the possibility of reaching a compromise. This leads to a spiral of compromises. The irony is that without compromise there will be a clash, then the intervention of the army, which will return the situation to square one. There are crises which require intermediate solutions, but there is no way out from another crisis except by only directly facing its nature and by the assessment of its requirements, and therefore, resolving them. Compromises in this kind of crisis are not solutions, but postponing for the worst. Reaching this impasse while the Muslim Brotherhood in power, together with the size of the protests against them in the street, suggests that the awakening has begun paying the price of the Spring.