by Elena Marda
The latest Committee of Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament was not an ordinary one. This time it was a high level session on ‘Understanding Political Islam: views from within’ as part of the two day conference on ‘Europe’s Southern Neighbourhood’ organised by Carnegie Europe, in collaboration with Egmont, the European Parliament and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs on May 7th.
Although the intention was the exact opposite, the speakers were divided. The confrontation between Europeans and Arabs showed a divergence in the political understanding of what constitutes a democratic state. As it was suggested in the conference, without a clear definition of what exactly is political Islam, the disagreement can be attributed to a lack of communication.
The inferiority/superiority complex has already hampered the communication between Europeans and Arabs, warned Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, Member of Parliament and Spokesperson of the Foreign Relations Committee (Freedom and Justice Party – Egypt). Introducing the label of the ‘Muslim Democrat’, although without presenting more details, I could not help but wonder: is it perhaps that we ask them too much, too soon? Should Western Europe be more open to the idea that perhaps democracy is perceived in a different way in other countries? The MEPs seemed to be particularly concerned by the fact that the current situation in Egypt is virtually worse than the pre-Mubarak era and that the democratic transition is not proceeding fast enough. But, if democracy has to be done in an ASAP mode, then it will not be constructed on strong foundations and will eventually collapse. But I guess what Europe is mostly afraid of is that instead of ASAP, democracy goes idle…
Incontestably, the person who dominated the room with his speech was Gehad El-Haddad, Senior Adviser to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party. He managed to attract sometimes the applause, other times the suspicion, but definitely the interest of the audience. He regretted the constant questioning of the Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions and underlined that it has been only nine months since the Egyptian government took office; valid point. But his recommendation towards the Europeans to not depend on media sources for information certainly raises questions. Especially if one considers that this persistence is coming from a media man.
Regardless the disagreements of the participants, one conclusion was drawn at the end of the day: it is only with further dialogue that misunderstandings will be resolved. Initiatives such as these bring together political voices at their best: agreeing in disagreeing.