The morning of elections, I marveled at the political acumen of the Muslim Brotherhood. By afternoon, I was disappointed.
At polling stations across Egypt the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party volunteers manned tables equipped with laptop computers and logged into the voter registration system to assist confused citizens where their vote must be cast. The volunteers wore yellow FJP hats and wrote down the requisite information on a specially designed party leaflet. It was a beautiful stroke – practical service to create last minute impressions. The only problem, I discovered later in the day, was that it was illegal.
Election law proscribed campaign activity during the final two days before the vote. Many parties violated the law by passing out literature to passers-by as well as those waiting captive in long lines to cast their ballot. The Brotherhood’s violation was simply more creative and effectual than all others. Shame on the rest for not thinking of it first.
But shame on the Brotherhood for doing it at all. Many volunteers denied knowing of the regulation, and likely they were innocent. Party leaders, however, either failed in knowing the law or failed more egregiously by ignoring it. Yet this is politics, which is rarely celebrated as an arena of virtue. Why then should disappointment reign?
I am among those not wishing to dismiss Islamist governance out of hand. A nation’s rulers should reflect the makeup of their people, and there is a place for religion (morality, virtue) in crafting legislation. While politics can corrupt religion – and vice versa – I would, in general, desire a God-fearing man or woman to represent me in office. Religion should promote the humility and other-centered-service required of transparent leadership. I would wish to believe the Muslim Brotherhood, being Muslims, might fit this bill.
The laptop affair violated not only the law, to which believers should submit, but also the ideals of religion. I am most familiar with Christianity, where Jesus says,
Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before me, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven … but when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mt. 6:1-4)
Truly the Brotherhood was giving to people in need. Perhaps the reward of electoral victory, having been seen by men, is enough for them.
I must pause before pronouncing anything concerning Islam, but I understand it contains similar sentiments:
If ye disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your (stains of) evil. And God is well acquainted with what ye do. (Qur’an, Baqarah, 271)
Seven people will be shaded by Allah under His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His. They are … (#6) A man who gives in charity and hides it, such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 2, no. 504)
Islamic morality champions niyyah, or intention, in weighing the value of good works. No man can state what was in the hearts of Brotherhood leaders when they crafted their polling station strategy. Yet they could have worked without their hats, without their leaflets, without ever mentioning their identity, and provided the exact same service.
I wish to believe an Islamist government will root out corruption. I wish to believe it will aim to create a just economic order. I worry about the absolutism of claiming ‘God’s will’ for that interpreted by men, but I wish to believe Islamist leaders are at heart decent, pious Muslims who fear God.
They may be, but early appearances suggest they are also politicians who seek to please men. It is an inauspicious start.