How the Islamists Won

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Spiegel Online offers a good account of how elections went in Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring, and why they look certain to turn Egypt into an Islamist theocracy.

Is it for this that the Egyptian youth took to the streets in late January? Is this why they overthrew autocratic former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak?

No, says Amr Iss al-Rigal. "But this is merely a transitional phenomenon. We had a feeling that the religious groups would triumph at first -- because they, like the Salafists, have friends in the oil monarchies. And because they, like the Muslim Brothers, were long members of the opposition, which gave them time to organize."
The financial support of our "ally", Saudi Arabia comes as no surprise, and is not unimportant, but Rigal notes something else that is much more important, although he seems not to fully appreciate it:
The former revolutionary has now turned into a candidate for parliament. And his prospects are good, even though he is campaigning directly against the Islamists in the poor Imbaba neighborhood. As the son of a bus driver, Rigal is familiar with the people who vote for the Islamists. And because his father was once a member of the radical group al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, he also knows what makes the Islamists so successful. "They appeal to your religious feelings, to your conscience. They distribute meat and coal. But that isn't a platform. You don't create jobs just by being devout." Rigal says that whenever he has told voters about their political rights, about their right to participate in the democratic process, to education and to healthcare, they have almost always reacted with astonishment and curiosity. [bold added]
Rigal is correct to note the incompatibility between Islamic altruism and the requirements of prosperity, but he grossly underestimates the power of morality as a motivator. Even if theocrats -- or some theocrat-military alliance -- actually permitted free elections (and honored their results) down the road, unless this morality is challenged directly and often in Egypt's popular culture, there is no reason to think that an Islamist-dominated parliament is somehow a "transitional phenomenon".

-- CAV

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