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Egypt overthrow shakes Islamists in the region

By Paul Schemm

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 7 2013 3:33 p.m. MDT

Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi rise a banner with his portrait during a protest outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, July 7, 2013. Egypt's new leadership wrangled over the naming of a prime minister, as both the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents called for new mass rallies Sunday, renewing fears of another round of street violence over the military's ousting of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The calls for competing rallies come after clashes two days ago between the rival camps left at least 36 dead and more than 1,000 injured nationwide .

Manu Brabo, Associated Press

CAIRO — The military's overthrow of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's fall from power in Egypt have sent Islamist parties around the region scrambling to preserve gains made in the Middle East and North Africa as a result of the Arab Spring uprisings.

The stunning reversal has instilled caution among some Islamists against pushing their agenda too hard, but it has also strengthened hard-liners long opposed to democracy.

The Arab Spring uprisings boosted Islamist political parties from Morocco to Syria, and nowhere was their victory more complete than the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's domination of parliamentary and presidential elections, which made its repudiation by the people and then the army all the more striking.

Brotherhood offshoots in Tunisia and Syria are struggling to distance themselves from their parent outfit in Egypt, while the secular forces they are struggling against have been emboldened.

"What happens in Egypt has a major impact on the 'children' or branches," said Middle East analyst Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics. "I am not talking about the loss of power, but the setback to the moral argument that the Islamists somehow stand above the fray, are more competent. In fact, one of the lessons we learned is that they are as incompetent, if not more so, than the old authoritarian regimes."

The night the military deposed Morsi, celebrations erupted across the Tunisian capital, with people calling for dissolution of the Islamist-dominated assembly elected in October 2011.

After Egypt, the Islamists' electoral victory in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, was the most impressive. The long-repressed Ennahda Party won more than 40 percent of the seats and rules in a coalition with two other leftist secular parties.

The head of Ennahda, Rachid Ghannouchi, was quick to condemn the overthrow of Morsi as a "flagrant coup" but soon followed up with statements setting his party apart from how the Brotherhood conducted itself in Egypt.

"We have followed a strategy based on consensus, especially between the Islamist and modernist movements, which has saved our country from divisions," he told the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday.

But now Tunisia's diverse opposition of left-wing parties and remnants of the deposed regime have been galvanized and are calling for a new national unity government. There is even a signature-gathering campaign modeled on the Egyptian one that helped mobilize opposition to Morsi in the past few months.

They accuse Ennahda of many of the same failings that brought down Egypt's Brotherhood, including incompetence and an arrogant approach to rule.

North Africa analyst Issandr El Amrani noted that the significance for the region is more than just the triumph of secularists over Islamists in Egypt, but a realignment of the original coalition of the Arab Spring that overthrew dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia.

"It's not just an anti-Islamist shift, but elements of the revolutionary leftists and liberals who had once allied with the Islamists against the old regime now allying with the old regime against the Islamists," he said.

The Brotherhood's fall comes at a delicate time for Tunisia. It not only faces an economic crisis but is also finally coming to the final stages of the difficult process of approving the country's new constitution.

The upheaval in Egypt, however, has also shown Tunisia how much smoother its own rocky transition to democracy has been. Tunisians may opt to let the process run its course and express their feelings about Ennahda in elections that could be held as soon as early next year.

In Syria's conflict, which pits a rebel movement rife with Islamist groups against the regime of President Bashar Assad, the Brotherhood has always played a large role in the attempts to create a leadership in exile.

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