Mounting anti-Ikhwan sentiment inside and outside Egypt has become indisputable. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government's poor performance coupled with its political arrogance and immaturity have irritated many Egyptians and alarmed western policymakers. However, the crucial question is: Does it really matter? Does the MB take their critics seriously? More importantly, how will this anti-Ikhwanism play out with the internal politics of the MB?
The MB doesn't seem to be much concerned with the growing resentment against its rule. The movement is chiefly preoccupied by grabbing as much power as it can and its leaders don't give much attention to the allegation that their popularity is waning.
Moreover, President Mohamed Morsi tends to ignore, disdain, or threaten the opposition's leaders, which he believes are attempting to undermine his rule. For him, as long as MB support is secure, nothing should be worrying. Not surprisingly, since taking power, Morsi has shown no sign of disentanglement between the presidency and the MB. His discourse and policy are still much attached to the MB's ideology and leadership.
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The bloody struggle playing out in Syria has taken on increasingly sectarian tones, with dangerous implications for the future of this important country and the region. Protests originally focused on governance, political rights, and human freedoms. President Bashar al-Assad and his regime responded with violence, torture, and abuse, labeling opponents as "terrorists" and emphasizing sectarian differences. Two plus years into this increasingly protracted struggle, Assad's actions have helped create what he feared -- armed anti-government elements seeking his overthrow, with violent foreign religious extremists importing their dangerous worldview and political agenda.
Considering the diverse set of actors fighting the Assad regime, there will be another war for control of Syria once he leaves the scene. It will pit onetime rebel allies against each other, with alignments along sectarian lines or divides over secular versus religious governance. These cleavages are already starting to show, such as with the recent announcement by al Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra of the establishment of an Islamic State in Syria.
Therefore, for the future of Syria, the fight after the fight may be as important as the first.
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I walk through a Tunisian market around midday, at the entrance to the fortress of Sousse, a town about 90 minutes southeast of the capital Tunis on the coast. A man is selling Salafi books and copies of the Quran from a maple wood table, 12 feet long, in front of a small masjid inside the old fortress walls, which were built in the ninth century by the Aghlabid caliph Ziyadat Allah I.
Two men are sitting nearby, at the edge of a dry, broken-down fountain, enjoying the sunny and mild weather. I approach them, along with three Tunisian friends, to ask for an interview. One dismisses me outright, gets up and leaves. He thinks I am in the American mukhabarat (intelligence). The other accepts. I sit next to him, shake his hand, and we both exchange salam alaykum pleasantries.
"Are You Muslim or a non-Muslim?" he asks.
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Egypt watchers were briefly all a-twitter yesterday about the appointment of the country's first post-revolutionary mufti. With rumors widespread that a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abd al-Rahman al-Barr, would get the nod, concerns that the "Brotherhoodization" of the Egyptian state was soon to spread to the official religious establishment. In the end, al-Barr was passed over, but the brief kerfuffle obscures the real long-term struggle likely to take place over Egyptian religious institutions.
Instead of al-Barr, the designee is Shawqi Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Karim, a scholar of Islamic law teaching in Tanta. ‘Abd al-Karim is a figure known to his colleagues but with a low public profile. He has written widely on subjects ranging from the narrowly technical (a comparison between Islamic and civil law on the right to cancel a sale while the contracting parties are still in each other's presence), to the broadly social ("Women and Globalization in the Arabian Peninsula" in which he praises the spread of education among women but decries homosexuality), and to the esoteric (a book on sex selection and sex changes, a surprisingly lively topic among Islamic legal specialists in part because laws governing the family and even prayer are highly gendered, so that it becomes important to know whether one is dealing with a male or a female).
Despite the rise of Islamist parties in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, Islamism, as a political ideology and salvation promise, is losing much of its appeal and sanctity. This ironic point is due to many factors, however, the most important is the inability of Islamists to provide viable solutions to the chronic socio-economic problems that wreck Arab societies. It is one of the "unintended outcomes" of a transition process, to use Schmitter and Karl's definition of democratic transition. Moreover, the "lenient" and dubious reaction of Islamist governments toward the mounting influence and role of radical and violent extremists has jeopardized their image and credibility as truly "moderate" and peaceful movements and may undermine their rule if they don't restrain it.
