Egypt: The Resurgence of Political Islam
July 20, 2012
Constitutional strife between power trio Army, Presidency and Supreme Court is getting intensified, whereby Egypt, for the first time in its history, is experiencing civilian rule with Muhammad Mursi having been sworn in as an elected president. It is also a triumph of the liberal Islam broadly categorized as political Islam. This electoral win is surprising, rather mind-boggling in many ways. In history, Islamists never bagged the numerical strength which they grasped in post-Arab Spring phase, despite the fact that were once outlawed in Egypt. Secondly, this region always remained under puppet rule in the wake of great power politics due to its geo-strategic significance. Thirdly, the Army’s patriotism always remained an obstacle in the way of Islamists.
Political Islam never remained striking due to persistence of dictatorial rules in Egypt which never gave it a room to carry out its agenda. Apparently, Egypt is facing totally different polity as a consequence of revolution which involved mass participation of people from all walks of life. The victory of Muslim Brotherhood in the nick of time when Muslim world in general, and, Egypt in particular, were having inimical relationship with Israel over the Palestine issue has become more momentous.
The politically-motivated drive of Islam in this region, especially in Egypt, started with the incessant long hauling of Hassan al Banna who did his utmost against the governments who were enjoying unconditional outside support. For long, Egypt remained the epicenter of Pan-Arabism with Jamal Abdul Nasser as an emblem. This phenomenon transmuted into Muslim nationalism in the wake of six days’ war of 1967 where the Arab world was literally made to lick the dust. As an aftermath of this win, Israel emerged as a giant which for the next coming decades remained a thorn in the flesh of the Arabs. Anwar Saddat could not follow the stardust of his predecessor and same happened with Mobarak. The coming successors were predominantly eyeing on placating the power centers with whom they were associated.
It made a stark shift from Arab nationalism to religious radicalism and that was brutally suppressed and was not allowed to extend its wings due to strangulating hold of the ruling dictatorship. However, it also gave Islamists sufficient time to take roots in the society and rally coherent forces. The apparent massive support to the Brotherhood is due to the fact that they were operating in a society that was immensely deprived, disgruntled, and resentful. Their firmness in the social and political arena earned them acceptance and legitimacy with which they managed to float through elections with flying colours.
The ideological division in Egypt is broadly sifted into three coteries. The first are secular authoritarians who dominated Egypt for long with Army’s countenance. Second are the liberal seculars and this group contemporaneously is the most nagged one in the wake of thumping triumph of Islamists. Third division is of the liberal Islamists who have stolen the march through these elections with the popular will of the masses.
The secular authoritarians of whom Egyptian Army is also a tacit accomplice were extremely reluctant to relinquish their powers to the elected representatives, but mass congregations at Tehrir square impelled them to review their role in Egypt, yet they are recalcitrant in getting subsided as a political entity which held the reins of power for decades. Mursi’s inaugural speech with an indication that Army would return to its essential mission of sheltering the national frontiers augurs that it may set a new fracas between two potential actors where adding factor would be the existing institutional imbalance.
The win of Islamists has also perturbed the liberal seculars in the country’s political sphere. They are apprehensive that the newly-elected president will carry out the reforms that will transform Egypt into a theocratic state. The development of amicable relationship with Iran is also suspected as Mursi has recently been invited by Ahmedinijad to visit Iran. It would be annoying for the West, liberals and Israel in particular. The emphatic presence of liberals cannot be disdained because rival to Mursi, Ahmed Shaiq the last premier who served under Mobarik, got support of 48.3 % Egyptians.
Army still has an upper hand where still it can nullify any constitutional reform and it endeavours to carry forward its extended influence where on other hand Islamists are having street power and a mobilized support base which may resurface in case of any discontinuity. There are many constraints and challenges for Islamists that lie ahead. Army and Islamists are in talks to resolve impasse and its outcome would decide the future of the political hustings in Egypt.
The triumph of Brotherhood would have profound regional and trans-regional implications. A high-level of euphoria and suspicion has gripped the region from the countries of the Persian Gulf to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, many secularists and religious minorities are also watching with dismay the wave of religiosity washing across North Africa, with Islamists poised to do well in Libya’s first democratic elections this month and already running the government in Tunisia. In countries like Pakistan, it has also been welcomed rather embraced by the parties with political Islamic agenda like Jamaat-i-Islami, who aspire to make their journey through to the parliament via electorates in the same fashion, though will little success so far.
Things are not as simple for Mursi as he may have liked. He faces multi-faceted challenges. One, he has to negotiate the role of powerful Army. Secondly, he will have to accommodate the liberals in his country. Economic clout is also smacking Egypt very hard where rising debt and lower growth is a major conundrum. Disintegration of society also needs to be addressed, besides foreign policy where making of amicable terms with the neighbor counties will be a major challenge. The success of Islamists in Egypt will decide the future of political Islam in the region. The failure of meeting the expectations and promises may again incite the masses to get assembled at Tehrir square which has become a symbol for the dynamism of Egyptians.