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Even within the Brotherhood, a decades-long debate on reconciling Islam as a revealed religion with liberal democracy has yet to be settled, resulting in splits and high-level defections. A younger generation in the group wants to rely on persuasion to gain support while an old guard sticks to al-sama’ wa’l-ta’a, or “hearing and obeying.”
Now an Islamic movement founded by an Egyptian schoolteacher in 1928 faces the kind of protests that brought down a secular dictator. Protesters even chant the same word used in 2011: “Leave.”
Many Egyptians, or at least those in major cities, appear to be worried that their country might follow the path of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, in which Islamic leaders cite holy writ for secular authority more than they do public polls or election results.
The current protests show Egyptians trust democracy itself but they want more checks and balances on the power of elected leaders. Distrust is built into any democracy as a way to prevent the abuse of power by a few even if the system itself requires public trust.
“Trust is a kind of shorthand for a whole range of expectations and emotions about the content of our public life,” writes British philosopher Marek Kohn in a 2008 book, “Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good.”
As in personal relations, trust in government requires a great deal of openness and equality. Those traits are not well practiced within the Brotherhood’s strict hierarchy. It will need to adjust quickly if it wants to win back the support of Egyptians.