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Egypt, and the Post-Islamist Middle East
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by Asef Bayat
For years, western political elites and their local allies have charged the Arab peoples with political apathy and lethargy. The argument that Arabs are uninterested in seeking to wrest greater democratic freedoms from their authoritarian rulers always rested on shaky foundations. But now that millions of Egyptians, following the Tunisians’ example, have proved it wrong by mobilising against power, the sceptical ground has adjusted: toward the murmured fear that Egypt’s uprising would develop into an “Islamist revolution” along the lines - demagogic, violent, intransigent, expansionist, anti-western - of that of Iran in 1979. The idea of an “Islamic revolution in Egypt” is voiced by four sources. The first is the Hosni Mubarak regime, in the attempt to dissuade its western allies from supporting the uprising. The second is Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israel and its allies in the United States and Europe, which wish to maintain the autocratic regime more or less intact by keeping such players as Omar Suleiman (the new vice-president and former
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Feb 10 2011
intelligence chief) in power after Mubarak. The third is Iran’s Islamist hardliners, who are making a desperate effort to downplay the democratic thrust of the Egyptian revolution and present it as Islamic and Iran-inspired one. The fourth is a section of Egypt’s own citizens who express genuine concerns about a possible new Islamic revolution in the heart of the Arab world. It is true that there are some similarities between today’s Egyptian uprising and the Iranian revolution of 1979. They share the quality of being nationwide revolutions in which people from different walks of life - religious, secular, leftist, men and women, middle classes, working classes - participated. Both movements aimed at removing western-backed autocratic regimes; both sought to establish democratic governments that would ensure national and individual dignity, social justice, and political liberties. But there are also fundamental differences. In ideological terms, the Iranian revolution was a nationalist, third-worldist, and anti-imperialist movement, which took a strong stance against the US government for its continued support of the Shah (whom the US had reinstated via a CIA-engineered coup in 1953 against the seculardemocratic government of Mohammad Mosaddeq). In addition, the Iranian revolution - unlike the Egyptian upheaval of 2011 - was led by a religious figure, Ayatollah Khomeini, backed by an elaborate Shi’a clerical hierarchy and religious institutions. So, once the Shah had fled, the Islamist hardliners and the new revolutionary organisations combined - the former using religious institutions (mosques, madrasas, and shrines), the latter mobilising support while marginalising liberals, democrats, and other non-conformist - in a final push to establish velayat-t faqih (the rule of the supreme jurist), i.e. a semi-theocratic state. The Islamic revolution then ushered a new era of Islamism which was to dominate the middle east and Muslim world for the next two decades.
A Political-Religious Shift
But today’s Egyptian uprising is also different. It is neither nationalist, anti-imperialist ,nor third-worldist. The largely civil, peaceful, and jubilant mood of the protesters (until the pro-Mubarak thugs triggered a vicious spate of violence on 2 February) and their demands are more reminiscent of the democratic revolutions of east-central Europe in 1989. In Egypt, there have been no chants against foreigners, westerners, or Americans. Moreover, it is significant that the uprising is not guided by any single organisation, ideology, or personality - let alone an Islamic figurehead. Rather, this monumental upheaval is composed of different political and civil organisations with diverse religious, secular, and political affiliations, and a collective “leadership”. I
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This Islamic party has . A Deeper Transformation Indeed. 2 of 4 Sunday 29 September 2013 05:28 PM .the “young” elements (represented by such figures as Essam al-Erian and Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh) view Turkey’s ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP) as their favoured model of Islamic governance. But al-Nahda is not an Islamist party . la Sayfiyya.amid much and continuing political controversy . Iran’s Islamists). and Iran’s reformist and other groups project is the AKP in Turkey. for that matter. Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Unlike the Iranian Islamists in 1979. secular. removed curbs on free speech. its aim is not to seize power and to establish an Islamic state. Turkey’s prime minister and the leader of the AKP. rather. Copts. But ideologically. they have joined (as they did during the Kefaya mobilisations of the mid-decade) a coalition of various opposition groups consisting of political currents with variegated (nationalist. neither violent. