Has Egypt's Experiment with Islamism Failed?

By Murphy, Dan | The Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

Has Egypt's Experiment with Islamism Failed?


Murphy, Dan, The Christian Science Monitor


When mass protests broke out against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood was on the cusp of a historic opportunity.

The Brothers didn't start or organize the protests. That honor belonged to a loose coalition of leftists, democratic reformers, and Internet activists who used the murder of a young businessman by Egypt's thuggish police, and the example of Tunisia's own revolt, as the springboard for a history-altering uprising. The Brotherhood, fearful of a government crackdown as always, didn't even join the protests until the handwriting was on the wall.

But the Brothers knew they were Egypt's most popular and best- organized grass-roots movement and were perfectly poised to take advantage of a political opening. They grabbed the opportunity.

Now, 2-1/2 years later Mohamed Morsi, the man the Brothers propelled to Egypt's presidency, is under house arrest, and his allies swept from political office and influence by the military. Brotherhood news media have been shuttered and arrest warrants issued for the group's leaders. The same military that gave them their chance at power when it deposed Mr. Mubarak booted them from office in a second coup after protests that dwarfed those of 2011.

While the Brotherhood's opponents have rejoiced, a return to indirect military rule has roiled the country. Brotherhood supporters have taken to the street every day since July 3, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) appointed Judge Adly Mansour, a political neophyte completely unknown to the public, as interim president. Fifty Brotherhood supporters were gunned down by the military on July 8 and overnight clashes yesterday and today in Cairo between supporters and opponents of the deposed president left at least 7 dead. The Brotherhood has vowed to paralyze the city with ongoing sit-ins and protests until Morsi's rule is restored.

Egypt's current political chaos isn't entirely the fault of the Brothers, but in Egypt they're getting most of the blame - and certainly deserve the lion's share of it.

The dream was that that the founding movement of the modern Islamist project in its founding country would finally come to power and prove to the region and the world that political Islam works. But instead, Egypt became ungovernable as Mr. Morsi and his advisers alienated opponents, failed to build coalitions and treated a narrow presidential election victory as license to remake Egypt in their own image.

Morsi's failures as president brought the Brothers dream crashing down, at least for now, and raises troubling questions for the future of Egypt, and perhaps the region.

Narrowing opportunities

Generations of Brothers were told that political participation and gradual political and social outreach were the way to bring change to Egypt, a country where the precepts of Islamic law ultimately held sway. The group, founded in 1928, abandoned violence as a tool of change in the 1970s after decades of repression, including the assassination of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, in 1949, and the torture and execution of leading ideologue Sayyid al- Qutb by the Egyptian state in 1966.

But after the past month, many members consider the peaceful path to change blocked. They see the results of a presidential election that Morsi won fair and square in June 2012 being overturned by a military whose arsenal brims with weapons provided by the United States. That the US announced a delivery of F-16s would go ahead shortly after the coup was a data point of great interest to the Brothers, even if the failings of both Morsi and the organization were not.

Will McCants, a researcher at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Va., who focuses on Islamist movements, says the worldview of jihadis - that violence is the only way to effect change without Western interference - is likely to be bolstered by recent events, while faith in the softer approach is likely to be eroded, at least among Brotherhood cadres. …

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