From Morocco to Egypt, the inability of Islamist parties to effectively run the transitions is evident. Their track records over the past two years are poor and depressing. It reveals significant lack of vision and skills in running their countries and moving away from the old to new democratic regimes. Certainly, no one would expect this to happen smoothly or quickly. However, the behavior and actions of Islamists aren't ushering in a new era.
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Justice comes slowly to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and sometimes not at all. In August 2012, local security officials announced that they were searching for 120 militants wanted on charges of attacking police stations and killing 16 Egyptian soldiers at a military post near the border with Israel. Six months later, they're still looking. Police are few and far between, and those who do patrol the streets are increasingly the victims of the same crimes they are trying to prevent. Police cars are hijacked in broad daylight while officers are gunned down by masked assailants in a climate of brazen banditry and lawlessness that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously described as "a kind of Wild West."
The 23,500 square mile Sinai desert has long been a sanctuary for militant Islamist groups and smugglers operating along Egypt's porous border with the embargoed Gaza Strip. But despite their strategic significance, the two governorates of North and South Sinai are among Egypt's poorest and most politically marginal, accorded a mere four seats each in the 508-member People's Assembly. Decades of neglect and economic discrimination by the central government have fueled resentment among the Bedouin tribes that account for around 70 percent of the Sinai's 500,000 residents. It is estimated that only 10 percent of the Bedouins are formally employed, and one out of every four does not possess a government ID card. Their many grievances -- including legal obstacles to land ownership, lack of basic public services, job discrimination, and systematic exclusion from military and police academies -- have reinforced a climate of mutual distrust between the central government and the Sinai.
On Saturday, Egyptians voted in a national referendum on the country's new constitution, drafted over the course of six months by a largely Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. Opponents of the new document say it restricts freedoms, inflates the powers of the presidency, and makes second-class citizens out of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a loose coalition of opposition figures, including former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa, declared that the constitution did not represent a majority of Egyptians, and urged his followers (after some dithering about a boycott) to vote no.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the results of the first phase of the referendum (conducted in 10 of Egypt's most populous governorates, with the remaining 17 to vote on December 22) were a blow to ElBaradei's narrative. The new constitution passed comfortably, with an estimated 57 percent voting yes. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has "hailed" the poll, describing the result as a rebuke to "politicians and collaborators who ignored the will of the people."
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What happened to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood? Variants of this question have consumed the international media, academics, and policymaking circles over the last few weeks. Many Egyptians have equally given voice to unprecedented rage against the MB during the crisis sparked by President Mohamed Morsi's moves to push through a controversial new constitution. Bloody clashes between the MB followers and protesters in front of the presidential palace and the provocative discourse of some of the MB leaders took many by surprise, as did the outrageous actions of the MB and what is said to be torture chambers that were allegedly run by some of the MB members against peaceful protesters who were beaten and terrified at Morsi's presidential palace.
The Brotherhood's behavior seems bewildering to many observers who have followed the organization for many years. The recent crisis seems a profound setback and a retreat from its "moderate" character and longstanding "reformist" agenda. Some Egyptian politicians now accuse the MB of adopting a "fascist" propensity in dealing with its opponents. Many western commentators go farther, using the crisis as an excuse to cast profound doubts on the MB ideology and to question its democratic credentials. What does this crisis really say about the "nature" and the true "color" of the MB? Has it changed its ideology after taking power, or revealed its reformist rhetoric as a lie?
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If a student of constitutional texts sat down to read the draft Egyptian constitution from beginning to end, he or she would find much of it familiar -- the language, structure, and institutions would seem to bear resemblances to constitutions in many other countries, even if the particular choices made or terms used were products of domestic political debates. He or she might pause at Article 4, promising that al-Ahzar will be consulted in matters of Islamic law. But the observer would likely be totally flummoxed upon arriving at Article 219, defining the principles of the Islamic sharia in technical terms from the Islamic legal tradition not used outside of scholarly circles: there has been nothing quite like this language adopted anywhere else. What does this mysterious clause say? How did it get there? And what impact would it have? These are three important questions, but each is more difficult to answer than the previous one.
