The End of Islamism?

Hazem Kandil

Islamism was born in Egypt in 1928. And it was in Egypt, 85 years later, that the first successful uprising against an Islamist government occurred. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood is a momentous event: but to foreign observers, the army’s intervention overshadowed everything else.

In their state of shock and denial, the Brothers would certainly like to think that their unseating was purely a coup by the old regime. After an eight-decade cultural war to impose their unorthodox interpretation of Islam, they believed they had the hearts and minds of Egyptians safely tucked away in their pockets. Nothing could persuade them that ‘the people’ (or so many of them) would freely reject them. They were not alone in this belief. Over the years, dozens of news reports and academic studies have assured us that the ‘politics of piety’ would be the trump card in any power contest – at least if it were free. And once the rebellion unfolded, journalists and scholars found solace in the conviction that what was happening was no different from the Algerian, Turkish and Pakistani cases, where anti-Islamist coups repressed the pious majority.

But there is no reason to indulge their fantasy. It is true that without the support of the military and security forces, the revolt would have been aborted. And it is true that President Morsi’s failure to appease either the remnants of the old regime or the secular opposition threw them together in a tactical alliance against him. However, none of this can take away from the fact that 22 million Egyptians signed ‘rebellion petitions’ in the last three months, and this week 17 million of them, according to official figures (33 million according to the opposition), have marched against the chief representatives of Islamism.

For a president who paraded his democratic credentials at every opportunity, the viciousness of the religious rhetoric he deployed against his opponents was unnerving: demonstrators were collectively excommunicated; supporters said that the Archangel Gabriel prayed at the mosque where they were camped out; images of the Prophet’s epic battles against infidels, hypocrites and Jews were conjured. Islamist clerics openly declared jihad against protesters in front of television cameras, and presented themselves as ‘projects for martyrdom’ – so much for the Brotherhood’s advocacy of freedom and citizenship. And this was only the latest charge in the barrage of abusive language that Morsi’s supporters, drunk with power, had unleashed over the months. It all backfired. Millions of self-proclaimed Muslims refused to be either threatened or patronised; they refused to endorse the Brotherhood’s conflation of Islamism and Islam.

Certainly, the Brothers’ dismal performance in power brought about their downfall, rather than some elaborate debate on the legitimacy of Islamism. There was nothing Islamic about the movement’s policies. On the contrary, the moral image they projected was quickly comprised by the shabby deals they tried (and failed) to strike with old regime institutions, and foreign powers they had previously condemned. Once in power, Morsi praised the Interior Ministry so highly that he even claimed this most patriotic of institutions had been an essential partner in the 2011 revolt; and his aides spared no effort in imploring America to save his presidency. Egyptians became rapidly disillusioned with Islamist incompetence, paranoia, double-dealing and, above all, profound arrogance towards people they regarded as less religious than them.

It turns out that Morsi’s tenure was a blessing in disguise. If he had lost the presidency, Islamism would have remained the path not taken. But today, millions of Muslims have voted with their feet against Islamist rule. Those who grieve over this affront to ballot box democracy forget that Egypt, like any new democracy, has every right to seek popular consensus on the basic tenets of its future political system. Revolutionary France went through five republics before settling into the present order, and America needed a civil war to adjust its democratic path. It is not uncommon in the history of revolutions for coups to pave the way or seal the fate of popular uprisings. Those who see nothing beyond a military coup are simply blind. I asked the old, bearded man standing next to me in Tahrir Square why he joined the protests. ‘They promised us that Islam is the solution,’ he replied. ‘But under Muslim Brotherhood rule we saw neither Islam nor a solution.’ The country that invented Islamism may well be on its way to undoing the spell.


  • 4 July 2013 at 11:40pm
    farthington says:
    The end of Islamism?
    Has anybody consulted the Saudi regime on this matter?

  • 5 July 2013 at 12:51am
    Higgs Boatswain says:
    You're exceedingly hopeful, but even if this is indeed the end of the road for the Muslim Brothers (highly improbable given the relative lack of other civil structures in Egypt), it certainly doesn't spell the end of Egyptian Islamism. On the contrary, I fear that the Brotherhood's loss may be the Salafists' gain. If Egyptian Islamists lose confidence in democracy and in non-violence - two causes to which the Muslim Brotherhood, for all it faults, has always been firmly wedded - I'm afraid they may decide to pursue a more uncompromising approach.

  • 5 July 2013 at 3:36pm
    stanly says:
    So Egypt is back to the square one. Was it a coup? Yes, it's. Was it a typical coup? No it's not.

