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After Mubarak: Will Egypt Become an Islamic State?

February 15, 2011

Mosque in the making. Egyptians are religious, but they don't want an Islamic government.

For many people in the US and Europe, Egypt’s uprising is terrifying rather than exciting. Unrest in a Middle Eastern country continues to raise the spectre of a repressive Islamic government hostile to the West coming in to power.

Television pundits, many of whom have no credentials and no idea what they are talking about, ask whether Islam is compatible with democracy, and claim that “every time a Muslim majority country gets a democracy, the Islamists take over.” They support these allegations in ways that would earn them pretty lousy grades in my introductory International Studies class because they either don’t mention any of the successful democracies in Muslim majority countries or they offer very distorted pictures of what’s going on in those countries (see Will Islamists Derail Democracy?)

What these pundits are really thinking about, of course, is Iran. But Iran is a terrible model for predicting the role of political Islam in other countries. Iran was never really a democracy because it is committed to the principle of the Velayat-e Faqih, or “rule of the chief jurisprudent.” This political principle, which mandates a hierarchy of clerical decision-making, is rejected by almost all other Islamist political thinkers, both Shi’ite and Sunni.

The other spectre that haunts European and US imaginations in watching Egypt is al-Qaida. And so it should, but not for because the uprising gives al-Qaida a foothold in Egypt. Al-Qaida’s legitimacy is entirely premised on the notion that Middle Eastern autocracies backed by the economic and military might of Western powers cannot be overthrown by popular movements; only militant action aimed at these Western states can produce change.

A successful, popular revolt that overturns a Western dictator gives the lie to the very basis of this claim, and undermines al-Qaida’s legitimacy more than anything the US or its allies have ever been able to do (see Bin Ladin’s Nightmare in Egypt).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Astutu permalink
    August 29, 2011 1:08 am

    I hope you right but as an Egyptian who spent half his life in the country, I am very worried.

    • potatoskins permalink
      August 29, 2011 2:34 am

      Hello, Astutu. Thanks for the comment. I hope I am right, too.

      I wrote this in February, and while much has changed–especially public drama of Salafi groups, sometimes spilling over into violence–I would still see this as less likely than many of the other scenarios. The Muslim Brotherhood is fragmenting under the pressures of trying to please too diverse of constituencies (previously held together by fear and loathing of Mubarak–and the Salafis have no unified organization yet. IF free and fair elections take place, I’d expect one or two Islamic parties to garner a large number of seats. Over time, I would expect a party or coalition to emerge like the BJP in India. Pretty unpleasant if you are a minority in the provinces while they are in power, but not a threat to the Constitution. But everything is ambiguous now, politically and economically, and nothing is scarier than living in a time of unpredictability.

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