Islamists Endure in Egypt’s New Political Map

Sep 09, 2013

Nervana Mahmoud

            The political map of Egypt is slowly changing. As events continue to unfold following the June 30 and then the July 3 coup, there are emerging new realties that may have an impact on the future of the country for years to come. Currently, however, there is nothing definitive or clear.
      First, the ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood did not tame political Islam in Egypt. In fact, the opposite is true. Al-Azhar wants to be the sole guardian of Islam in Egypt, while the anti-Muslim Brotherhood Salafis want to be the protector of the Sunni doctrine, and all the while the junta wants to enlist Islamism to serve their nationalist agenda.
     Both al-Azhar figures and Salafis are passionately defending the army, but they are also defending the role of religion in the state. In their opinion, religion should not be abused in politics, but it also should not be banned. Pro-coup non-Brotherhood Islamists are fighting hard to weaken the most organized Islamist group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, to capitalize on its downfall, and to enlarge their political base. Despite this, they are not united on a clear vision on how religion should be framed inside Egypt’s new constitution. The Salafi Nour party is fighting hard to keep article 219 unchanged, while other scholars advocate removing it. Interestingly, other “moderate” Islamists such as Aboul Fetouh have decided not to participate in the constitutional assembly. How all this will work out in the end is still unclear.
            Second, there is a new line of demarcation that has started to make a distinction between militarism and Mubarakism in Egypt’s political sphere. Indeed, Mubarak was an army man, but his long tenure was associated with a subtle shift towards favoring the police and business elite, while sidelining or neutralizing charismatic military figures such as Gamasi and Abu Ghazala, whom he feared could appeal to the public and challenge his rule.
            Now that the military is in charge of Egypt, its leadership is keen to dissociate itself from Mubarak, his policies, and his men. Subtly for now, they want to be prudent in their animosity to Mubarak while they are fighting on several other fronts. The release of Mubarak last week and the immediate house arrest order reflects the delicate balance that the military is trying to achieve. They do not want to humiliate their ex-leader ___ that is part of their military teaching, but they want to maintain their image as “the guardian of the revolution.” In addition, there was a palpable lack of enthusiasm about the release of Mubarak in Egypt state and private media. Another intriguing sign was the cold response to the news of the possible return of ex-presidential candidate Shafiq, considered as a Mubarak man, back from the United Arab Emirates. One Egyptian presenter, Tamir Amin, openly asked him not to return back to politics.
            The new decree issued by interim head of state Adly Mansour stating that Egyptian soldiers will no longer swear loyalty directly to the president of the republic is an indication that the military leadership does not just want to create another Morsi or another Mubarak. The junta worships their independence from the state. This is one clear goal that Sisi wanted to achieve by backing June 30.
            On the economic front, it seems that the new military leadership prefers a shift from Mubarak’s ___and to certain degree Morsi’s ___ neoliberal approach to the economy. Although the honeymoon with Mubarak’s Felool is still ongoing, it will unlikely last. The junta may not revert to Nasser ‘s extreme socialist approach, but they may prefer to tame the power of the business elite, mainly to maintain the loyalty of the apolitical public who resented the alliance between Mubarak and his businessmen.
            Third, the military coup has exposed the irrelevance of the various non-Islamist political parties in Egypt. All of them looked weak and ineffective. None have articulated any clear vision for the future. Instead, they all looked like junior pawns in Sisi’s coalition against the Brotherhood; a mere bunch of loyal, nodding dogs that release hollow statements, while their senior members rants on various talk shows. These parties even failed to capitalize from the crisis to widen their social base; none of them have travelled to the provinces or tried to engage with the public or listened to their grievances. How can they expect any victory against the Islamists in the next parliamentary election if they fail to show up in such a critical juncture in Egypt’s history? Some claim that their silence is deliberate until the current crisis subsides. If this is the actual case, then it is short sighted to say the least. The public will never forgive them for their cowardice and weakness.
            As for leaders like Sabbahi, many rightly predict that he stands a good chance in any future presidential election. His appearance on the al Arabyia channel endorsing the army move against the Muslim Brotherhood and support for a new nationalist agenda for Egypt has given him prominence. The left is re-bouncing back in Egypt, aiming to refashion Nasser’s glorious past, but with a few modifications.
            If we are not careful, the future of Egypt may be in the form of neo-nationalism: a mixture of militarism, socialism, and non-Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamism, all mixed together in a parcel that is wrapped with only a thin wrap of flawed democracy, in which the junta are leading from behind.

This article is republished with the permission of the author. It originally appeared on Nervana Mahmoud's blog and Daily News Egypt. Mahmoud tweets @Nervana_1

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