Not all in Egypt is chaotic.
The Muslim Brotherhood are repairing schools, serving the poor and beautifying streets.
While violent protests and political impasse grab the headlines, the Muslim Brotherhood has launched a much quieter campaign to commemorate the two year anniversary of the January 25 revolution.
Hatem Abd al-Akhir is the leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in the city of Helwan, to the south of Cairo.
‘We wanted to celebrate the revolution in a different way,’ he told Lapido Media. ‘But other parties are trying to interrupt society and start another revolution.’
The Muslim Brotherhood built its reputation on providing social service to the poor. As the economy declines and their popularity diminishes, they peg the opposition as agents of instability.
Ahmed Kamal is the FJP youth secretary in Helwan. ‘We’re trying to get Egypt into a new stage of building and development,’ he said to LM. ‘This is the message we want to convey both inside and outside Egypt.’
To do so, the Brotherhood is planting one million sapling trees throughout Egypt, one hundred of which are in Helwan. Kamal led teams of youth digging holes in the limited dirt of the urban landscape, boring even into the sidewalk.
Abd al-Akhir, meanwhile, participated in the effort to provide a million citizens with healthcare. An ophthalmologist, he offered free eye examinations to diabetic patients and at-cost treatment for any operation.
As the manager of the Helwan Eye Center, he assures normal costs for patients are 30 percent below market standard. Yet the centre still makes a small profit, illustrating a mix of business and charity, politics and social good.
‘The Muslim Brotherhood is a logistics service for advertising,’ he said describing the campaign. ‘We want to propagate values in our community which will help keep the peace.
‘When we offer low cost service we oblige others to not raise their prices above what is acceptable.’
But in a time of great social and political upheaval, it is unsurprising some are critical.
Ahmed Ezzalarab is the deputy chairman of the liberal, opposition Wafd Party. ‘They are trying to distract people by giving a different image of development, but it is too late,’ he told Lapido Media. ‘They are being exposed for their secret agenda which the people are rejecting.’
Ezzalarab does not dispute their social work, but recognizes it is necessary to oppose the Brotherhood for their poor record in power. In recent weeks train accidents and building collapses have claimed the lives of dozens of citizens.
‘Governance has never been worse in Egypt’s history,’ he said. ‘They cannot run the country administratively; everything they touch fails.’
But in describing a secret agenda, Ezzalarab appeals to conspiracy.
‘We are completely against the violence, which is working to distract the people from the peaceful nature of the opposition,’ he said. ‘It is being funded by Wahabi and Gulf money, because they are scared to see civil forces come to power.’
Ezzalarab believes the Brotherhood is panicking, fearful the army will step into the violence and unseat them from power. Perhaps he is right. Brotherhood leaders are clearly propagating the conspiracy theory.
Anas al-Qadi, Brotherhood spokesman said on the official MB website, Ikhwanweb.com: ‘This is the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood marking the memory of the revolution with greatly appreciated services, and so-called civil forces celebrating the revolution with flagrant acts of arson and violence, spreading chaos and destruction and vandalism.’
The website also accused one of the newly organized vigilante groups, Black Bloc, of being an arm of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Any of the various accusations may be correct, but they are presented without evidence and signal that both social service and social violence are a means to an end.
‘If you are trying to apply Islam as you understand it, you have to reach authority by all legal and peaceful means,’ said Kamal. ‘To do this you have to show people why they must support you.’
Kamal was responding to the charge that the Brotherhood is putting good works on display, contrary to Islam.
‘We need to differentiate between being a Muslim and being part of an Islamist program which competes with other parties,’ he said.
‘As a Muslim, you can choose to tell or not tell of your good works, it depends on your intention. If you tell you can be a role model that others will follow, but God will judge you in either case.’
But for now, Egypt is the judge, and the verdict is a cliff-hanger.
This article was first published on Lapido Media.
- Spinning the Muslim Brotherhood – July 22, 2012
- Statement of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Leaders of the Evangelical Church in Egypt – April 10, 2012
- Christmas with the Brotherhood – January 10, 2012