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Is this the end of political Islam in Egypt?

end of political Islam

Pro-Mursi supporters protest in Cairo, calling for the deposed president to be reinstated. (AP photo)

This is a translation of my column that appeared in O Globo of 12/07/2013 in Portuguese:

The danger is if the military, despite promising to hold elections, never leave power. If a Brotherhood candidate wins, will he be allowed to govern?


Last week I watched with alarm and sadness on television the events unfolding in Egypt’s military coup against the democratically elected government of Mohamed Mursi. And I was even more amazed at the scenes of liberal and leftist opposition Egyptians in Tahrir Square, celebrating with shouts of joy the return of the military, which they themselves had fought so energetically against in the same square only two years earlier.

Undoubtedly, Mursi proved unable to govern Egypt well, rejecting any accommodation with the opposition, intensifying the sectarian tone of his government, and appointing members of the Muslim Brotherhood to most ministries and provinces. The country’s economy has gone from bad to worse, with the ailing Egyptian pound suffering devaluations, the foreign currency deposits reaching very low levels and power outages becoming a normal thing. Politically, Mursi was also obstinate, derogating to himself constitutional powers and trying to push a new constitution onto the public that didn’t have the support of liberals and leftists.

Despite all these differences, we cannot forget that Mursi was elected with 52% of the popular vote, more than U.S. President Barack Obama got in his last election. With this popular mandate, how could he surrender to the military’s ultimatum? “Over my dead body,” Mursi allegedly told the military officers sent to demand his resignation. And the immediate result of the forced removal of Mursi power was violence, with 51 Brotherhood supporters being killed by soldiers in Cairo this week. This massacre led the group to urge a revolt against the military.

The military quickly appointed civilians to head an interim government with Adli Mansur as interim president, Hazem al-Beblawi as prime minister, and Mohamed el-Baradei as vice president. Mansur has issued a constitutional declaration calling for a constituent assembly in two weeks, a referendum on a new constitution in four months, parliamentary elections in February and presidential elections six months later. Al-Beblawi already said ministerial posts will be offered to members of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Brotherhood, and the Islamist Nour party. But it is unlikely that members of the Brotherhood will accept positions in the interim government responsible for toppling Mursi.

Right now Egypt is a powder keg ready to explode at any provocation. The despair and anguish that millions of Egyptians are feeling upon seeing their leader deposed by the military is understandable, and that is why politicians on both sides will have to work hard to calm people down and try to find an acceptable solution for everyone. Former senator Egyptian Mona Makramebeid said this week to Christiane Amanpour of CNN that a political accommodation would take a while. “It will take time. We have to send out positive messages. The opposition has to stop with the demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood and strive to work together. After all, they worked together in the past to overthrow the Mubarak regime,” she said.

But will the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt mark the end of political Islam? Many would say yes, but I doubt it. The French scholar Olivier Roy, who published the book “The failure of political Islam” in 1992, said in this week’s “Economist” that the Brotherhood government imploded because they did not know how to run a modern state. He said the government was trying to Islamize a society that was already very religious, and that Islam does not have the detailed prescriptions necessary to run a modern state. At this point I agree in part. Mursi was not able to build political alliances with other Islamist parties, and much less with the opposition parties, something that would be essential to the success of his government. In Turkey and Morocco, Islamist parties have had to share power with other political parties in order to stay in power.

The West has to realize that the Egyptian progressives and liberals are a minority in the country, and that most are religious and conservative. The U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Anne Patterson, knows this and built an American policy of trying to get closer to the Brotherhood after decades of neglect. “Anne has since her earliest days in Egypt noted that the liberal Egyptians are the favorite contacts of Washington think tanks, the U.S. Congress and the State Department. Maybe they are talented and creative, but they are not necessarily representative of the 80 million Egyptians,” said an American official to the Daily Beast website.

The danger now in Egypt is that the military, despite promising elections, may never leave power. They have not said whether they will allow Brotherhood candidates to participate in the parliamentary and presidential elections. And if a Brotherhood candidate is elected president, will the military allow him to take office? We’ve seen what happened in Algeria in 1992, when the military stopped the Islamists from coming to power despite winning democratic elections. We will have to wait at least another six months to see if the Egyptian military will honor their word or not. But I’m not betting a lot on them.

Link to original column in Portuguese: http://glo.bo/18RHmRf