Feature

Egypt: Have Islamists hijacked the revolution?

The latest Al-Jazeera poll shows that nearly 50 percent of Egyptians support the Muslim Brotherhood, while another 27 percent support the Saudi-backed Salafists.

Fundamentalist Muslims are “potentially becoming a dominant force” in Egypt’s fragile new democracy, said Alastair Beach in the London Al Majalla. The Salafists, who advocate traditional sharia punishments like whipping and amputation of hands, have long shied away from politics. But now, in “the race to grab a toehold in the chaotic post-Mubarak period,” they are mobilizing followers and showing that they can be a political force just like the better known and more moderate Muslim Brotherhood. Last week, what was billed as a “day of unity” demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square became a day of fundamentalist supremacy, as Salafists overran the square, chanting “Islamic state, Islamic state” and “the people want sharia.”

For one scary day, Egypt looked like it had become “Egypt­istan,” said Tariq Alhomayed in the London Asharq Al-Awsat. But don’t blame the Salafists—blame the youth and the liberals. Ever since the revolution, these secular forces have been squabbling with the interim military government rather than “organizing themselves and working on the ground in a realistic manner.” Young people refuse to take yes for an answer and keep right on protesting, complaining that it’s taking too long to bring members of the former regime to trial. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists “have been working to strengthen their political position, without prevarication or wasting time.” When will the youth and liberals “wake up” and start forming political parties?

There’s still time, said Rania Al Malky in the Daily News Egypt. The legislative elections scheduled for November are not yet “a lost cause.” Sure, Islamists are bound to make gains. The latest Al-Jazeera poll shows that nearly 50 percent of Egyptians support the Muslim Brotherhood, while another 27 percent support the Saudi-backed Salafists. If the secular and liberal forces are truly serious about democracy, they should focus on “making strategic coalitions that will ensure that the next parliament will be as representative as possible.”

Reconciliation is the key, said Hassan Nafaa in the Egyptian Al-Masry Al-Youm. Some are already claiming, “wrongly, that Friday’s rally proves that political Islam is naturally opposed to democracy and that Islamists cannot be trusted.” This is a mistake. The Salafists demonstrated in such numbers and with such vehemence only because they were afraid that Egypt’s Islamic identity was under threat. The secular forces need to reassure Islamists that Egypt has a place for them. Only by working together “will we be able to bring down the remaining elements of the old regime” and ensure a peaceful transfer of power from the military to a new, inclusive civilian government.

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