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President Mohamed Morsi and his advisors cannot have expected that his November 22 constitutional declaration would throw Egypt into a renewed state of turmoil. That it has speaks volumes to the immense changes that have occurred in the country during the past two years. Morsi's support for President Barack Obama's truce initiative during the fighting in Gaza clearly reassured the U.S. president that under a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) president Egypt would keep the peace with Israel. Because this has been the dominant concern within the U.S. foreign policy elite about the Egyptian revolution, Morsi had good reason to believe that the United States and the Egyptian Armed Forces would not object to his domestic decisions.
That Morsi's move has proven, in a deeply divided country, to have been a serious error of judgment is worth reflection. Early responses, especially in the United States, have either been self-satisfied sighs of recognition that the MB have finally revealed their true nature or, alternatively, sharp criticism of a westernized liberal minority that refused to accept gracefully the verdict of democracy mandating a stronger role for Islam, the MB, and Morsi himself.
With the violence that broke out in front of the presidential palace in Egypt yesterday, one can no longer describe the constitutional draft produced under the Mohamed Morsi government, as just "flawed." In process, the draft is abysmal. In context, it revises history. In content, it is silent, vague, and problematic. In consequence, it is bloody. It isn't just that Egypt can do better. Ratifying this constitution would reward, and deepen, polarization -- and the goals of the January 25 revolution would be that much further away from being achieved.
The most obvious problems with the constitutional draft are procedural. The process was supposed to deliver a representative constituent assembly, which would produce a consensus-based document that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians would sign up to, and feel invested in. The first assembly was dismissed in April, after the supreme administrative court pointed out members of parliament could not elect themselves onto the assembly, and that the assembly involved too few women, young people, and representatives of minority groups.
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Ever since the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and U.S. Embassy in Tunis in September, there has been a large spotlight on the Islamist groups viewed as the main culprits -- Katibat Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (ASB) and Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST). While much of the understandable focus has been on the violent actions of individuals in these organizations, much of the scope of their activities lies outside violence. A large-portion of the activities of these groups is local social service provision under their particular dawa (missionary) offices. This broader picture is crucial to better understanding emerging trends in societies transitioning from authoritarian to democratic rule.
ASB and AST can broadly be considered jihadi organizations based on their ideological outlook. However, these jihadis are different than past incarnations. Jihadis have a good track record in fighting and less so in governing or providing social services. The only example of jihadi governance has occurred when the Somali-based Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin and Yemeni-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) held actual territory. What sets ASB and AST apart is that they are providing aid to local communities in a non-state actor capacity, which has been unheard of previously.
Egypt's ultraconservative Salafis have always had an authoritarian streak. Under Hosni Mubarak, Salafis scored points with the regime for taking a philosophical stand against democracy, which they rejected as an un-Islamic model of government. Mubarak successfully coopted Salafis to provide a religious justification for authoritarianism, and used the movement as a counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood's demands for political reform. During the January 2011 uprising, Salafis initially denounced mass protests against Mubarak, claiming that Islam prohibits rebellions against Muslim rulers.
When it became apparent that the old authoritarian system was disintegrating, Salafis reluctantly reversed their position on political participation and formed parties as a necessary means to achieve their end-game: a theocratic state. But now that the democratic process is derailing their efforts to enshrine Islamic law in Egypt's new constitution, Salafis appear to be reverting to their authoritarian roots.
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Everything about the scene in the white marquee erected in Tripoli's Mina as-Shaab waterside quarter would have been unthinkable until last year. For a start, this was an open political gathering of some 500 Libyans in a country where, in the past, clandestine meetings of five people could land all concerned in jail. Not only that, those assembled under the billowing tent were members of one of Libya's most vilified opposition groups for most of Qaddafi's 42 years in power: the Muslim Brotherhood. All over the Libyan capital billboards emblazoned with the movement's green insignia featuring a Quran over crossed swords and the slogan "Make Ready" advertised the event.
The 10-day program of lectures, seminars, and cultural activities headlined "Arab Spring: Opportunities and Challenges" may have seemed innocuous but for the leadership of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, it was an important step in their efforts to win friends and influence people after decades of demonization under Qaddafi. Many admit to still feeling bruised by the poor performance of their affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP) in elections for Libya's 200-strong national congress in July. The JCP, founded in March and led by Mohammed Sawan, a Muslim Brotherhood member who spent years in Qaddafi's jails, garnered just 17 out of the 80 seats allocated for parties. Its lackluster showing bucked the trend which had seen Islamist parties make sweeping electoral gains following the toppling of dictators in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.
