Morsi's ouster could shape political Islam for decades

Egypt joins Turkey and Tunisia as countries where crises have overwhelmed Islamist parties.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEJuly 5, 2013 

  • EGYPT MOVES TO CURB CLOUT OF ISLAMISTS

    Remnants of Egypt's old government reasserted themselves on Thursday within hours of the military ouster of the country's first freely elected president, in a crackdown that left scores of his Muslim Brotherhood backers under arrest, their television stations closed, and former officials restored to powerful posts.

    The actions provided the first indications of what Egypt's new political order could look like after Mohammed Morsi, the Islamist president in power for only a year, was deposed by Egypt's military commanders on Wednesday evening.

    By late Thursday, it was already clear that the forced change of power, which had the trappings of a military coup wrapped in a popular revolt, had only aggravated the most seething division - that between the Muslim Brotherhood and the security apparatus built up by Hosni Mubarak, the president toppled in Egypt's 2011 revolution.

    In his swearing-in address, Adly Mansour offered an olive branch to the Islamists. But less than 24 hours after the intervention, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for at least 200 Islamists, most of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood. All were wanted on accusations of incitement to kill demonstrators.

    New York Times News Service

CAIRO - Sheik Mohamed Abu Sidra had watched in exasperation for months as President Mohammed Morsi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood bounced from one debilitating political battle to another.

"The Brotherhood went too fast, they tried to take too much," Abu Sidra, an influential ultraconservative Islamist in Benghazi, Libya, said Thursday, a day after the Egyptian military deposed and detained Morsi and began arresting his Brotherhood allies.

But at the same time, Abu Sidra said, Morsi's overthrow had made it far more difficult for him to persuade Benghazi's Islamist militias to put down their weapons and trust in democracy.

"Do you think I can sell that to the people anymore?" he asked. "I have been saying all along, 'If you want to build Shariah law, come to elections.' Now they will just say, 'Look at Egypt,' and you don't need to say anything else."

From Benghazi to Abu Dhabi, Islamists are drawing lessons from Morsi's removal. For some, it demonstrated the futility of democracy in a world dominated by Western powers and their client states. But others, acknowledging that the coup accompanied a broad popular backlash, also faulted the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for reaching too fast for so many levers of power.

The Brotherhood's fall is the greatest in an array of setbacks that have halted the once seemingly unstoppable march of political Islam. As they have moved from opposition to establishment after the Arab spring revolts, Islamist parties have been caught up in crises over the secular practicalities of governing, such as power sharing, urban planning, public security or even keeping the lights on.

Brotherhood leaders - the few who have not been arrested or dropped out of sight - have little doubt about the source of their problems. They say that the Egyptian security forces and bureaucracy conspired to sabotage their rule and that the generals seized on the chance to topple the Morsi government under the cover of popular anger at the dysfunction of the state.

Their account strikes a chord with fellow Islamists around the region who are all too familiar with the historic turning points when, they say, military crackdowns stole their imminent democratic victories: Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954; Algeria in 1991; and the Palestinian territories in 2006.

"The message will resonate throughout the Muslim World loud and clear: Democracy is not for Muslims," Essam el-Haddad, Morsi's foreign policy adviser, warned on his official website.

The overthrow of an elected Islamist government in Egypt, the symbolic heart of the Arab world, Haddad wrote, would fuel more violent terrorism than the Western wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Syria, where the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood once hoped to provide a model of moderation and democracy, some fighters battling President Bashar Assad now say it is the other way around.

Egyptian Islamists "may have to pursue the armed option," argued Firas Filefleh, a rebel fighter in an Islamist brigade in Idlib, in northern Syria. "That may be the only choice, as it was for us in Syria."

In the United Arab Emirates, where the authoritarian government just sentenced 69 members of a Brotherhood-linked Islamist group to prison, Islamists said the crackdowns are driving a deeper wedge into their movement.

"The practices that we see today will split the Islamists in half," said Saeed Nasar Alteneji, a former head of a UAE group.

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