Free Abou Elela Mady!

This is a personal appeal issued on August 4th, the International Friendship Day.

Abou Elela Mady is a friend of mine and he is in jail. He is the chairman of the centrist party Al-Wasat of Egypt. The new government of Egypt arrested him, on charges that I am convinced are not true. I call on the government of Egypt to free him now. It is in the interest of Egypt to have Abou Elela Mady free and active.

The last time I met him was on June 25th in his office. He was very proud of the new offices of the Al-Wasat party. He was also very proud of the role he and his party had played in the Egyptian uprising against Mubarak and since then in Egyptian politics.

My son Rumi, who was also at the meeting, interviewed him about the future prospects of Egypt. Mady was very upbeat about the future of Egypt. He gave us copies of the new Egyptian constitution and a new booklet he had penned about his Islamic vision for Egypt. The man was full of enthusiasm and excitement. He looked fitter and younger and his new wardrobe was consistent with his new success.

Mady is not just a personal friend, but also an important element of my work in Islamic political philosophy. For several years I have been trying to make the case that Islam and democracy are compatible. I am convinced that there is enough in Islamic sources that they can accommodate all the values of democracy, and Islamic emphasis on deliberative governance through the process of Shura could actually enrich the process of democratic politics. I fervently hoped that al-Wasat party, which more or less shared this vision of Islam and democracy would demonstrate in reality what I could only theorize.

Friendship aside, I saw Mady and Al-Wasat as partners in this laudable venture to establish Islamic democracy. In 2009 he toured the United State with me and I heard him speak at various think tanks and Universities in Washington DC, Delaware, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles. He spoke with such passion and conviction that given an opportunity he and his party would show to the world that Islamic values in the political arena were not antithetical to democracy. He spoke of equality between Muslims and Copts, he insisted on gender equality and he firmly endorsed freedom of religion.

When I visited Cairo and met with many of his party members, I was genuinely impressed with how much of Mady's ideas the rest of them shared. I met Al-Wasat's members a day after meeting the most liberal and prodemocracy members of the Muslim Brotherhood and I could tell right away that there were fundamental differences between Al-Wasat and the Brotherhood.

But as the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt, I watched in dismay from far as the intellectual and political distance between Al-Wasat and the Muslim Brotherhood steadily evaporated. Mady and Al-Wasat Party, it appears, had become a public relations firm hired to whitewash the mistakes that the Brotherhood was making. He and his colleagues have often justified many of former President Morsi's policies and usually did a better job of providing intellectual cover than even the spokespersons of Morsi themselves.

I feel, and I am eagerly open to be persuaded otherwise, that Al-Wasat and Mady had in the Morsi era, betrayed the very values that they had advocated in the Mubarak era. These values were the reason for Al-Wasat's existence -- irreconcilable differences with the vision of the Muslim Brotherhood.

We all make mistakes. Power and proximity to power can often derail the best of us. But in spite of all the strategic errors that Al-Wasat made clearly with the understandable goal of playing a bigger role than their political clout in the formative stages of the new Egypt, it is worth saving.

For example, Mady was the vice-chair of the constitutional committee that drafted the Egyptian constitution. When I met him in June he was very proud of that effort. He bragged that it was one of the best constitutions ever written. I was surprised by that claim. Best constitutions are those that unite and best serve the people they are written for, this one was dividing Egypt and inspiring a revolution. When my son heard of Mady's role in writing the constitution he said, "wow you are like the Thomas Jefferson of Egypt". I could see that he loved that remark. He responded coyly, "yes some people refer to us as the founding fathers of Egypt".

I think if Al-Wasat can return to its original politics it will once again become of great value for Egypt. Abou Elela Mady can once again become the bridge between Islamists and secularists and this time when the divisions are so pronounced and volatile he can play a calming role and be the voice of sanity in the cacophony of partisanship.

Al-Wasat is named after the Quranic concept that means moderation and the Middle path. Abou Elela Mady can still walk that path.

I call upon the current government of Egypt to release him from captivity and put him to work to heal the divide and unite Egypt.

p.s. When someone called him on his phone during our meeting I heard him say that he was -- ma' sadiqi qadeem min al-Amrika -- "with my old friend from America."

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institution for Social Policy and Understanding.