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. the largest and most organised Islamic opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood’s disinterest in governmental power in a possible post-Mubarak administration seems genuine. is not leading the uprising.jadaliyya. abandoned its violence and radical Islamism. and established workable relations with both the west and the rest of the Muslim world. and civil) orientations. Rashed al-Ghannouchi has categorically rejected the Islamic khalifa (caliphate) in favour of parliamentary democracy. and religious pluralism. at least one chant. Moreover. In Tunisia following the revolt which overthrew the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali. the Brothers may appear to be somewhat similar to Jordan’s Ikhwan or Lebanon’s Hizbollah. This embrace of a modern concept of democracy is a radical departure from the group’s adherence in the early 1990s to the Qur’anic concept of shura. While the older faction remains in an ideological quandary . Al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya. and foreign tourists in the 1980s and 1990s in pursuit of an Islamic state in Egypt. supports women’s prominent public roles. it laid down its arms. sung by the crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 28 January 2011. there are indications that the entire region is experiencing a shift in religious politics. It has (for example) abolished the death penalty. embraces pluralism in religion. authorised Kurdish-language broadcasting. in deciding eventually to take part in the current uprising they made it clear that they did not wish to participate in any post-Mubarak administration. represented by the ex-leftist Rashed al-Ghannouchi. projects a very different meaning .. given that in free and fair elections they would be able to gain substantial votes.implemented important reforms that have had an overall democratising effect. though they make up only one segment of its very broad constituencies. the largest Islamic group is al-Nahda. welcomes gender mixing. is now one of the most popular leaders in the Muslim-majority middle east. on the contrary. the Brothers are in the throes of an ideological transformation. Indeed. which has governed that country since November 2002. multiparty democracy. and the Post-Islamist Middle East http://www.“our revolution is civil. In strategic terms. The Brothers were even ambivalent in participating in the street demonstrations in the early days. Instead. the Islamist group that inflicted atrocious violence on officials. leftist.com/pages/index/603/egypt-and-the. the Muslim Brotherhood has not tried to appropriate the movement nor even give it a religious colouring. Al-Wasat now privileges modern democracy over the Islamic shura.Egypt. Rafiq Habib. brought the military budget under civilian control. An internal debate involving discord between the old guard and the “young” leadership has engulfed the movement in recent years. But still there is little resemblance between Egyptian political Islam and that of Iran’s Islamist rulers. it wishes to nurture pious Muslims within a democratic polity. serves as the group’s key ideologue. nor religious” (al-Thowratna Madaniyya. the Brothers have refrained from confrontation with the state and not resorted to violence during the three decades of the Hosni Mubarak era. and ideological diversity. and opted to work as a political party to pursue peaceful da‘wa (proselytising) within Egypt’s legal framework (though the government refused to give the group a permit). the “young” Egyptian Muslim Brothers. its ability and desire to enter Egypt’s political life has intensified the ddiscussion about what the Muslim Brotherhood ultimately wants to achieve. ended army-dominated security courts. a Christian. It’s not merely that (Christian) Copts are admitted to the party. largely for fear of state reprisals. am not aware of any religious slogans in the street rallies. The shift in Egypt’s religious politics goes beyond the Muslim Brothers.at times repeating the ambiguous and anachronistic dictum “Islam is the solution” .. underwent a significant change by the late 1990s. though with probably smaller support. the Hizb-ul-Wasat had defected from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood to pursue its own very different trajectory. Even before the transformation of al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya. In fact. In political terms. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers remain very different from these groups (and.that is. Islamic organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood are present in the movement. a vague conception of authoritarian but just rule subject to the principle of consultation. and his al-Nahda is committed to social justice. la Diniyya). The model of “Islamic governance” that Tunisia’s al-Nahda.
L.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/603/egypt-and-the. All Rights Reserved.com site by concepcion design 4 of 4 Sunday 29 September 2013 05:28 PM .. and the Post-Islamist Middle East Terms of Service http://www.Egypt.I. Features Roundtables Essential Readings Photo Essays Pedagogy Section Pedagogy Homepage ﺍﻟﻘﺴﻢ ﺍﻟﻌﺮﺑﻲ Arabic Section Arabic-Culture Arabic-Politics Arabic-Economics Arabic-History ©2010-2013 by the Arab Studies Institute. Pages/Sections Culture Reports Reviews Interviews Jad Navigation O. info@jadaliyya..