Sunday, January 22, 2012

22-Jan-12: Islamism in Egypt: That was then, this is now

Moslem Brotherhood political activist hands out fliers for
an election candidate in northern Cairo
suburb of Shubra [Image source: David
Time to reflect on how badly those big-name experts misunderstand the role of radical Islamism in the Arab world - or perhaps even misrepresent it.

USA Today ran an analytical piece a year ago under the headline "Mubarak or Muslim Brotherhood not Egypt's only choice", evidently seeking to allay concerns that Egypt was going in the direction of radical Islamism:
"Will the next government that emerges from the tumult in Egypt be Islamic or Islamist? There's a critical difference, say experts, who caution against knee-jerk fears that Mubarak might be replaced by Islamists -  Muslim political extremists."
In a February 5, 2011 blog article entitled "Should We Worry about Egypt Becoming Democratic?", prominent New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof starts this way: "My answer is: No." He goes on:
"I agree that the Muslim Brotherhood would not be a good ruler of Egypt, but that point of view also seems to be shared by most Egyptians."
How about the frequently-heard expert voice of Olivier Roy, described in a recent Bret Stephens Wall St Journal column as "arguably Europe's foremost authority on political Islam". He published an essay days after Hosni Mubarak was forced from power in February 2011, in which he wrote:
"This is not an Islamic Revolution... Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation... This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world."
Also last February, Jimmy Carter, a one-time president of the United States, speaking at a University of Texas forum was asked how the United States should view the Muslim Brotherhood in view of its ties to Hezbollah (that's how the Austin American-Statesman framed it):
"I think the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything to be afraid of in the upcoming (Egyptian) political situation and the evolution I see as most likely... They will be subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and true democracy."
Turns out that reality mugged the experts, and the new Egypt is looking very Islamist indeed. "Subsumed in the overwhelming show of democracy"? Fears of Islamists gaining control are "knee-jerk"? The young and secular protestors of Tahrir Square are the face of the new direction?

Not so much. Today's new Egypt is described today by the Telegraph (UK):
The Muslim Brotherhood won by far the biggest share of seats allocated to party lists in Egypt's first freely-elected parliament in decades, final results confirmed, giving it a major role in drafting the country's new constitution. Banned under former leader Hosni Mubarak and his predecessors, the Brotherhood has emerged as the winner from his overthrow. Islamists of various stripes have taken about two thirds of seats in the assembly, broadly in line with their own forecasts... The Brotherhood's electoral alliance took a 38 percent share of the seats allocated to lists. The hardline Islamist Al-Nour Party won 29 percent of list seats. The liberal New Wafd and Egyptian Bloc coalition came third and fourth respectively. The Revolution Continues coalition, dominated by youth groups at the forefront of the protests that toppled Mubarak, attracted less than a million votes and took just seven of the 498 seats up for grabs in the lower house.
Quite some distance from the optimism of the mass demonstrations of a year ago in Tahrir Square. And from among the various images that were published today to depict the changes in the Egyptian political landscape, the one that we found most striking was this rather ordinary looking press photo of two like-minded leaders embracing.

The caption reads:
CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 21: In this handout photo provided by Khaled Meshaal's Office of Media, the leader of Hamas Khaled Meshaal (L) meets with Supreme Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badie (R) to congratulate him on their victory in the Egyptian Parliamentary elections on January 21, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's Islamists the Muslim Brotherhood who were once banned, ran as the Freedom and Justice Party and claimed two thirds of the seats in Egypt's first free elections in decades and since the dimise, almost a year ago, of their president Hosni Mubarak.
Call us parochial, but for us it's the embrace above that, far more than the published comments and analysis of optimists and orientalists, betokens the dangerous new reality down south.

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