July 6, 2011


Egypt’s Islamists: asset and flaw (Tarek Osman, 5 July 2011, Open Democracy)

The moderate voices within political Islam, by repeatedly stressing that there is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, also try to present their thinking in a language that avoids affronting the liberal sections of Egypt’s middle class. The precise combination of message, language, tone here is crucial; for Egyptian society, notwithstanding the non-religious rhetoric of the 2011 uprising, remains pious and religiously conservative.

More generally, the new political landscape - where the previously ruling National Democratic Party is sidelined, and political influence and voting blocs are no longer centred on a single source of power - tends to favour Islamists, as the best organised of those now in the field.

But the Islamic movement also faces immense challenges, including divisions among its various currents. The liberal Islamist message may resonate among significant parts of Egyptian society, but it faces opposition (even outright hostility) from the more conservative wings in the salafist movement. Several ultra-conservative factions, emerging from decades of persecution, are becoming more assertive. In a number of poor Cairene neighbourhoods, some salafist groups - emboldened by the retreat of Egyptian police after the fall of the Mubarak regime - demand the closure of shops selling alcohol (and when refused, try to force the issue).

There have also been protests, including in front of churches, to press demands for an Islamic Egypt. Salafist groups have been behind the growing number of sectarian flare-ups. The differences in modes of operation, and ideology, between these ultra-conservative groups and liberal Muslims will evolve into cracks in the Egyptian Islamic movement.

These actions also blemish liberal Muslims, and the image of the Muslim Brotherhood, at a time when the movement’s leaders are striving to assure almost anyone prepared to listen to it - inside and outside Egypt - of their moderation. The consistent message is that the Brotherhood believes in multiparty democracy; aims for a secular state where Islamic sharia (jurisprudence) is a guiding principle, but not superimposed on society; supports women’s participation in all social, economic and political spheres; and (of course) renounces violence in internal politics.

The splintering is a salutary side effect of the MB's core moderation.

Posted by at July 6, 2011 6:12 AM

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