The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: What is "Brotherhoodization?"

This translation of an Arabic press article is brought to us by Industry Arabic, a great service that provides bespoke translation services to and from Arabic. Check them out.

Over the last few weeks — prior to the silly distraction of “Innocence of Muslims” — Egypt’s commentariat was obsessed with one word: ikhwana, or “Brotherhoodization”. President Muhammad Morsi’s greater authority since he sacked the heads of SCAF, his appointments of several governors and other public officials, and the composition of the new government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil (who, incidentally, is getting more positive reactions after the initial “who dat?”), had led many to complain that the Muslim Brotherhood is implementing a majoritarian, winner take all, attitude to democracy. Former ruling party officials often alleged that the Muslim Brothers did not just want to replace the government, they want to replace the state. This debate has now returned.

Ziad Bahaaeldin, a former MP and leader of the Social Democratic Party, writes below in a piece that captures — and criticizes — some of the haziness of the term as used by some hysterical elements of the place, as well as where it might be legitimate.

What is “Brotherhoodization of the State”….and Why Are We Afraid of It?

By Ziad Bahaaeldin, al-Shorouk, 11 September 2012

The “Brotherhoodization” of the state is the current issue of the day and a source of apprehension for many who worry that the Muslim Brotherhood is on its way to taking over Egypt and Egypt’s institutions. What is the meaning of this? Is there really any reason to worry?

If what is meant by “Brotherhoodization” is that the ministers, governors, and those who occupy supreme executive posts belong to or are close to the Muslim Brotherhood or the Freedom and Justice Party, this is normal and does not constitute a deviation from the right path to democracy or a cause for worry. The winner of parliamentary and presidential elections (even by a slight margin) has the right and duty to govern and try to apply the policies and platform that it promised people. Otherwise, there would be no democracy, elections, responsibility or accountability. Therefore, consternation at the “Brotherhoodization” of the government is out of line.

The problem is that the government is one thing, and the state something else entirely. If appointing ministers and governors from among the ruling party constitutes a sound application of democracy, then striving to take over the press, civil, judicial and security institutions of the state – among others – has no connection to democracy at all. It abolishes the independence and impartiality of public institutions and paves the way for a single political ideology to maintain its hold on power and exclude its competitors.

There is a need, then, to distinguish between the government and the state, which is neither an easy or self-evident matter. However, it is a pillar of sound democracy as it is known in all countries of the world, where there are political posts that must change with a change in the ruling party and be occupied by “politicians” affiliated with the political current that won the election. But there are also other posts in the state that should not be affected by an alternation in governments, whether because they grant independence to the administrative apparatus or because the nature of their role requires independence from party politics and political ideologies.

To implement this, the party that wins a majority brings along with it the president, his supporters, and members of parliament, then the prime minister and the cabinet, then (in some countries) the governors and the heads of some public bodies directly linked to the function of the executive. The wisdom in this is that the ruling party is able to implement the policies that it promised to people, and the opposition is able to monitor, track and criticize the actions of the ruling party until the next elections take place, when both sides – the government and the opposition – claim their share of votes once again, and competition continues over who will govern.

On the other hand, there are high posts in the state where the above system does not apply, including:

  • Posts whose occupants do not change with a change in government or ruling party as a manifestation of the independence and continuity of the state’s administrative apparatus, such as deputy ministers and senior officials in state bodies, agencies and institutions, because they ensure the continuity of work and provision of services to citizens without the administrative apparatus being paralyzed and disturbed every time there is a change in government. In some countries, the ministry has a “managing director” (the first deputy minister in conventional terms), above whom the political ministers alternate. However, he remains in his place because his job is a technocratic or technical one, and he cannot display political bias.
  • Posts that may be occupied by those who have a political affiliation or bias, but who are appointed either by election (as is the case with governors and university presidents, for example) or on the bases of clear, objective professional and practical considerations that go beyond a simple political litmus test (as should be the case with the heads of banks and state-owned companies, and the editors-in-chief of newspapers and the newspapers’ boards, among others). Consequently, they may not be replaced upon a change in government or ruling party, because they occupy their positions by virtue of professional qualifications.
  • Then there are posts that may not be held by those who hold party affiliation of any type – whether concealed or avowed – because they are connected to state agencies that must be independent under the law and may not have any political bias, whether because they preserve the security of the state or because they exercise oversight over the other state institutions and so must remain independent of them. Chief among these institutions is the armed forces, the police, the judiciary – of every type and at every level – the Central Bank, the Central Auditing Organization, the Administrative Control Authority, the Office of the Public Prosecution and the diplomatic corps, among others. A judge may hold a personal stance toward a certain issue, but he should not belong to a political party; an ambassador may hold private views, but he should remain a representative of the entire country and not of the ruling party; the head of the Central Auditing Organization or the Administrative Control Authority may incline toward a particular intellectual orientation in the depths of his heart, but he must oversee every state employee – including the president and the prime minister – so it is not appropriate for him to “belong” to their political party or to the opposition.
  • Finally, there are posts and positions that should not be the manifestation of a single party, but of diversity and plurality, and represent all political and intellectual currents, because they are a representation of the people as a whole by their very nature. These include the national councils for human rights, women, and the media, and then of course and above all else, the Constituent Assembly drafting the constitution. These positions do not renounce partisan politics or political affiliation, but they derive their strength from providing balanced representation for all political orientations and social forces, and they acquire their credibility from this diversity, and the fact that they are not dominated by a single political ideology, even though this ideology may be supported by the majority of the country.

Therefore, if it is normal and consistent with democracy that ministers and governors should be appointed from among Islamists, then taking over the media, the constitution drafting process, and the councils that protect human rights, women and freedom of speech contradicts and violates that same concept. The issue here is not with Islamists or anyone else, but the general principle. We are still at the threshold of a new democratic experiment, and we must put in place its rules correctly and impartially, establish sound bases for politics and the role of both the government and the opposition, and provide for the independence of the civil, security, judicial and press institutions of the state as a matter of general practice, regardless of who is in power today and who will take their place tomorrow. Change is necessary, but it must be on bases on rules that achieve consensus within society, and exclude the possibility that one political ideology may take over institutions that, in the end, are the possession of all citizens.