Friday, February 04, 2011

Egypt: Many protesters are beginning to think about what kind of state will emerge if Mubarak falls

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

Iranian Shadow Touches Egypt
By Cam McGrath

The young activists who began Egypt’s popular uprising admit the online campaign that turned into the country’s largest ever anti-government street demonstrations has far exceeded their expectations. But as the movement gains momentum, protesters are beginning to think about what kind of state will emerge if President Hosni Mubarak falls. And many are worried.

"At first we were only thinking of how to get Mubarak out," says protester Seif Abdallah, who describes himself as a "moderate" Muslim. "We want free and fair elections, but there are many of us – both Christian and Muslim – who are worried that we’ll kick out the dictator and end up replacing him with an Islamic state like Iran."

Mina Rizqallah, an activist and lawyer at the Egyptian Union for Liberal Thinking, says populist movements such as Kefaya, 6 April Youth Movement and the recent Jan. 25 "Day of Anger" campaign are the reaction to decades of repressive rule, corruption and grinding poverty. While he supports their cause, he fears a radical Islamic government could sprout from the barren political landscape.

"The organisers of these protests want Mubarak out, but they don’t have any clear imagination of how Egypt should be after he’s gone," Rizqallah told IPS. "They are just employing empty words and slogans like ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Remember, it was democracy that brought the Nazis into power in Germany and Hamas into power in Gaza, and democracy could bring the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Egypt."

The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s largest and most organised opposition force. Founded in 1928, the political and social movement seeks to create an Islamic state based on Sharia. While the outlawed group renounced violence in the 1970s in favour of political participation, its members are frequently arrested and imprisoned by authorities.

Muslim Brotherhood candidates running as independents captured 88 seats, or about 20 percent, of parliament in the 2005 elections. The group’s unprecedented electoral success was short-lived. Amid a government- orchestrated backlash, the group failed to secure even a single seat in November 2010 parliamentary elections – a poll observers said was marred by fraud and violence.

The Islamic group did not initiate Egypt’s popular uprising – that credit goes to young, mostly secular Egyptians - but if the revolution succeeds the movement could be its biggest beneficiary.

"Egypt’s opposition is weak, divided and inexperienced," explains Moustafa Kamel El-Sayed, professor of political science at Cairo University.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the only group in Egypt with the organisation and the numbers to take political control, he says. "In any election scenario, it will be the kingmaker."

The realisation that an Islamic group may soon be calling the shots has some anti-government protesters rethinking their resolve to oust their country’s dictator.

"I was in Tahrir Square protesting since the first day (on Jan. 25), but now I’m trying to convince my friends to stop and accept Mubarak’s pledge to leave in September," says university student Amina Ghanem. "We need more time to strengthen opposition groups ahead of elections, otherwise the Muslim Brotherhood will win a huge majority."

Coptic Christians, who represent about 10 percent of Egypt’s 82 million people, are especially anxious over the future of Egyptian politics. Their trepidation stems from recent sectarian violence in Egypt and repeated attacks on churches across the Middle East by radical Islamist groups.

A church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria was bombed on New Year’s Day, killing 23 people and wounding over 100. The Muslim Brotherhood has condemned the attack, which authorities claim was carried out by an Al Qaeda-linked group in Gaza.

Prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris has voiced concern that political Islam could rise on the wave of discontent spreading across Egypt. He recently told one international news channel: "This movement has not been manipulated by politics. It is a young people’s movement…and we will do our best to ensure that it is not hijacked by radical religious forces that want to take us back to the Middle Ages."

Political analyst Dina Shehata says the Muslim Brotherhood has largely "stayed on the margins" of the uprising, but the group’s participation was vital to the success of the "March of a Million" in Cairo on Tuesday.

The group mobilised its masses for the biggest anti-government demonstration in Egypt’s modern history. Its supporters called for Mubarak to step down and handed out pamphlets with the group’s slogan, "Islam is the solution".

Analysts say the Muslim Brotherhood has shown no intention of fielding a presidential candidate – that would leave it exposed. Instead, it has thrown its weight behind potential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog and a darling of the Western press.

ElBaradei is a secular, liberal reformist, but he recognises that the Muslim Brotherhood’s support is crucial to winning over the Egyptian masses, especially the poor.

"They are religiously conservative, but they are willing to work within a civil society state," he has said