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The new Egypt - not so 'dark' after all

Despite the way it has been depicted in popular Israeli newspapers, the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president was less a vote for Islamism than a vote against dictatorship.

Since the glory of the Tahrir revolt last January and February, things in Egypt have seemed to go downhill. The young secular idealists who started the protests were displaced by Islamists as leaders of the new Egypt starting the day after Mubarak resigned. Mob violence, including gang rapes, started happening in Tahrir. Bloody soccer riots, burning of Coptic churches, and a parliamentary election in which a more  radical Islamist party finished second to the Muslim Brotherhood – the news from Egypt has not been good this last year and a half. Most people who were inspired by the Tahrir rebellion, myself certainly included, have been deeply disenchanted and worried by the direction Egypt seems to have taken.

Well, Sunday’s results of the presidential election are good news. Not that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won, but that he won by such a narrow margin – 51.7% to 48.3% – and against one of the hated Mubarak’s closest former aides, Ahmed Shafik. This is very, very far from being a mandate for jihad – aside from the narrowness of Morsi’s victory, a lot of voters clearly went for him not because they want an Islamist government, but because they don’t want a corrupt military dictatorship anymore. In the 2006 parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority, there were more than a few Christians who voted for Hamas rather than the corrupt, dictatorial incumbent Fatah: same principle.

Which way the new Egypt will go, especially considering the lingering repressive power of the military, nobody knows. There are plenty of arguments for optimism and pessimism both. In Israel, of course, you hear the latter almost exclusively. The post-election front page headline in Yedioth Aharonoth was “Hoshech Mitzrayim” – the darkest of the dark, like the plague of darkness God cast over Egypt – with a darkened photo of Tahrir celebrants holding up a Morsi banner. Ah, the Israeli popular media – educating for peace as always.

Haaretz, an unpopular medium, ran a very good editorial today on the election. (Disclosure: I’m a copy-editor at the paper.)

Mohammed Morsi’s election as Egypt’s president is the result of a revolution that, for the first time in 60 years, gave the Egyptian public the right to make a real decision. The people did not chose a state run according to religious law or the rule of Islam. Morsi, who was thrown into the presidential race, symbolizes the desire – held by secular and liberal Egyptians as well – to demolish the remnants of the old regime. For this democratic move, which was made out of respect for the law, Egypt deserves high praise.

As an Israeli. a Jew and a secular liberal, I cannot be happy that the Muslim Brotherhood has power in Egypt now. But it may not turn out so bad, either. In all, given the irrepressibly democratic nature of the elections, and the checks and balances implied in the presidential vote – the brakes it seems to put on Islamic rule – I think we, the disenchanted, should think again. The spirit of Tahrir is not lost. The new Egypt, after lots of stumbles and falls, seems to be finding its footing.

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    1. YOSFA

      MB have received a total number of over 10 million votes early this year in the parliamentary elections, securing 48.5% of the popular vote, but in less than 6 months half of their base have been eroded by ‘accountability’, yep, it’s nice to throughout slogans, preach ideas and sit among the opposition, but when it comes to real issues suddenly people lose their interest in ideologies and start questioning how the MB have improved their lives, in which they have not,

      Morsi secured only 24% of the popular vote in the first round, so the 84 year legacy of the MB have been diminished in half by less than 6 months of being in the legislative seat,

      MB broke their promise by presenting a presidential candidate, they are in a high profile political gamble and could seriously evaporate from the political scene if they do not improve the country’s conditions, which I doubt anyone can, the issues are too massive to be solved in a mere 4 years, MB or no MB…

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    2. XYZ

      In formerly “Ataturkish” Turkey, an Islamic party came to power promising to respect the secular tradition. Unlike Egypt, they have a pretty successful economic program, but the AKP Islamic party is moving slowly, cautiously but steadily towards and increasingly Islamic state. They have managed to purge the secularist, Ataturkish military and, at first, they talked mostly about the rights of Islamist people, such as the right of women to wear Islamic garb. Now, however, they are beginning to push Islamic observance on the entire public.
      The Muslim Brotherhood is a revolutionary Islamist movement. They believe that Egypt can only make progress when it is truly Islamized. They do not view their role as merely to show that the garbage can be collected more efficiently under MB rule, but that Egypt ultimately has no choice but to ultimately became a truly Islamic society (part of this is fundamental, existentital hostility to Israel). They are prepared to be patient…now they have their toehold in the government I think they will move cautiously, but surely in that direction. That means reducing ties with Israel, slowly, but as much as possible without antagonizing the American aid. Also, as in Turkey, they will move to eventually take power from the military, even if this takes years. Don’t assume that the drop in their vote between the parliamentary elections and the presidential vote will deter them. Don’t forget that neither of the top two vote-getters in the first round were the secular Leftists so beloved by the Jewish and Israeli Left/Progressives.

