Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Difference between Islamist/Muslim

After reading my blog yesterday, a good friend said: “Thank you for pointing out that the majority of Egyptians, though largely Muslim, are not staunch Islamists.” It got me to thinking – before I moved to this region, I didn’t know the difference and I’m sure many of you may not.

So as you watch the continuation of Egypt’s latest protests or just other uprisings in the region, you should be able to distinguish between the two. Islamaphobia is centered on the fear of Islamist organizations which include al-Qaeda, Somalia’s al-Shabab, Algeria’s AQIM, etc. However, there are moderate to liberal Muslims that do not fall into the category of Islamist, like Turkey’s Republican People’s Party and pro-democracy movements in Egypt.

Islamists – mostly associated with a jihad ideology, but even when not violent, center around hard-lined beliefs like refusing to recognize gender equality. Islamists gain more traction by claiming to represent Muslims, but this isn’t true.

The term Islamism was coined to differentiate Islam as modern ideology from Islam as a faith. It became necessary to make this distinction after the Iranian revolution of 1979, which gave rise to the popular use of the term: “Islamic fundamentalism.”

Muslims – Encompass all that believe in the Qaran and Prophet Mohammed, but not every Muslim is an Islamist. It is ignorant to associate every Muslim with Bin Laden, similar to associating every Christian with cult leader David Koresh. We all have different beliefs and not every Muslim is associated with such hard-lined rhetoric. Many believe in recognizing other religions, living in peace and the basic life standards that most strive to live by.

Islamists are a small sect within Islam, but unfortunately, their actions carry the most weight.

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered Islamist, but only composes around 100,000 followers out of 80-million people in Egypt (figures vary). So you might wonder how Islamists, including the post-revolution emergence of the Salafeen (previously, this group did not exist), garnered the majority of the parliamentary seats. One main reason could be that the liberals were split. It’s like the two major parties that rule the US, but voting for a third party candidate only takes away from the GOP or DEM which could cause a loss for one of the two major parties during a close race.

Another reason fears are heightened over the MB is because many of the most dangerous terrorist organizations have derived from the group which originated in Egypt. Shadi Hamid, a MidEast expert at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, said: “[The MB] is the mother of all Islamist movements.”

So the major problem within the Egyptian protests right now center on the majority-led Islamists within the Constitutional Assembly – which do not represent the majority of Egypt.

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