On Monday, after Mohamed Morsi had been declared the winner of Egypt’s presidential elections, Jeff Goldberg quoted his interview with Morsi from last year, in which Morsi ducked questions about whether the Muslim Brotherhood could support a Christian or woman for president. From this, Goldberg concluded that, while the Brotherhood’s leaders have “proved somewhat adept at playing politics,” nevertheless the organization rigidly adheres to its creed: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
Well, it seems Goldberg’s “somewhat adept” turns out to be a bit of an understatement. Because, you see, on that very same Monday, his policy advisor Ahmed Deif told CNN that the president-elect will appoint a woman as one of his vice-presidents, and a Christian as another. So much for ducking the question.
Cynics, of course, can argue that this is just a sop to Western sensibilities. Suckering American elites with a “charm offensive” is just a stop on the way to an Islamist Egypt. The reactionary blemish Goldberg observed, of course, can be hidden with cosmetics, but the real, radical agenda remains the same: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
Suppose that’s right. Suppose this is entirely a cynical public relations move, and that the Brotherhood still wants to decriminalize sexual harassment and ban beach tourism, believes in 9/11 conspiracy theories and wants to destroy Israel. To be completely serious, it’s naive to think that Deif’s announcement happily falsifies all of Goldberg’s fears. After all, as Hussein Ibish points out, the Brotherhood has a decades-long record of “profoundly undemocratic, misogynistic, homophobic, chauvinistic, paranoid and intolerant attitudes.”
Still though, we should be thrilled to see the Brotherhood trying to appease us. We should applaud their power-sharing, because as Ibish argues, the solution to undemocratic parties is always to embed them within a maze of checks and balances. Even if the cynics are right, and participation by women and Christians turns out to be merely symbolic, it’s still good symbolism. Let’s be honest: Have Arab parties ever had an ounce of power in Israel? No, but their presence is still vital to Israeli democracy. Representation matters, and democratic law matters, even when those wielding it are none too fond of democracy.
We should see the Brotherhood, as Gershon Baskin says of its offshoot organization Hamas, as a political organization, and not as a band of religious fanatics. Political parties can be managed, constrained and moderated. They respond to pressure, because they care about their own power. Let’s take a page out of Morsi’s book: downplay the “Jihad is our way” rhetoric, and strive to be, politically speaking, “somewhat adept.”