Better late than never, I guess.
In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.
The young who were the faces of the revolution aren’t around, replaced by the bearded hardliners, who seem to have struck a deal with the military in the early stages of the revolution.
In the early stages of the revolution, the Brotherhood was reluctant to join the call for demonstrations. It jumped in only after it was clear that the protest movement had gained traction. Throughout, the Brotherhood kept a low profile, part of a survival instinct honed during decades of repression by the state.
I doubt it was “survival instinct” so much as it was waiting for the right moment to move and take advantage. Or, if they did have a deal with the military, why bother to step forward at all? Together there’s no organized force that can match the Brotherhood and the military. Keeping a low profile was probably part of the deal.
For those who thought democracy was the cure, welcome to reality.
When the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, addressed the crowd in Tahrir Square this month, Mohamed el-Beltagi, a prominent Brotherhood member, stood by his side. A Brotherhood member was also appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution.
But the most obvious and consequential example was the recent referendum on the amendments, in the nation’s first post-Mubarak balloting. The amendments essentially call for speeding up the election process so that parliamentary contests can be held before September, followed soon after by a presidential race. That expedited calendar is seen as giving an advantage to the Brotherhood and to the remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which have established national networks. The next Parliament will oversee drafting a new constitution.
Before the vote, Essam el-Erian, a Brotherhood leader and spokesman, appeared on a popular television show, “The Reality,” arguing for the government’s position in favor of the proposal. With a record turnout, the vote was hailed as a success. But the “yes” campaign was based largely on a religious appeal: voters were warned that if they did not approve the amendments, Egypt would become a secular state.
Our best case hope now is for Egypt to turn into something like Turkey, a mildly Islamist government that still wants to be a part of the larger world. But if the Brotherhood really are grabbing power, that best case will be a fleeting hope, and we will have another Iran on our hands. In fact, I think that a second Iran is the more likely outcome.