Egypt, Islamist state

The election of Mohamed Mursi as the country’s new president and the recent scenes in Tahrir Square show that Egypt is heading for an Islamist model – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Galal Nassar, 5 – 11 July 2012.

During the opening days of the Egyptian revolution, I managed to keep a good part of my attention focussed on the international reaction to the events in Egypt and the rest of the Arab region. I was particularly interested in Western reactions and those of the US in particular, in view of the tremors that the Islamic Revolution in 1979 in Iran had sent through Western political and security establishments.

The irony is that as the events of the Egyptian revolution unfolded, signals from the White House confirmed that the US administration, as well as its predecessors and various governmental and independent think tanks and research centres in the US, had long since determined that the alternative to the dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and the other countries of the Arab Spring would be Islamist to the core.

If the Arab dictatorships succeeded in anything it was in suppressing and eliminating all other possible secular alternatives, whether from the political right or the left, leaving the field open to the Islamist movements. Over recent decades, these movements have continued to work assiduously both below and above ground in mosques and on university campuses, steadily increasing their influence until they had built up a “society within a society” and readying themselves for the outbreak of revolution against regimes under which they were officially banned and for the opportunity to rise to power.

Various US agencies had apparently reached the conclusion that the only way that the Islamists could reach power would be through revolution against the existing regimes, these being determined never to allow political Islam a margin for open and legitimate manoeuvre. Therefore, the contest between the regimes and the Islamists was one that would have to end with a debilitating blow, and the likelihood was that the regimes would be on the receiving end because the rampant poverty, unemployment and corruption in place in the Arab countries strengthened the hand of the Islamist forces, which built their power on mounting popular wrath and the growing numbers of disaffected young people and other discontented segments of society.

Washington and other Western capitals had also realised that the Islamists were the only available alternative to assume power in the Arab countries following the fall of the regimes. None of the other political parties or forces had a grassroots base extensive enough to compete and leverage them into power through free-and-fair elections. Moreover, the same Western analysts also believed that the cycle of history had determined that Islamist rule was likely to continue for many years before the political balance of power shifted and the people succeeded in producing a political option that was strong enough to compel the Islamists to share power with them, or that would become a viable alternative in the event that the Islamists lost cohesion … //

… It is important to bear in mind that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a national movement. It is a transnational movement, par excellence. It has branches throughout the Islamic world, and it operates with a mentality not dissimilar to Leninism. Therefore, the Brotherhood’s control over Egypt, when combined with the prospect of their solidarity with their “brethren” elsewhere, could have enormous repercussions for the region and the world.

Until now, the SCAF has been more or less feeling its way forward, advancing a step here and backing off a step there as it tries to check the Brotherhood’s advances.

However, we still cannot rule out the emergence of an “Algerian model” under which the army steps in to settle the question of power after an Islamist win in the polls. Regardless of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of such a course of action, it would not be one that lacked some supporters in Egypt, the region or abroad. Indeed, the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament and the addendum to the Constitutional Declaration that the SCAF issued in June were steps in this direction. One is reminded of the Pakistani model, in which the army retains the upper hand over the affairs of that country. Washington expressed its concern at these measures in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood and other forces have been vehement in their criticisms of them. However, they still remain in effect.

All this does not mean that the Muslim Brothers have acquiesced to the current situation. They are not about to let the seats of power, handed to them on a silver platter, so to speak, slip out of their hands. Should their tactics drive society to a clash between the Brotherhood and the army, the movement for democratic change and all the participants who have remained committed to its principles would be the first to suffer. After all, while these forces may have spearheaded the revolution and defined the spirit of Tahrir Square, they have not been the ones to reap its rewards.

The ballot box can sometimes be a tricky and unpredictable creature. So many factors have come into play: ignorance and illiteracy; the long paucity of civil liberties; the long-entrenched tradition of despotism; the dominance of conservative forces; the heavy sway of money in the political sphere; the weakness and fragility of the centrist, liberal and leftwing forces and their inability or unwillingness to engage in battles of this magnitude; and the opportunities the SCAF helped open to the Muslim Brotherhood and the possibility that portions of the military are at least sympathetic to the Muslim Brothers.

Whether Egypt is now looking at a Turkish model, whether pre- or post- the Justice and Development Party, or at the Iranian, Moroccan, Pakistani or even Algerian models, a bumpy period undoubtedly lies ahead. If a new round of instability looms, this may induce many forces at home and abroad to take a negative attitude towards the movement for change. Yet, the setback may be only temporary. History does not march backwards. The past remains in the past, and the future can only be brighter than that past, regardless of the challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome.

Perhaps it boils down to the process of evolution and the gradual accumulation of change and development. Things may progress more slowly than some might wish. They may even flounder or take cruel and dangerous detours. But ultimately history will forge its way ahead in its own way, whether via some Islamist model or via another course. (full text).

Link: The turn to war: The apparent failure of the Geneva conference may mean the end of diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis – on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Graham Usher at the UN, 5 – 11 July 2012.

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