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    3. Jack

      And the problem with MB is what?
      It was a democratically election – this result prove what egyptians want. I wouldnt call it free though since the mubarak politicans could be elected and I am not sure about if it was a 100% clean election, fraud may have occured to the benefit of the Shafiq/military regime.

      I reject the Islam-scaremongering or the notion that somehow egyptians didnt vote on the ‘islamist’.

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    4. XYZ

      Free elections are only one aspect of true democracy and not the most important. England had developed democratic institutions before the Great Reform of 1832 which got rid of the “rotten boroughs” and the corrupt system of electing Parliament which also had a very restricted electorate. England didn’t go to universal male suffrage until the 1870’s. However the base of democracy was already there based on recognition of civil rights of all individuals, a stable civil society and working bureaucracy. Egypt, although it had a free election is FAR from having these other things and so this election is NO guarantee of a true evolution to democracy which I think is several generations off, if it doesn’t get side tracked. The MB does NOT view democracy the way Derfner and Israeli Left/Progressives does.

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    5. Y-Man

      I always love how Jewish people who defend a state defined by religion say that fervent Muslim politicians having control of their own countries is inherently a Very Bad Thing for Democracy.
      @XYZ Re: Turkey “Now, however, they are beginning to push Islamic observance on the entire public” Get this through your head: Turkey is a Muslim countries. They don’t have to have “Islamic observance” pushed on them, because they already have for at least 700 fucking years. For the same reason that these Jewish-supremacist asshole politicians with yarmulkes like Lieberman are so popular in Israel, fundamentalist Muslims are popular in Egypt, Turkey, etc. This would probably be clear to you if you weren’t immersed in the circle-jerk that is the pretend-clinical civic discourse about Muslims in Israel.

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    6. Y-Man

      once again, @XYZ: “However the base of democracy was already there based on recognition of civil rights of all individuals.”
      Yeah, except for those individuals that weren’t white members of the British Empire. You can’t hold up England as some sort of model for “democratic” development for anyone but white people who are unconcerned about the fact that their government is characterized by the most massive imperial conquest and subjugation in world history.

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    7. Jack


      No, democracy simply means will of the people. Democracy, the definition of it isnt homogenous. The election was a democratic election. The will of the people.

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    8. Richard Witty

      Israel’s claim to being a democracy, is that its 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, every, election since the first has been marked by peaceful transition of power.

      In most revolutionary settings, the first election occurs, giving power to a dominant party, then devolves to one-party status.

      The test is the next one.

      And still in Egypt, the parliament was dissolved last week by a military based judiciary, in spite of acknowledged fair parliamentary elections.

      The dual formula of Egyptian #and# democratic, needs to emphasize the #and# democratic, as the first thought, not the second, not ignored entirely.

      Trust, but verify?

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    9. Mitchell Cohen

      Geez Y-man, you are showing your ignorance of Israeli politics. Lieberman is about as secular as they come and eats just about anything that doesn’t move. He ain’t wearing no yarmulke on his head.

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    10. Jake Singer

      The interesting thing is that Egypt has a constitution whereas Israel still does not…

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    11. I suggest to people that internally all humans have an awareness of what is quality living, and that is happens most when you have a secular democracy with a free enterprise economy. It has taken a long time for this to unfold (it is about 2,300 years since a very limited form of democracy came into existence), but I assume most people recognize it is slowly but surely becoming the standard for all. I believe that finally bringing this into existence throughout the Arab world is the basis for the Arab Spring. So I suggest people sit back, chill out and enjoy watching it unfold. Instead of getting all bent out of shape at all the bumps and twists and turns in the road.

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    12. XYZ

      Lieberman’s wife and children are Orthodox/religious. Although he doesn’t go around advertising it, I would say he is “shomer masoret” – meaning observant of Shabbat and Kashrut at least.

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    13. delia ruhe

      We all knew that change in the Middle East would take a long time. There will be a very long transition phase, not least because there are still powerful meddlers sticking their self-serving noses into Muslim and Arab business — namely, the US and Israel.

      Regime change in Iran and Syria still tops the Western agenda. Barring any likelihood that Israel and the US will lose interest, that’s going to continue to complicate the emergence of a truly self-determining, self-governing Middle East.

