Egypt and the Brotherhood: Fear of yet another -ism


After days of unrest and protesters demanding the resignation of SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) as the country’s ruling body, elections did go ahead last week. SCAF is still the daddy and the first round of post-Mubarak parliamentary elections passed by without any notable events. The Muslim Brotherhood did well, as expected, while liberals, who got the whole revolution going in the first place, suffered at the polls due to a lack of unity and weak campaigns. Westerns and liberal Egyptian alike fear the might of the Islamists as this may mean an end to their booze- filled and flesh-rich (mis)adventures at the Red Sea and the bars of Cairo. These, mostly affluent, liberals might be living the western life style – or may want to do so- the case is that they are a minority in their own country. Up until the 1970s Egyptian society wasn’t that much different from any western society. People, especially in the cities, wore more or less the same clothes, very few women wore the hijab (islamic headscarf, not to be confused with the all- except-the-eyes-covering niqaab) and gender roles were clearly defined. While the power woman hit the scene and society started to oversexualise in the West, Egypt aimed to define itself as different from the Western forces that were dominating the country. When Nasser’s dream turned into Sadat’s assassination and Mubarak’s stubborn authoritarianism, the people started to realise that a western influenced and backed regime were not doing them any good. Corruption, unemployment and poverty are a few of many social problems that have dominated society for decades and the regime didn’t seem to care. Islamism has not only offered an ideological alternative to this, but also a practical one. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, despite having been banned by the pre-revolution regime, always had a extensive network of social enterprises supporting the needy in the community. It shouldn’t be a surprise that large sections of the population have high hopes for Islamists movements to give them the prosperous and fair society they deserve. The Muslim Brotherhood has previously expressed to be commited to the democratic process and therefore to – I pressume- pluralism. In what way this statement was just meant as an apeacement and will not be taking into practice once Islamist parties have a firm foot in parliament remains to be seen. Do Egypt’s liberals and Westerners have good reason to be worried? Maybe so. There are quite some occasion in which Islamist movements have waged wars against more liberal, western and/or secular factions of society. The actions of FIS, the Islamic Salvation Front, in Algeria during the 1990s is a particularly nasty example of this. But then Egypt is not Algeria. Egypt could be like Turkey where an Islamist ruling party is functioning well within a democratic system. The prime minister’s wife might have created quite a stir wearing a hijab as the ‘first lady’ of a strictly secular society while it’s ‘western-style’ business as usual in the bars and clubs of Instanbul and at the beaches of the Med. Now, Egypt might not be 1990s Algeria, neither is it Turkey in the 21st century. Egypt is to follow its own route. And if Egypt’s liberals want to protect their values and lifestyle, which entails more than drinking alcohol and wearing skimpy clothes, from Islamist inluences they’d better get organised. Not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the democratic process they worked so hard for to initiate.



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