Monday, September 5, 2011

Letters from Egypt: The Current State of Egypt

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Egyptian liberal politician Hisham Kassem said to TIME about Tahrir Square activists, “They’re permanently in revolution mode. They’re just not organized for politics.”

Normally I try to avoid articles written about Egypt, pre- and post-revolution, as nine times out of 10, they’re biased and/or not factual. A friend of mine, while picking up my favorite publication The New Yorker, decided that he should grab a couple of similar magazines including TIME. The Summer Journey Issue (August 1-8) details 14th century explorer, Ibn Battuta, and compares his stops to modern day society and Islam.

While going through various stories from Turkey (exporting hub), Saudi Arabia (speed dating), Dubai (foreign influence on its economy), you find “The Rise of Moderate Islam” discussing the current situation and religious status in Egypt. Author Bobby Ghosh begins his observations describing his first meeting with Salafi leader Kamal Habib and the Islamists’ non-chalant attitude toward female journalist/interpreter’s sleeveless shirt and uncovered hair.
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I laugh.

I thought, “Great, just another person who believes the rhetoric spoken by a movement that wants to enforce Sharia (Islamic law) to make Egypt more like Saudi.” It’s rare these days to find a journalist that is giving both sides to the story, and I’ll admit that I stopped laughing after the first page. Ghosh was spot-on in his reporting, which is why I’m posting the article for those of you interested to definitely take a gander.

He noted that the Muslim Brotherhood will contest only half of the seats in the first post-Mubarak general elections and will not have a presidential candidate (Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh was expelled from the group after announcing his candidacy). Ghosh said, “This guarantees that the [Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party] will not have anything like a majority in the new parliament, which will take on the highly sensitive task of rewriting the constitution.” Top Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian said that it was because “…we recognize that it would create fear, and the absence of fear is good for us as much as it is good for Egypt.”
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That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is playing it safe (like how it played it safe during the onset of the revolution, only participating after the movement gained momentum). Chances are that the first government post-Mubarak is going to be an epic failure or at least have enough hiccups that the MB does not want to remotely have its name attached. This will result in the MB, salafists and other hard-lined Islamists gaining more leverage over the next elections. Liberals and moderates alike, beware, this group is definitely playing the smartest game (not to mention continues to strengthen with its organizational skills via a grassroots initiative). As Ghosh noted: 

“It doesn’t help that liberal groups are in disarray. The kids who brought down dictators in Egypt and Tunisia have shown little interest in forming political parties. Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who became the most recognized face of the Tahrir Square revolution, has dropped out of sight. Older liberal pols, who lack the revolutionary credentials of the youth and the organizational skill of the Islamists, are struggling to keep up. Mohamed El Baradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog and Nobel Peace laureate, can’t seem to make up his mind whether to run for President.”

Well said.

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