    What triggered the coup is popular anti-government protests. Those who look at the coup angle moralistically, deliberately overlook the massive protests going in Egypt--in several cities. At least a quarter of the living population of Cairo was in the Tahrir Square on June 30, which was unprecedented even by the Egyptian standards. More than half of the electorate had signed a memorandum prepared by the rebellion demanding Morsi resign.

    And this did not happen an overnight. Protests were building up over the last year.

    Morsi has to blame himself. The Muslim Brotherhood waited decades to come to power, patiently. And they got a historic opportunity when Mubarak fell. They were the only organised political movement when Egypt's polity was suddenly opened up after the revolution. And they reaped the gains. But miserably failed to sustain those gains. Morsi and his Brothers could have charted a different course from the old regime-- a new economic model, a different foreign policy, etc. Instead he tried to become an Islamist Pharao, with his primary goal being to consolidate power for his Islamist cause. He misread the message of the revolution that brought him to power. It was not a revolution of the Brotherhood. It was Egyptian people's.

    The army is now riding the wave of popular protests. They cannot be trusted. They have their own vested interest. Who can be trusted is the people in the street. Those who toppled Mubarak, those who stopped Morsi. The Spring is not over yet.

  • 5 July 2013 at 10:34pm
    Batmensch says:
    I'm not sure that it's a coup if the military is acting at the behest of the civilian population. Does anyone believe that the military are not acting for the will of the majority?

  • 6 July 2013 at 11:20am
    George Hoffman says:
    Hazem, I totally agree with you. Good riddance to Morsi and the MB. And I remain guardedly optimistic that the Egyptian people will eventually find their own way toward an inclusive form of representative democracy. And I find it ironic that the pundits in the MSM in America have been so harsh in their criticism of the coup d'etat in Egypt. How about our grand and wonderful experiment in democracy in Iraq that they supported acting as handmaidens carrying water for the Bush/Cheney junta? Last May there were over 1,000 innocent civilians killed by suicide and car bombings. And then this past June the body count dipped down to 761 civilians slaughtered in sectarian violence along the Sunni/Shiite fault line. And after all the blood and treasure squandered in that country with 4,000 American soldiers and over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians killed? Now that country is the real basket case.

  • 9 July 2013 at 11:34am
    Hakim Naved says:
    Hazem, you hit the nail on the head. Firstly, when 17 million people(25% of the population) protest against your rule, you have certainly lost your legitimacy. How can anyone in their right mind, baring ideological blinkers, expect such a ruler to fulfill the remainder of his "mandate," if you can call it such. He had already lost his mandate.

    My personal feeling was exactly the same as you described, that perhaps the fact that the MB/Morsi brigade won last years elections, and were given a chance to prove themselves, was a blessing in disguise. I for one, despite being passionately intellectually opposed to Islamism, due to its rejection of liberal norms and values, at the time thought that: "let's give them a chance; maybe they will prove me wrong." If they succeeded, I would have honestly been ever eager to embrace their approach and abandon my commitment to liberalism.

    However, as demonstrated by many an objective writer and commentator, they just did not stand up to the task of governing humanely, fairly and effectively. It is intrinsic to Islamist ideology that by its very nature, it seeks to exclude rather than include those who do not share their way of life and thinking.

  • 9 July 2013 at 11:36am
    Hakim Naved says:
    part 2/2
    Islamism is built on an “us vs them” mentality. They cannot think in terms of “win-win, cooperative governance, etc.” For them, the “winner takes all,” since “they are Allah’s chosen people.” And the rest of the world are “heathens, apostates, and enemies of Allah.”

    I like your comparison with the emergence of the French Republic. Political stability cannot be achieved by a magic wand in societies that are in flux. This is not possible in a single nuclear family that suffers from upheaval, let alone an entire country, and moreover, when it forms part of an entire region notorious for its political and social instability and oppression for the best part of a century.
    Finally, this was no coup. It was a people’s revolution, into which the army had no option but to step in. Certainly liberal democratically minded people wish that after an initial state of flux, good sense will prevail, and consequently, good governance. After all, isn't that what we, the freedom loving people of the world are all striving for?

    • 9 July 2013 at 7:16pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Hakim Naved
      "God's chosen people" is an unfortunate choice of stick with which to beat Islamists, given that it's a label famously applied to itself by a certain nation-state, the politics of which is one motivating factor for the politicisation of Islam.

  • 10 July 2013 at 2:51pm
    tony lynch says:
    What has happened is a a disaster. As are the above comments. Go to a mirror, and look hard.

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