An Islamic Egypt: Not so inevitable anymore?

The Muslim Brotherhood faces either a protracted battle for consolidation of its power or a possibility of ultimately being ousted form power. Either way an Islamic Egypt may not seem so inevitable anymore.

December 10, 2012 22:35
3 minute read.
Protester cheers as Brotherhood office ransacked

Protester cheers as Egypt's Brotherhood office ransacked 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The rapid rise of Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after the deposing of Hosni Mubarak last year prompted many observers to see an Islamist Egypt as inevitable. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was the best organized and most popular political party in Egypt, the opposition was divided, there was little Western support for the secular opposition and the United States welcomed Muslim Brotherhood delegations to the White House and worked openly with President Mohammed Morsi to achieve a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas War. All this seemed to many to be a rough replay of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Yet, as the mass demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood recently in Tahrir Square and across Egypt have shown, an Islamic Egypt, while still likely, is far from inevitable.

Successful revolutions are usually led by charismatic leaders with strong political intuition, like Mao, Lenin, Tito, Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini. All personified their revolutions and drove the masses on to victory. Morsi is no Ayatollah Khomeini, who embodied revolutionary mysticism, persecuted, exiled past and lifetime spent in politics. Morsi lacks charisma and spent his life gaining a PhD at USC and chairing an Egyptian engineering school until 2010. His abrupt and radical moves belie a lack of political savoir faire.

MORSI AND the Brotherhood lack the great wealth in oil and gas revenue (as high as $100 billion annually) and expropriation of the great wealth of the Shah that gave the ayatollah financial leverage in Iran. Egypt is a very poor country whose GNP ($80b.) and stock market ($40b.) are both far less than one percent of the level of the United States.

Equally important is the lack of any Great Satan (which Khomeini called the United States) and Little Satan (which he called Israel) against which the ayatollah roused the Iranian masses. Instead, Morsi, through his negotiations with and accepting money from the United States, looks more like an ally of the Great Satan. He also has pledged to maintain the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel. He also lacks a war with an enemy country (such as that between Iran and Iraq from 1980-1988) around which to rally the Egyptian population.

The Shi’ites in Iran, after a lengthy period of perceived persecution, rallied too around the idea of a revolutionary Iran restoring them to their “proper” role in a Sunni dominated region. This appeal was reinforced by the frequent and powerful interference by England, the United States and Russia in their internal affairs. Egypt lacks such a history. And, to boot, has eight million Christian Copts, many of whom oppose the Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood also faces a significantly stronger regime than post-Shah Iran in a strong military (which after an elite purge, remains above the state), million- man security force, multi-million-man bureaucracy, independent courts and media. Unlike Iran, Egypt lacks the resources to provide serious help to the impoverished masses. Its GNP of $2,500 per capita (barely 5% that of the United States), over 40% female illiteracy and 88% of the population with no books at home save for school books for their children limn a desperate situation.

And finally, having seen what happened in Islamic revolutions in Iran (1979), Afghanistan (1996) and Gaza (2006), its secular opponents are far more likely to come out and fight for their interests.

The flight of Mohammed Morsi from his presidential palace on Tuesday and the massive number of demonstrators in front of the palace and elsewhere does not augur well for Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood faces either a protracted battle for consolidation of its power or a possibility of ultimately being ousted form power. Either way an Islamic Egypt may not seem so inevitable anymore.

The writer is a professor at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

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