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Islamists: The old and the new - Daily News Egypt

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Islamists: The old and the new

The conditions of the previous regime have diminished revolutionary tendencies in Islamist groups.

Mustafa Salama

Much of the general public as well as revolutionaries are not the only ones frustrated with Islamists’ lack of revolutionary furor. Islamist masses themselves are frustrated with their leadership’s incompetence and their inability to achieve deep and structural changes.

While certainly lack of revolutionary strategies is not true of all Islamists, it can be easily said that mainstream Islamists that manifest in the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al-Nour Party have not been revolutionary. In fact, in many occasions they have absorbed public anger through a number of symbolic million man protests in Tahrir and other squares in Egypt. They have given legitimacy to the SCAF when it acted against the revolution and stood silent as it saw its atrocities. By revolutionary, I mean uprooting the entire status quo and its institutions and replacing them with its own.

Any movement, whether Islamist or otherwise, cannot be analysed without placing it in its wider political context. Obviously, the old regime had the lion share of setting the political context and was very harsh in clamping down on any form of political opposition. Some social and political proponents were completely excluded from the political process; through preventing them from having any form of organization or contact with the masses. Even worse than censorship, torture and imprisonment were common tools. The old regime did not leave any room for those who questioned its entire raison d’etre.

On the other hand, movements the regime did not find any direct threat from to its existence or acknowledged its legitimacy; in other words played along with the regime and admitted to the rules of its game, were included in the political process. This inclusiveness was through sharing some of the decision making process with them, along with some wealth and prestige. Inclusiveness may have been simply giving them platforms to speak openly, like the various strands of the secular elite and its political manifestations like Al- Wafd Party as an example.

The old regime used the carrot and stick with those it found difficult to completely eliminate like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Call of Alexandria (mother organization of Al- Nour Party) which was clearly on the verge of a heavy clamp down shortly before the revolution. However, still with those that existed under the old regime; they did not represent a healthy manifestation of Islamists, as they had to walk a very fine line trying to maintain their Islamic legitimacy without going into direct confrontation with the regime. They also did not entirely reject the legitimacy of the regime. Let us not forget that shortly before the revolution a major figure in the Muslim Brotherhood referred to Mubarak as a father to Egyptians. These Islamist organizations are thus not accustomed to confrontation and when the time for the confrontation came it should not be extremely surprising that they did not do well.

It is only natural in such oppressive conditions that there will be a rise in disturbing discourses like ones that called for obeying Mubarak and making it blasphemy to revolt against the regime. In fact there is plenty of evidence that the old regime did coordinate efforts with such fringe Islamist elements. However, opportunistic media gave plenty of room for them and portrayed them as mainstream.

The existing Islamist icons that were given the permission to speak up avoided political discourses and simply lacked them as they did not engage them, or their political discourses were so naïve and simplistic that the regime found no urgency in clamping down on them. The regime acted as a filter; and when the regime was marginalized in the revolution only those who were left as a result of the filtering process were able to take the majority of the spotlights as Egyptians were already familiar with them through charity organizations, Islamic study circles, television channels and so forth which gave them an opportunity to be in contact with the masses.

Those who were previously filtered by the regime now still have much work to do, to organize themselves, and explain their discourses. Some were able to roughly organize themselves and form institutions for themselves; though still weak and incomplete. However, there are still opportunities for them in the future which will make them challenge or complement the existing Islamist structures, depending upon their goals and tactics. The existing Islamist structures must make use of the opportunities provided through freedom and represent the will of the more ambitious youth and more specifically Islamist youth or simply they will start losing popularity to those who can make use of the current freedoms and have a deeper desire and will to transform Egypt for the better. Mustafa Salama is a political researcher with focus on Islamic movements


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