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In a recent video entitled "Days with the Imam" in which he recalls Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri declares that the founder of al Qaeda had been a "member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arabian Peninsula" before he was evicted in the 1980s. He was expelled because of his insistence on fighting alongside the mujahidin in Afghanistan while the Brotherhood allowed him to bring aid to Pakistan but didn't want him to go any further. Zawahiri's claims seem to have caused some embarrassment among the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), judging from how quick MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan was to refute them.
One reason for the embarrassment may be that, with a Muslim Brotherhood president recently elected in Egypt, the organization is eager to reassure the West of its moderate Islamist orientation and is therefore afraid of anything associating it with al Qaeda or jihadism. Yet Zawahiri's declarations shouldn't be seen as too problematic in this respect, since they portray the MB as an organization unwilling to let its members take part in physical jihad, even against the Soviets in Afghanistan at a time when the issue was far less controversial than it would later become. A more likely reason for the Brotherhood's distress, however, is that Zawahiri reveals what among Saudi Islamist insiders is an open secret but remains little known outside those circles: that there exists a Saudi Arabian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
protests at the U.S. embassy in Tunis and corresponding attacks on the nearby
American Cooperative School have cast sharp light on the Salafis allegedly
responsible. Media accounts quickly dismissed the protesters as "Salafi fanatics," though some resembled
rioting football fans more than religiously garbed ruffians.
Local journalists covering previous instances of Salafi-oriented unrest -- from the October 2011 demonstrations against the film Persepolis to this June's riots at an art exhibit in Tunis's upscale La Marsa district -- have tended to narrate events from afar without directly interviewing Salafis. Such slipshod coverage has tended to leave readers with a broad-brush portrait of Tunisian Salafism -- one that obscures important details concerning the movement's composition and complexity. Far from being a monolithic group of highly organized extremists, Tunisia's Salafis are in fact a loose collection of religiously right-wing individuals whose identities and motivations require far closer scrutiny.
The death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials in Libya last Wednesday should serve to draw much-needed attention to an increasingly untenable contradiction in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Even while it seeks to recover from this latest attack by Islamic radicals, the United States continues to support or tolerate the mobilization of adherents of that very same ideology elsewhere in the region, most clearly in Syria and in Bahrain. There, U.S. policymakers should expect equally frightening results.
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was carried out by suspected members of Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic Law, a group adhering to the same Salafi (or Wahhabi) religious interpretation more commonly associated with Saudi Arabia. And while the popular anti-American protests that have continued to spread across the region cannot be painted with a single brushstroke, and doubtless have roots in local political grievances, still one feature they share is the conspicuous presence -- and organizational power -- of Sunni Islamists.
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It was a YouTube movie trailer that no one knew about. That is, until radical Salafis decided to draw everyone's attention to it. Already, people have died who had nothing to do with the film -- and the repercussions of all of this will go on for years to come. It's a tragedy -- one that can either be harnessed for good, or can continue to wreak havoc.
From the outset, a few facts need to be clarified in order to place this into its correct context. An Israeli real-estate developer in California, Sam Bacile, produced the little-known film, for which a 14-minute trailer was posted on YouTube. In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Bacile said, "Islam is a cancer" and claimed that the film was intended to be a "provocative political statement condemning the religion." These are the facts as we have them at present, although questions are being raised about precisely who this filmmaker is.
None of that is going to really matter today, however. What will matter is the reaction: in Benghazi on Tuesday, the U.S. consulate was attacked, reportedly led by the same radical Salafi elements that have been going on a rampage in the past few months (and longer) against the mausoleums of Muslim saints in Libya. The attack resulted in the deaths of three U.S. embassy staff members and the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. There is no confusion in that characterization -- these elements were armed.
The matter of women's rights -- an issue that proved remarkably pivotal in last year's election debates -- has once again surged to the foreground of Tunisian politics. Earlier this week, an estimated 7,000 Tunisians flocked through a broad boulevard in downtown Tunis to protest Article 28 of the recently released draft constitution. Most of the protesters were upper class, unveiled women strongly opposed to the country's governing Islamist party, Ennahda. These critics accuse Ennahda of deliberately engineering Article 28 to erode Tunisian women's rights. Such interpretations, however, have been misconstrued.
