Secular democrats must come up with a message of opposition that says 'yes' to Islam, but 'no' to sharia – in other words, a campaign that emphasizes a separation of religion from politics.
In 1985 as a teenager in Kenya, I was an adamant member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Seventeen years later, in 2002, I took part in a political campaign to win votes for the conservative party in the Netherlands. Those two experiences gave me some insights that I think are relevant to the current crisis in Egypt. They lead me to believe it is highly likely but not inevitable that the Muslim Brotherhood will win the elections to be held in Egypt this coming September.
As a participant in an election campaign, I learned a few basic lessons.
1. The party must have a political program all members commit to with a vision of how to govern the country until the next election. Dissent within the party is a sure way of losing elections.
2. Candidates must articulate not only what they will do for the country but also why the other party’s program will be catastrophic for the nation.
3. The party has to be embedded in as many communities as possible, regardless of social class, religion, or even political views.
4. Candidates must constantly remind potential voters of their party’s record of success and the opponent’s record of failure.
The secular democratic and human rights groups in Egypt and in the rest of the Arab world show little sign of understanding these facts of political life. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, gets at least three out of four. True, they have never been in office. But they have a political program and a vision not only until the next elections, but in their view until the hereafter. And they are very good at reminding Egyptians of why the other party’s policies will be ungodly and therefore catastrophic for Egypt. Above all, they have succeeded in embedding themselves in Egyptian society in ways that could prove crucial.
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