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    14. XYZ

      Right, Delia, the problems of the Arab world are ALWAYS someone else’s fault. Why don’t we say that the problems of the Western world and Israel are due to the Arabs? Why do you let the Arabs and the nature of their culture and society off the hook? Maybe their traditions of corruption, tribalism and authoritarianism are to blame?
      There seems to be a powerful trend of Western Left/Progressives to blame their own societies, which are generally the best run in the world, for everyone elses problems. This is simply self-loathing. Colonialism ended more than a half-century ago. Many countries like India, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China and others are making a go of it on their own. Why can’t the others? Maybe because it is due to defects withing their own societies?

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    15. Jack

      You denial of culpability is just the notion I guess Delia mentioned and keeps the problem alive, that is, by not ackknowledge them.
      Why would anyone blame arab states for western’s internal problems? Is it Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran that have occupied and keep meddling in western states 24/7?

      “India, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China” havent external forces that keeps meddling, attacking and even occupying their land. Understand?

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    16. Adam

      Delia writes: “Regime change in Iran and Syria still tops the Western agenda.” Yes, let’s just let the Assad regime handle continue to their affairs in a democratic and peaceful manner.

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    17. Jack

      So you propose intervention in both Syria and Iran. You prpose a foreign intervention in Israel too?

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    18. Y-Man

      you got me @Mitchell Cohen, about Lieberman wearing the yarmulke– and then XYZ stepped in for my defense! this is why i like this comment section. Unpredictable– why I like this comment section!

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    19. Joel

      I remember that the Nazis came to power in 1933 after Germany held free and democratic elections.

      Note how Turkey’s Islamic, Justice and Development Party took power in democratic elections, jailed opposition journalists and military men after fabricating bogus coup charges against them.

      Think Animal Farm.

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    20. Adam

      @Jack:” Adam,
      So you propose intervention in both Syria and Iran. You prpose a foreign intervention in Israel too?” Not at all. I was responding, sarcastically, to Delia’s attempt the blame the slaughter in Syria on American machinations rather than on the true villains. Like many on the far left, she seems incapable of generating the same moral outrage at Syria as she directs at Israel, even though the crimes of the Syrian government are much more egregious than anything Israel is guilty of.

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    21. Piotr Berman

      I was thinking about a mental exercise: suppose that Egyptian public is more or less the same as in Israel, with one exception: 90% are Mizrahi. Who would get the majority of votes?

      Egyptian political scene is quickly evolving. At the time of parliamentary elections, the secular parties were totally disorganized. Now they had a better showing. But the organizational skills of MB are very impressive, for example, only the vote projections announced by MB were accurate, and amazingly accurate at that.

      Political skills of MB are different matter. To me, it seems encouraging at last MB tries an alliance with all non-regime forces to undo the coup of the junta and the bureaucracy.

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    22. Kolumn9

      Islamism has won the day in Egypt. The election results are thus meaningless as the Islamist regime will have power and are set on putting in place the institutions that will ensure the increased Islamization of the country and the continued rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

      There is a difference between voting one party out and voting another party in and voting in a new regime that is ideologically committed to upending the structure of the government to create permanent advantages for itself and to impose upon the country a system for asserting the legitimacy of all future parties and candidates. For all the talk of ‘not understanding’ the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood the betrayal of its promise to not even run a presidential candidate demonstrates the underlying nature of the party. The goal is absolute power. All other decisions, positions and promises are subject to this directive.

      The spirit of Tahrir is dead, and by the spirit of Tahrir I am referring to the spirit of the 2% of the country for whom it ever mattered as more than just a donkey for putting in place an Islamist regime. They are facing a regime that has no qualms in the righteousness of its goals were the need to arise to suppress any future opposition.

      As for typical Israeli pessimism.. So far it has been right and you have been wrong. You may persist in disagreeing but at least acknowledge that your dismissal of its pessimism comes despite the accuracy of its previous prophecy.

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    23. Kolumn9

      Piotr, in your hypothetical, the Likud would win the absolute majority of the votes.

      The willingness of the MB to align with secular donkeys when its interest demand it is in no way reflective of its own predilections. It demonstrates pragmatism, not moderation. The distinction between the two is subtle but pertinent.

      Look, the sad thing for me is that the history of revolutionary parties coming to power is open to anyone who wants to read about them. The tactics of the MB in cooperating with other parties until it gains decisive advantage is so extremely similar to that of the Bolsheviks and of the Iranian Islamists (and others) that to ignore the historical parallels is delusional.

