Robert Fisk, back in February talked of the Arab revolutions as ‘Secular Popular Revolts’. Specifically he characterised the Egyptian revolutionaries as ‘the forces of secular, nationalist, honourable Egypt, Muslim and Christian men and women’. However was his categorisation a misleading one?. The Arab uprisings have irrevocably and fundamentally been concerned with the removal of authoritarian regimes however, particularly in Egypt, the momentum of these initial anti-regime protests is being wrongfully equated by some of the political forces as momentum for their own ideologies. These blurring of boundaries have left the Islamists in an incredibly difficult situation. To put their full weight behind the protests and sit-ins is a dangerous game wherein if they push too hard those steering the vehicle could leave them in a cloud of dust.
A case in point is the central debate over whether the constitution or elections should come first. Many viewed the eagerness of the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for September elections as a cynical attempt to take advantage of the lack of preparation it would have given to other political forces. However there is a much greater threat to the Islamists as a whole which could undermine their very existence as an electable political force. Calls for supra constitutional values have become blurred in with the ‘anti-regime’ movement at the heart of the protests. However the Islamists legitimately fear the imposition of supra constitutionalist values which could potentially eradicate official recognition of Islam as the religion of the state and the sourcing from Islamic law for the law of the land. Of course the inclusion of article 2 in the Egyptian constitution has had very little effect on government policy in previous years, however its exclusion could eventually alienate the still widely popular Islamists from mainstream Egyptian politics. If they cannot call for an Islamic state or the imposition of Islamic law, then ultimately they are no longer Islamists and their rasion d’etre perishes.
Apparently slow to realise this, the Islamists finally came out on Friday to stake their own claim as national political forces with a say in the direction of this runaway train. In what were perhaps the first ideological exchanging of blows, Islamist Chants of ‘Islamic state’ were at times countered by chants of ‘Civic-state’. There is undoubtedly a danger that such occurrences could eventually split the revolutionary political landscape along sharply divided ideological lines and potentially endanger the current, albeit very steady moves towards cleansing governing apparatus of Mubarak’s stench.
The apparent political cynicism of the Islamists should be understood in the context of what is apparently a serious threat from secularist undercurrents pervading the mainstream revolutionary forces which could wipe out Egyptian Islamism as a serious and popular political movement. Furthermore if such a criticism is to be levelled at the Islamists then it could be dealt in an equal dose to the those on the other bench. Those secular political forces worried about lack of preparation time for the elections must undoubtedly also harbour worries about the Islamists enshrining constitutional values which would fundamentally undermine their own future plight for governance.
Despite a strong showing of Islamists forces on Friday, one must also hasten to add that the idea that they constitute a homogenous political force is simply wrong. There are strong divisions between the more mainstream Islamists and the Salafists. While that favourite media catchphrase describing the Brotherhood as the most organised political force in Egypt is becoming less of a truism by the day. Many of the Brotherhood’s youth have already abandoned ship because of the leadership’s failure to place their full weight behind the mainstream revolutionary movement. Now split by 5, the Brotherhood certainly doesn’t seem the intimidating figure the media was keenly portraying it as up until recently. Considering some of the breakaway elements have joined the call for a civic state, the supporters of an Islamic State were prodded into action by the realisation that their train carriage is in serious danger of being unhinged.
Egypt’s revolutionaries must not lose sight of the core component of what this revolution is about, namely bringing down the Mubarak regime. Yes, the Islamists prompted a distraction from this in championing their own ideological agenda. However liberal and leftist elitism at the heart of the revolutionary movement had provoked them. The various blogs by those involved in these movements are rife with unjustified dismissals and ridiculing of the Islamist movement. Tensions between the protestors and ordinary Egyptians have shown that perhaps the former are not as in touch with the latter as they seem to think. Certainly as yet they have absolutely zero mandate or legitimacy to claim to represent the Egyptian people in any other area other than opposing the persistent elements of the Mubarak era. It would appear most in the West are taking the Islamists much more seriously than the liberal and leftist political forces in Egypt. Like Fisk, they treat them with contempt to the point that many political forces complained that the Islamists took over ‘their’ square on Friday, as if they have no place in Egypt’s emerging political landscape. The idea that these are ‘secular’ revolts is insulting to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of what secularism entails. The Egyptian people have spoken, yes, but they are for now much more decided upon what they are opposing than for what they are standing for. The Egyptian political forces, across the board would do well to remember that this revolution is not about separating religion from state, but separating Mubarak and the remnants of his government from it.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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