Magazine article The Christian Century

Political Islam on Defensive across the Middle East

Magazine article The Christian Century

Political Islam on Defensive across the Middle East

Article excerpt

The backlash against Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt comes as secular forces across the Middle East are rising up in opposition to political Islam. Divisions reach from top leaders to the street.

Political leaders in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan have sided with the Egyptian military and secularists who backed the July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

On the streets of Cairo, mobs and snipers have attacked Morsi supporters, forcing security forces accused of slaughtering the Islamists to stand between them and the mob. The violence in Egypt echoes similar, though less deadly, backlashes against Islamic ruling parties in Tunisia and Turkey.

"The Egyptian uprising two years ago was against the Egyptian army," says Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. But after one year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, "suddenly (Egyptians) are coming out in the streets seeing the army as their savior."

Egypt's anti-Brotherhood uprising had caused at one point at least 900 deaths in clashes. On August 19, some 25 policemen were killed by masked gunmen on the Sinai Peninsula, an area of frequent clashes between Islamist militants and security forces.

The turmoil in Egypt came after the May-June protests in Turkey against what protesters there described as the creeping authoritarianism of that country's ruling party and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the Islamist Ennhada party has been deadlocked with secularists demanding that it step aside and allow a caretaker government to take charge.

Secularists emboldened by Morsi's ouster in Egypt took to the streets there weeks ago after the assassination of a second secularist politician this year by Islamist gunmen.

"We've seen a backlash against the first wave of political actors of the immediate post-revolutionary moment," says Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Whether secularists "are making a play everywhere" is unclear, Satloff says, and Gulf states are following their own national interests.

Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, are supporting the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. …

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