The curious case of Egypt: This is not just the death of political Islam
An opposition demonstrator sits below graffiti of Egyptian President Morsi on the walls of Egypt's Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt. (Image: by Ed Giles/Getty Images)
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In this commentary, John Robertson concludes that the obituaries for Islamism - and the Muslim Brotherhood - as a political force, and for Islamists as potential leaders of a modern government, are decidedly premature.
This Guardian piece (co-authored by the superb Martin Chulov) about the ouster of Muhammad Morsi and the crucial role of the Tamarod petition drive leaves me with more questions about what's happened. It mentions that the Tamarod "coffee-shop" organizers were able to put online a petition calling for Morsi's removal. People could then print it out, sign it, and then hand it over to a Tamarod volunteer. Wonderful idea, no doubt.
But, what about the thousands of Egyptians with no access to a computer, or a printer? I have to assume that many such people would have learned about Tamarod and then somehow found a way to have a copy printed for them. But what about the hundreds of rural villages where, I assume, computer access - not to mention basic literacy - is in short supply? Aren't these generally very traditional and conservative villagers among Morsi's - and the Muslim Brotherhood's - biggest supporters? In all the euphoric coverage of Morsi's removal, are their voices being heard, their wishes accounted for? Are any of those admittedly brave and intrepid reporters whose accounts and tweets have been sustaining us all getting any feedback from what the city-dwellers who are getting all the coverage might think of as the boondocks? If I'm not mistaken, during the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011, Islamist groups were bussing such people into Cairo, and they made their voices heard. What about now?
And speaking of Islamists . . . David Brooks' ill-considered NYT diatribe against political Islamists leading governments has drawn lots of attention, much of it deservedly negative. To assert that Turkey is among those cases that supposedly prove that "radical Islamists" cannot run a government is absurd; Erdogan is hardly a radical (if Brooks thinks so, he needs to get out more), and his base of support in the AKP consists largely of pious, God-fearing, middle-class businessmen - the same kind of people whom Brooks customarily identifies in an American context as the rock-ribbed foundation of our glorious republic. But for Brooks to have taken it further and stated that Islamists don't have the "mental equipment" to run a government? That's just stupid (again, see Mr. Erdogan) - and, as some have noted, could be construed as racist.
Brooks might also note that some of the worthies currently serving in Congress are every bit as "Christianist" as Morsi is Islamist. Some of them - Louie Gohmert and James Inhofe spring to mind - to my way of thinking lack the "mental equipment" to run a government, largely because they're "Christianist." But could you imagine Brooks or his ilk lying down if someone said so in print?
Finally, the more I read, the more I'm inclined to conclude that the obituaries for Islamism - and the Muslim Brotherhood - as a political force, and for Islamists as potential leaders of a modern government, are decidedly premature. Morsi's downfall seems to me largely the product of his own inexperience and political obtuseness - which add up to incompetence - and to the shambles of an economy and infrastructure that he inherited. Egyptians have fallen on extremely hard times in recent decades. Morsi and his people did nothing to make that better, but I don't see anyone waiting in the wings ready to sweep in and craft the brilliant policies and make the tough calls needed to resurrect the economy.
Egypt now has to import a major proportion of its all-important wheat supply; its educational system, especially at the university level, teeters on the brink; and its population is choked with millions of young people with inferior education and correspondingly dismal prospects.
Whoever might be elected president next will likely be permitted to come to power only if he can secure the generals' stamp of approval. Nonetheless, he will be confronted with the same harsh realities, will be expected to fix them, will likely find the challenge insurmountable, and will fail to make much (if any) progress. As recent events have made crystal-clear, the Egyptian people have run out of patience. They know how to organize protests and make their presence felt in the streets and on the blogosphere. But will the generals take kindly to their rising up against their approved man? At times like this, I've become fond of channeling General David Petraeus' famous question. I'll do it again. Tell me how this ends.
But I'd beware of anyone who says they know.