The power struggle between Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brother has been likened to the life and death struggle between the cobra and mongoose. In the event the analogy was misleading in that the conflict was relatively short and its outcome anti-climactic. The Muslim Brotherhood, apparently now led by President Mohamed Morsi, unceremoniously shunted Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and his officer entourage off to various forms of retirement without so much as a whimper in response.
Like Hosni Mubarak before him, Tantawi's seeming impregnable power had been based on the weak foundations of patronage and punishment, dished out in Tantawi's case to the officers under his command. Obviously aware of resentment and disaffection within the military, Tantawi, again similar to Mubarak, sought to repress it by draconian punishment of defectors, by ladling out ever larger doses of patronage, including salary increases, bonuses and yet more plum "secondment" sinecures, and by mobilizing dependent editors and publishers to suppress media criticism of him and the SCAF. Ultimately these tactics were to no avail. Mismanagement of the political transition added the insult of degradation of the military's reputation to the injury of its de-professionalization through more than two decades of Tantawi's command. Like the country as a whole as regards the Mubarak regime, the officer corps had finally had enough of the nature and the consequences of corrupt, patrimonial rule of the military.
I have been fascinated by some of the findings of a massive new Pew Research Center global public opinion survey of Muslims in 39 countries in every region of the world. Pew conducted 38,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 80 languages between 2008 and 2012. What makes The World's Muslims especially interesting is that it doesn't ask questions mainly of interest to Americans, such as how Muslims feel about America. Instead, it asks a series of questions about their own understanding of Islam and their own religious practices and beliefs. The findings reveal some really interesting differences across regions, countries, and generations.
Since becoming Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi has surprisingly done virtually nothing in the area of religion. He has appointed a new minister of education from the Muslim Brotherhood, but thus far has not pushed religious educational institutions toward a more Islamist approach. Over the past week, however, several controversial moves have sparked a public confrontation over Al-Azhar and the future of Egypt's religious establishment. The battle for Al-Azhar could have profound repercussions for Egypt's Islamic politics -- and for the broader world of Sunni Islam.
For decades U.S. foreign policy discourse has been haunted by the idea that there is something categorically different about Islamist political parties. So much so that they need to be thought about, treated, and engaged differently than other political groups with equally strong ideological commitments -- like capitalists, leftists, or green parties. In practice this has led to an assumption that the United States has generally been unwilling to do business with Islamists as a matter of policy. While Iran's 1979 revolution no doubt looms large as a specter here, the policy orientation in question actually traces back most directly to a famous dictum offered by Ed Djerejian -- then Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs -- in 1992. This was in the aftermath of an Algerian election in which Islamists had been poised to win a landslide victory only to see the results annulled by the country's army. An Islamist victory at the ballot box, Djerejian argued, would likely have proven to be a case of "one man, one vote, one time." That is, Islamists would make instrumental use of elections to capture the state, but then dismantle the democratic system once in power to ensure they could never be removed.
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Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, a self-proclaimed religious authority with a bushy long beard, is no stranger on the Lebanese scene. His latest incarnation, from his mosque in the coastal town of Sidon, is as a firebrand political Salafist whose objectives transcend the confines of Lebanon.
He is part of a growing movement in Lebanon and other Arab countries in which the Salafists -- acting as guardians for Sunni interests -- are using the civil war in Syria to gain political power and revive the sectarian conflict with their historical foes, the Shiites. In Lebanon, sectarianism has been a primary feature of the country's politics for decades.
In 2008 -- 18 years after New York City threw him a ticker tape parade for helping to end apartheid -- it took an act of Congress to ensure that Nelson Mandela did not need a special waiver to enter the United States, finally removing his terrorist designation. In November 2011, Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah was removed from the "Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. 13224" terrorist list. He had been dead for three and a half years. The "German Taliban," Eric Breininger, was dead for more than a week when he was added to the list. Although these may seem like bureaucratic oversights, they are indicative of wider problems in terrorist listing systems. While attempting to punish terrorist groups and restrict their activities, these systems have reduced the space for diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These disparate examples also highlight the continuing lack of agreement on who is a "terrorist."
