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Learning to live with Islamists

5 December 2011

3:56 PM

5 December 2011

3:56 PM

Islamists have won a landslide in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-Conservative Al Nour party
winning some 60 per cent of the votes cast. Future rounds of elections may benefit them further, as they take pace in more rural and conservative areas. Their success should be a surprise to
nobody.

Egypt is a conservative Muslim society. Islamists have been far better organised than the ragtag revolutionaries that ousted Hosni Mubarak, having run million-person charities for decades. They
also benefit from being seen as un-corrupt and having been opposed to Mubarak for years. Further, they have been able to run on a simple slogan ‘Islam is the Solution’ without having to
demonstrate why.


Finally, the Egyptian election has taken pace against a backdrop of cultural Islamisation, promoted by the Mubarak regime. While the Egyptian state cracked down on Islamists politically, it sought
to advance Islamic culture as a way to blunt the claim that suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood was in anyway anti-Islamic. This has now backfired spectacularly, as the Islamists appear to have
gained both politically and culturally.

The Muslim Brotherhood seems slightly confused in their moment of success. They are keen to exercise power and do not want the incumbent military to thwart their rise. But they are unsure what to
do with Al Nour. Politically, the large presence of a conservative Islamist force means the Brotherhood will be under pressure to reject the liberal steps that so many reformers craved. On the
other hand, the Brotherhood can now play Mubarak’s card with the West. Look, they can say, if you don’t co-operate with us, there is an even more radical alternative.

From the West’s perspective, the most important thing now is to let the electoral process finish. Then, the West can state clearly that it will aid the new government in tackling Egypt’s real
problems, the most pressing of which are economic. We don’t teach the Pope to be Catholic so we should not teach Islamists how to be Muslim. Instead we should deal with them on a
government-to-government basis, holding them to the promises they have made, emphasising the importance of protecting minorities, underlining the values we hold dear and being clear of the
consequences of failing to honour the treaties that Egypt has signed. It would disastrous if the Islamists came to excuse their own failings by blaming the West’s attitude towards them.
Besides, Islamists tend to lose their popularity as they grapple with every-day societal problems.


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