Is Egypt’s anti-Islamist revolution expected to affect the region?

19-07-2013 02:02 PM

Mervat Ayoub

When the Jasmine Revolution erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, overthrew the then Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and instated a new order that was meant to bring about democracy,

political analysts expected the Jasmine Revolution would have a domino effect in the Middle East. Sure enough, less than two months later the Lotus Revolution erupted in Egypt, overthrew the then president Hosni Mubarak and instated a new order. What came to be famously known as the Arab Spring was here. 
In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, regimes fell; Libya, however, did not fall till NATO bombed the country. Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan witnessed major public protest. And Syria fell in the throes of civil war. In all these countries, secular dictatorships were replaced by Islamists. 
Now Egypt has conducted another major revolution in which some 33 million Egyptians rose on 30 June against the ruling Islamist regime and, backed by the army, brought it down on 3 July. Even though the country has yet to reach some calm in view of the fierce retaliation by the Islamists, this is expected to be a matter of time since the vast majority of Egyptians have rejected Islamist rule. But will the Islamist downfall in Egypt have a domino effect on the region as the Jasmine revolution did back in 2010? 
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Islamic caliphate
It was not easy for the Muslim World to see Islamic khilaafa, literally caliphate—the pan-world Islamic rule which began after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century—come to an end with the abolishment of the Ottoman sultanate in 1922 four years after Turkey surrendered in World War I. 
Barely six years later, the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement in the Suez Canal town of Ismailiya in 1928. The MB began as a religious group preaching piousness and offering social services but, encouraged by its growing grassroots base, grew to be politically active and aggressive; in the 1940s the group carried out a number of political assassinations, and Banna himself was shot to death in Cairo in 1949. Yet the group’s appeal carried it swiftly to other Muslim countries and, today, it has not only grown to be a worldwide movement, but has spawned many other Islamist movements. At the heart of MB thought was the idea of an Islamic movement that spans the entire world, a modern-day Islamic caliphate. 
Over the decades since the death of Banna, the MB’s relation with Egypt’s ruling regimes has gone through ups and downs, the downs far outnumbering the ups. Its members were frequently hounded and imprisoned, since they were accused of working to overthrow legitimate regimes and themselves usurp power. When one of their members, Muhammad Mursi, became president of Egypt last year, it was a chance of a lifetime for the MB; they had finally achieved their decades-long dream.
Which way Arab Spring?
The one-year-old MB rule in Egypt was stormy at best, fraught with differences with those who held views other than the MB’s. The Mursi regime worked to root MB authority, entrench Islamism, and hegemonise State institutions. This increasingly enraged Egyptians, whose legendary moderation and pluralism could not stomach the MB Islamist exclusivity. Neither could Egyptians condone the push for pan-world Islamism which began with a disregard for Egypt’s national borders; it mattered not for the MB whether Halayeb and Shalateen were Egyptian or Sudanese soil, nor whether Sinai was Egyptian or Palestinian; it was all Islamic land in the end.
The MB dream-come-true was for Egyptians a nightmare. To compound their grievances, the MB failed miserably at running the country and brought on a disastrous economic crisis. The Egyptians rose as one man on 30 June to demand the ouster of Mursi and the MB and, led by their grassroots Tamarud (Rebel) movement and backed by the Armed Forces, did just that.
But will the fall of the MB in Egypt after one year in power have repercussions on the so-called ‘Arab Spring’? 
“Following the failure of the Islamists in Egypt, it has become hard for people to believe the talk of the Brotherhood about pluralism and democracy,” analyst Oraib Rintawi, who heads the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, said. 
 Distrust in Jordan and Tamarud in Tunisia
An Arab political source who asked to remain unnamed told Watani that the MB ouster in Egypt will beyond doubt have repercussions on Arab countries. Whereas Jordan’s King Abdullah II congratulated Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour in a statement that said: “Jordan supports the will and choice of the great Egyptian people”, the powerful MB opposition in Jordan described Mursi’s ouster as a military coup and a “US-led conspiracy”. 
Islamists in Jordan had been emboldened by the rise of the Brotherhood in Egypt; they staged street protests almost every week since 2011 to demand sweeping reforms. Today, the rhetoric used by Jordan’s MB indicates they feel threatened by what took place in Egypt. Mursi’s demise has been a blow; “they now need to double their efforts to convince people of their credibility,” Mr Rintawi says.
Tunisians have already taken the matter a step further: they seem to have emulated Egypt and started their own Tamarud campaign, hoping to rally their own millions to the streets as the Egyptians did. In a few days, the Tunisian Tamarud had already gathered some 175,000 signatures to overthrow the Islamist regime. Women especially, who represent some 40 per cent of the electorate, are expected to support Tamarud, since they have been prime losers by the implementation of Islamic sharia. The new Islamic laws, for instance, allow polygamy which had been hitherto banned.
In an attempt to contain the rebellion, the national Tunisian constituent council held its first session to discuss the draft constitution which Tunisians see as too late in coming, two-and-a-half-years on the Jasmine Revolution. But the constitution in itself may give rise to conflict, since it is bound to bring to the fore the divide between the Islamists and the non-Islamists.
