Why Would the Muslim Brotherhood Believe in Voting Now?

Morsi's ouster and his supporters' oppression is sending a message to young Islamists who previously played by democratic rules that their only real hope is through armed resistance.

graham and mccain max taylor 1.jpg

Max Taylor/The Atlantic

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are heading to Egypt, apparently as symbols of democratic magnanimity that losers in political contests should not be rounded up and thrown in prison. 

Graham told CNN that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry believed it would be useful to send Obama's presidential opponent to Egypt to reinforce to Egypt's military a message of political inclusiveness. 

Senator Graham said:

I think it really does demonstrate how democracy works. They didn't put John McCain in jail so he could never come back again.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been running point on Egypt given the close ties between the U.S. and Egyptian military commands and has also been calling for political inclusiveness.  Here is the latest readout of Hagel's exchange with Egypt Defense Minister and coup leader Abdul Fatah al-Sisi:

Secretary Hagel spoke with his Egyptian counterpart, Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi Saturday morning. Secretary Hagel expressed concern about the recent violence in Egypt and urged General al-Sisi to support an inclusive political process ... General al-Sisi affirmed to Secretary Hagel that Egypt's leadership remains committed to the political roadmap leading to elections and the formation of a constitution in Egypt.

Understandably, the Obama administration and legislators like McCain and Lindsey Graham are preaching restraint and 'inclusion' to the military leaders who are currently disappearing Morsi's key supporters and shooting protestors who want their President back in place. American calls for Egypt's generals to stop the killing are on the right track. 

But there is a second bizarre message being telegraphed to those Islamists protesting against the military takeover. Some, like Senator Graham are telling the Muslim Brothers to take their lumps and get back to a democratic process. 

In an exchange that aired last Sunday with Senator Graham on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Graham offered context on his and McCain's rationale for an Egypt trip now. He said that the Brotherhood had to "get out of the streets, back to the voting booth":

GRAHAM:  ...if you're going to pick between the two of us, Senator McCain is far more valuable than I am.  But, we've got a call from the president, Secretary Kerry, the message that the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood is to get out of the streets, back into the voting booth.

The Egyptian military must move more aggressively toward turning over control to the civilian population, civilian organizations. The military can't keep running the country. We need Democratic elections. The brotherhood needs to get off the streets and back into the political arena and fight your differences there, and we need to put Egypt back to work. If this continues, it's going to be a failed state. That's why we're going.

But the question that stands out here is why would Muslim Brotherhood members believe in democratic process now? Why would they consent to an electoral plan that asks them to acquiesce to their political leader being toppled if elected?

The Democracy ReportAdherents of political Islam have for years been debating amongst themselves the nuts and bolts of democratic process and have been struggling with the issue of whether democracy is primarily a tactic to achieve a victor-decides-all political result or whether it is an ongoing process that should include rights for other, not like-minded political entities. The Al Jazeera Centre for Studies has played a leading role in convening these MENA region political Islamists who have been engaging in these debates.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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