Dinner with an M.B. supporter- Democracy in the Middle East (DIME) #1

As everyone was preparing for the end of Ramadhan in the U.S, I was busy moving into a new apartment, close to the mosque on North Main Street in Blacksburg. Among other things, this new location gives me access to the mosque and also a grocery store. I am thankful for this, and to test out how long it would take me to walk to the mosque, I headed over to the mosque to pray, the day I moved to the new place. Not only did I end up eating a sumptuous meal with a total stranger, who turned out to be a Muslim brotherhood (M.B) supporter, but I also got a close look into the mind of someone who captures the complexity of emotions and thoughts that many M.B supporters are going through, given the current political and social instability in Egypt.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Salaam brother,” what time is the Taraweeh prayer today?

Stranger: Not for another hour brother. Have you broken fast today?

Me: No. I am not fasting today. Please go ahead and break your fast.

Stranger: Sure, but why don’t you join me. I have a lot of food her, and can’t finish it myself. Let’s eat together. Please join me.

Me: Sure, thank you. Be with you in a minute.

I joined the stranger, who we shall called Mohammed, perhaps the most common first name in Egypt. Turns out he is a PhD student in the Engineering school at Virginia Tech. After the preliminary courtesies, he enquired about my background and what I was doing in Blacksburg. I told him that I am a PhD student myself and studying Philanthropy in the U.S

Mohammed: That’s interesting. We have a lot of charity and giving in our society. There is a saying that no one dies of hunger in Egypt.

Me: That is interesting as well. I do know that Egyptians are generous people, but what about the current situation and unemployment in Egypt? What do you make of it?

Mohammed: Well it is bad, but not as bad as the media make it out to be. All my friends have jobs, the educated ones at least and may be they don’t have exactly the job they want, but they are not starving. The current political turmoil has everyone anxious, but trust me, it is not as bad.

Me: That is an interesting perspective, you seem to be an optimist.

Mohammed: Well, yes I am an optimist but also a realist. I don’t think media are portraying what is going on in Egypt clearly. There is a lot of misleading information and half-truths out there.

Me: Such as?

Mohammed: The fact that the second “revolution” was in fact real. I think it was orchestrated entirely, to get the Morsi government out of power. While I used to support Morsi and even voted for him, I think he was unfit to rule. I am happy that he is out of power, since he could have destroyed the country, but his ouster certainly not democratic.

Me: Do you still support M.B?

Mohammed: As a party, it stands for solidarity and social justice, but I think under Morsi, it went to extremes, and I don’t support that. Extremism was their undoing. I think there is a possibility of compromise and I would like to see that happen. Ultimately, we are talking about our country, and not political parties or the Army

Me: But isn’t that paradoxical? A party that took away the rights of their opposition and forced their way through, with little regard for the minorities’ viewpoint?

Mohammed: Yes, precisely, the M.B has been persecuted for decades and once they came to power, they did not know how to govern. This, in my opinion is the issue. A mediated settlement with all parties involved, is something we should aim for. Fighting over ideological issues is not going to help anyone.

Me: So would you consider yourself a M.B supporter now?

Mohammed: I would consider myself a reformed supporter. I think we have seen how badly they have governed, so need to chastise them and also keep checks on their power. But to keep them out of the public sphere would be foolish. They were banned during the Mubarak regime, had to organize and operate clandestinely and only with the Morsi victory did they get a chance to rule. But the fact that they went over-board and let nepotism be the state policy was damaging.

“The M.B supporters put the party above their nation, and that was their downfall,” he pointed out, rather poignantly.

Mohammed represents a side of the story that of often not told, in the narratives of Egypt or M.B, that of a self-critical loyalist, one who is willing to criticize and often pull back his support from a party that he believes represents the aspirations of the average Egyptian. While it is best not to quote numbers and statistics, that no one is sure of, such anecdotal narratives to provide a window, although in a limited manner, into the minds of M.B loyalists. If this is how even if a small minority of them are thinking – then I am optimistic for Egypt. This line of thinking represents a reform movement, one that challenges traditional authority and can be the seeds of change, in the long-term. The fact that this is emerging internally, within the supporters of M.B is another positive sign.

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