As Egypt nears its upcoming presidential elections, the country remains mired in continued political instability and the fog of events that has characterized the country's opaque transition. As a result, crises remain unexplained and inscrutable, further complicating the ability to gauge voter sentiment with any degree of confidence. Coupled with the rudimentary history of public polling and their utter unreliability in the Egyptian context, predictions about electoral outcomes should be approached with the utmost degree of caution. While signs point to a fragmented voter distribution in the first round of voting, there is much we still do not know about the Egyptian electorate and voter behavior. However, based on recent interviews and meetings with Egyptian political leaders and commentators, it is clear that a backlash has developed against the Islamist-led parliament. The scope and breadth of that backlash will now determine whether the compromised former foreign minister of Egypt, Amr Moussa, becomes the country's next president.
The green backyard at the Salafi sheikh's house in the old Mediterranean city of Alexandria was full of guests. They weren't students who came for religious lessons as usual but rather politicians appealing for the sheikh's political blessing in the presidential elections. It should be no surprise: Yasser Burhami, the ultraconservative Salafi leader and patron of al-Nour party, has become a key player in Egyptian politics. Ironically, a year ago, Burhami kept his distance from the Egyptian revolution and requested that his followers also do so. But today, he is deeply immersed in political strategy and tactics as he struggles to navigate the new terrain confronting the Salafi movement.
The Salafi movement's strategy has become clearer with its surprising decision to endorse the Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh for Egypt's presidency. This was not an obvious call. The decision to choose Aboul Fotouh over the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Morsi or other possible contenders took weeks of negotiations and discussions within al-Dawa al-Salafiyya (the Salafi Call), the main political Salafi force in Egypt, and its political arm, al-Nour party. That decision has once again reshuffled Egypt's political cards -- and offered new insight into where the Salafi movement is headed.
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Less than six months after the country's first democratic elections and only four months into the government's mandate, Tunisia's ruling party, Ennahda, has announced its intentions to hold the country's next elections one year from now. The announcement came as a surprise as some thought the government was set on taking its time, while others questioned how a government that has only just begun writing a constitution could plan for elections. Although some parties in the constituent assembly have dissented from the announcement, with Ennahda's backing, it will likely proceed as announced.
While outside the country Tunisia's successful elections and relatively peaceful transition have been praised, Tunisians have been more skeptical. Many have criticized the government's slow pace and opposition parties have capitalized on the perceived inaction by the government on the economy and security situation. The electoral timetable, along with the government's recently released budget, are both tactical and strategic. The timetable will ward off criticism of its intentions to hold power indefinitely and the deadline will set the pace for constitution writing in the coming year. The budget-busting spending will aim to curry favor among voters, who are eager to see tangible material benefits from their historic uprising. Together, one begins to see the foundations for Ennahda's electoral strategy.
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The gray-bearded sheikh has appealed to his presidential candidate counterparts to join him at a press conference to be held in his regular mosque. While his contenders eluded, the sheikh stood amid hundreds of his followers and supporters to protest and chant against the referral of a group of civilians to the military court. Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the 51-year-old veteran Islamist, has compellingly captivated his followers by his presidential and charismatic merits, at least rhetorically. Clearly, Abu Ismail's mosque-show was a shrewd attempt to kick off his presidential campaign. However, it also reflects how the new "informal" Islamists perceive politics. For them, all politics is retail.
The fragmentation of the Islamist scene in Egypt is a hallmark characteristic of the post-Hosni Mubarak era. After stagnation and dominance by one force, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the Islamist scene has been drastically reshaped. More than 15 Islamists parties have officially or unofficially emerged after the revolution. Myriad Islamists have overwhelmed the public sphere freely and painlessly. And a parliament dominated by Islamists is in commission. It seems the lure of politics has immersed Islamists.
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In the year since Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed
Forces (SCAF) drafted and issued its "Constitutional Declaration,"
the Egyptian political process has followed no consistent political logic. But
it has largely followed the declaration's text, which is leading to some
results that should have been expected but largely were not. On one critical
and controversial issue -- the sequence of constitution writing and
presidential elections -- the document was simply silent. However, on another
critical and controversial issue it was definitive: who would write and approve
Observers, and even more, some participants, overlooked the significance of the silent and the definitive provisions -- sensibly enough, since they made little sense. But these odd features have now combined to bring the SCAF's control of the process near an end. It is still not clear what political system will emerge (though the players who will make that determination are becoming clearer and beginning to show their hands). But unless the SCAF has the appetite for a second coup, or somehow discovers a way to shoehorn in its puppet as president, the constitutional vehicle that gave the military such political authority will soon turn into a pumpkin.
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