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    24. Greg

      Adam, re: your view of leftists (who never seem to raise the same level of moral outrage over Syria as they do over Israel).
      Could this possibly be because you hang out on sites like +972 where we talk mainly about Israel, rather than on sites that are focused on Syria? Your sample of leftists is somewhat self-selecting, no?
      In other words, by being a regular commenter here rather than at, say, Joshua Landis’ blog, you show yourself to be just as “obsessed” by Israel as these morally deficient leftists.
      So I look forward to you ducking out from this site and seeing your moral outrage over Syria expressed in the comments sections of Juan Cole, Joshua Landis, Syria News Wire, Brian Whitaker and others…
      After all, what the world clearly needs is more expressions of moral outrage from lip-service merchants like yourself.

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    25. Jack

      Please, not only Likud but the liberal parties have arrested hundreds of thousands palestinians since 1948 under virtually no reason.

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    26. Jack

      Well again its pretty obvious that US and Israel meddling in Syria’s affairs along with the democratic Saudiarabia, Qatar, Jordan etcetera.
      Also maybe you could describe how ” the crimes of the Syrian government are much more egregious than anything Israel is guilty of.”?

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    27. Robert

      Around 50% of Egyptians can not read or write. This election means zero. When they have a working leadership and have the following elections on time then we may see a light at the end of the tunnel. Until then this election could be the beginning of the end of democracy in Egypt.

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    28. Adam

      Greg– Delia injected Syria into the discussion; I was responding to her reductive and racist views that blame all the problems of the Arab world on the West– such views are racist because they see Arabs as having no agency or responsibility for their problems. The left’s refusal to properly condemn Syria is relevant on this site because many of the contributors are so heavily invested in reducing Israel to the lowest common denominator. If they were to recognize that the Syrian regime is committing mass murder against its own people it would seriously fuck with their world view that, in the words of Alice Walker, Israel is the greatest terrorist in the Middle East.

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    29. Bronxman

      Staying with the subject, “The new Egypt – not so ‘dark’ after all”, (which a lot of postings drift away from,) I’d like to offer a few comments. Since the MB is active in Turkey I think that might be a place to review to try and project how the new government might develop. It seems that it is the successful economic agenda that has given Turkey the clout to push its religious ideas – but slowly. They also tamed the military who, like in Egypt controlled the country through their vast economic empire. They pulled off coups every once in a while because they didn’t like the existing government. It took a few years to reduce their influence. As Turkey improved in economic terms, the middle class expanded. Extremism usually can be attributed to the poor and illiterate. Turkey has a ways to go. Freedom of expression, equal rights for women, encroachment from the religious establishment are a few areas – it takes time. But they have done a credible job in improving the country so far. So, give the MB, grudgingly if you must, a (guarded) chance at this stage.

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    30. XYZ

      Your statement that extremism comes from the “poor and illiterate” is grossly oversimplified. In Weimar Germany, the poorest section of society in addition to the working class mostly supported the Left…the Communists and Social Democrats. It was the lower middle class and rural populations (i.e. the so-called “petit bourgieousie [sp?] that supported the Nazis.
      While it may be true that the mass of votes for extremists comes from less educated people, the leadership comes from the middle classes….e.g. Lenin and Trotsky. Same with the the new President Mursi and much of the MB’s leadership. Many middle-class youth in the last couple of centuries have been attracted to extremist movements.

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    31. XYZ

      I read Pragers informative column. He is absolutely right about the way the regime keeps people in a state of dependency. A huge percentage of the state budget goes to subsidies for bread and fuel. A pita costs something like 1 cent, which of course, leads to massive waste (farmers feed it to their animals insteado of using more expensive animal feed). The few attempts to reduce the subsidy over the last few decades have always lead to bloody riots.
      Egypt produces very little. They do have agricultural exports and some industry like textiles, but most of the state’s income comes from tourism, oil and gas exports, remittances from Egyptians working in the Persian Gulf states and Suez Canal tolls. Tourism has been badly hit, so it is difficult to see how the economy can be liberalized. Thus, the new regime in power will need to keep up or increase the Israel-bashing in order to get people’s minds off their problems. Recall that Mubarak was in power for 30 years before they finally got sick of him to the point they were willing to protest and challenge the police. Mursi will have time in order to entrench the new regime, which unlike Mubarak’s, has Divine sanction behind it, as they see it.

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    32. max

      So Larry, is it not so dark, not dark, or bright?
      And in general, do we now know any better how Egypt will look like in – say – 3 years than we did 6 months ago? A year ago? Can we identify a pattern that will provide credibility to any guess?
      If not, what’s the value of all these speculations, besides ‘today could have been worse’?

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