The region: The future of Egyptian politics, religion

How can Marxists, radical nationalists and Islamists all work together? Well, that’s Egypt for you.

By BARRY RUBIN
April 11, 2011 03:44
Arab League Secretary-General Amir Moussa.

Amir Moussa 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

There are currently 20 candidates running for Egypt’s presidency. Most are not serious, but can split the vote for various blocs. I think the winner will be radical nationalist Amr Moussa, which isn’t great but better than an Islamist regime.

Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister and former secretary-general of the Arab League, has far more name recognition than any opponent. As a veteran of the old regime, he has the votes of Mubarak supporters. As a radical nationalist, he appeals to many Egyptians.

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He is not an Islamist in any way, which will appeal to the majority of Egyptians, who don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to rule. And he knows how to be a demagogue.

The 20 candidates include two women, a Christian, two retired generals, and a couple of journalists. But there are no Islamists (or at least no Muslim Brotherhood representatives) among them. The Brotherhood won’t run a candidate, and so will have to decide who to vote for.

There is only one other candidate from the old establishment, so that vote – perhaps one-quarter of the electorate? – will go to Moussa.

But there are five leftists and six liberals who will split those two blocs. The following are all running: Abdallah al-Ash’al, pan-Arab nationalist; Hamadein Sabahi, Al- Karama (Dignity) party; Hussein Abd al-Razeq, neo- Communist Al-Taggam’u Party; Magdi Hussein, Al- ’Amal Party; and Sameh ‘Ashour, Nasserist Party.

Incidentally, several of these people – notably al-Ash’al and Hussein – get along nicely with the Brotherhood.



How can Marxists, radical nationalists and Islamists all work together? Well, that’s Egyptian politics.

Yet that’s not the key problem. Remember those young, pro-democratic Facebook liberals who supposedly were going to rule Egypt? Well, they’re all running against each other, thus splitting an already small voting bloc into a microscopic one. The six rivals are: • Mohamed ElBaradei, who is more popular and far better- known with Western journalists than with Egyptians.

• Hisham Al-Bastawisi, a judge who was one of the first to come out against Mubarak.

• Ayman Nour, al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, who ran against Mubarak in the previous election and spent four years in prison.

• Midhat Khafaji, deputy head of the al-Ghad party, who is running against Nour, the party’s leader.

• Buthaina Kamel, a TV host from the Kefaya movement – another early anti-Mubarak group.

• Wissam Abd al-Gawwad, a teacher who founded the Egyptians for Change association and the al-Nahhar party.

While only the first four are more important, that’s still a pretty big field. Remember also that when it comes time to assemble lists for the parliamentary election, such splits will be even more damaging.

Here are the two interesting questions: • Who will the Brotherhood back with its 20-30% base? It was supporting ElBaradei (yes, Islamists backing a liberal, because he isn’t so liberal), but have quarreled with him lately.

• Will Moussa organize his own party which, if successful, could come in first in the parliamentary election? But one thing isn’t in much doubt: President Amr Moussa sounds likely.

ALI GOMAA, grand mufti of Egypt, writes in the New York Times: “Egypt’s religious tradition is anchored in a moderate, tolerant view of Islam. We believe that Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression (within the bounds of common decency), and equal rights for women. And as head of Egypt’s agency of Islamic jurisprudence, I can assure you that the religious establishment is committed to the belief that government must be based on popular sovereignty.”

Well, without getting into things like clerics endorsing suicide bombings, here’s what they don’t tell you: Gomaa is a Mubarak appointee. The Muslim Brotherhood is already demanding his resignation.

Either he will quit, be forced out, or be replaced by someone whose view of Islam is closer to that of the Brotherhood.

And who doesn’t believe Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression, or equal rights for women.

And note that last phrase. He’s saying, after supporting the Mubarak dictatorship for decades, that he now supports democracy. But if government is based on popular sovereignty, doesn’t that mean the grand mufti should reflect prevailing views of Islam, which includes – according to reliable polls – overwhelming support for Koranic amputation and stoning punishments, the killing of anyone who converts to another religion, and other things that seem neither moderate nor tolerant? The entire religious establishment in Egypt has been organized to fight Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood – a group that will probably control about one-third of parliament. And many Egyptians who don’t like the Brotherhood will also see Gomaa as a remnant of the dictatorship they want to eliminate.

All mosques must be government approved; mosque leaders are controlled by the government; religious education is controlled by the government; the head of the al-Azhar mosque/university and the grand mufti (Gomaa) are appointed by the government; clerics are allotted television time and media space by the government.

Guess what? There’s a new government and thus a “new” Islam.


Incidentally, the Brotherhood is now calling for a Saudistyle morality police with powers of arrest. Is that the moderate, tolerant style Gomaa is advocating? Three points many are missing: 1. Many who don’t like the Brotherhood want even stricter social controls. Will the revolution ultimately bring Egyptians more freedom or less? 2. The Brotherhood will be a political power, and other parties will make deals with it in which they give the Brotherhood what it wants on religious-related, social matters, and even foreign-policy issues, in exchange for Brotherhood support for their own priorities.

3. Beyond the Brotherhood there are radical violent Islamists who will carry out terror attacks against uppity women, secularists, Christians and Israeli or Western targets.

Many of them were radicalized by being in the Brotherhood. With the Brotherhood legalized and growing, there will be many more such people. The government will not crack down on their base-building and propaganda. How tough will it be on their terrorism? Many things to consider...

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (www.gloria-center.org) and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com


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