It’s all about Mursi
Egypt’s ouster of the MB has thrown Libya’s Islamists into confusion, casting doubt on the conservative agenda they had hoped to enact. It threw doubts over whether the MB in Libya had any future, even though they today hold sway over the parliament. But analysts in the region believe Libyans have grown increasingly suspicious of the MB’s long-term interests.
Egypt’s upheaval spurred anti-MB forces in eastern Libya, which have set up checkpoints near the border to arrest fleeing Egyptian Brotherhood officials. Libya##s technocratic government, meanwhile, has been at pains not to take sides over the events in Egypt, its priority being to maintain good relations with whoever triumphs in Cairo. Prime Minister Ali Zaidan said that Libya would “support any political choice by the Egyptian people”.
Morocco, a conservative monarchy whose King Mohammed VI was the first leader in North Africa to congratulate Egypt’s interim president, Adli Mansour, has seen the leaders of its Islamist parties distance themselves from the Egyptian MB. They attempted to save face by making it seem as though the problem was not with Islamic rule, but with Mursi’s policies.
Syria’s MB weakened
The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing an insurgency at home and has refused to step down, calling the revolt an international conspiracy by Islamists and fundamentalist groups such as the Syrian MB. “The MB and those who are like them take advantage of religion and use it as a mask,” Assad said. “They consider that when you don’t stand with them politically, then you are not standing with God.” Assad’s comments mark the second time in a week that he has gloated publically about Mursi’s fall. As in other countries where Islamists use ideology to gain public support, the MB fall in Egypt has cast doubts over Islamist rhetoric.
Sudan’s aspirations
Sudan has not been immune to the Arab Spring. The opposition, capitalising on anger over soaring food prices and corruption, has threatened to stage mass protests to topple their president since 1989 Omar Hassan al-Bashir within 100 days. 
Echoing the language heard across Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia, protestors held up signs saying: “The people demand the fall of the regime” and “Go Bashir”. Bashir still enjoys the support of the army and influential Islamist groups. He dismisses the opposition parties as insignificant.
“This regime has failed on all levels during a quarter of a century in power,” Sadiq al-Mahdi, head of the opposition Umma Party and Sudan’s last democratically elected prime minister who was toppled by Bashir in a coup in 1989, said. “Now, it should go” 
Coinciding with Egypt’s protests on the weekend of 30 June, several thousand Sudanese, possibly as many as 10,000, rallied in a square in Khartoum’s twin city Omdurman, the biggest rally in years.
MB: the same everywhere
Sudanese opposition writer Saif al-Dawla Hamdanallah describes the Egyptian revolution as a role-model that should be emulated, even without a man like Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.  
“If there is a victim of this Egyptian revolution—other than Mursi and his clan,” Hamdanallah wrote, “It is us—the Sudanese people. The Egyptian revolution has exposed the bitterness and anguish of our failure. Those who rule over us in Sudan are the same as the Islamists whom the Egyptians rebelled against on 30 June. In our jubilation at the success of the Egyptians, we are like the mother whose son failed his exam, but is rejoicing at the success of her neighbour’s son.”
“What the MB did in Egypt is the same as what the MB is doing in Sudan. It is the same extremist thought; the same monopoly over power, the same exclusion of others, and the same exploitation of the Islamic religion to deceive the minds and sentiments of the public and pass themselves as God’s prophets on earth. Also the same reneging on promises.
“The Egyptian revolution should inspire and motivate us,” Hamdanallah concluded, “Whoever heard the millions in Tahrir singing ‘Love you Egypt’ must have felt the hair on his neck stand. It is time for us to revolt against our indignity; the peoples around us are already taking fresh breaths of freedom.”
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End to the Turkish role?
Turkey’s assertive foreign policy, promoting itself as a role model for the Muslim World, received a setback after Egypt’s Mursi and the MB fell, analysts say.
The Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), which faced down the most widespread protests in its 10-year tenure, had forged a close alliance with Mursi and his group. Analysts described the AKP’s comments on Mursi’s downfall to sound as though one of their own men had fallen. Egypt under Mursi and the MB had become an increasingly important ally of Turkey. Trade had surged in recent years, and Turkey enjoyed resurgent clout in the region in the post-Arab spring era, partly on account of its links with like-minded Islamists in regional capitals.
According to www.usnews, “If you are reading the Turkish press, you might conclude that you are in Egypt, because that seems to be the only topic of conversation. The Egyptian coup was a nightmare for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, putting an end to his ambitious foreign policy fantasies.”
The Turkish media vilified the ouster of Mursi; the Sabah news site posted photos under the title: “After Taksim, vandals take on Tahrir Square”. It also posted, among other similar-minded stories, one with the title: All of Turkey stands against General Sisi and behind Mursi, under which it reported on demonstrations in various spots in Turkey, which took off following Friday prayers chanting for Mursi to stand up; Muslims were with him. Which all brings to mind strongly the suspicion that Turkey feels threatened—or at best deeply unhappy—by the ouster of the Islamists in Egypt. As to Islamic khilaafa, it looks like it has been consigned to the past.
Watani International
21 July 2013
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