Muslim Brotherhood poised to crush Egypt's liberal dream

By John R Bradley, March 31, 2011

When Egyptians voted earlier this month on a redrafted, post-revolutionary constitution, only 41 per cent of eligible voters bothered to make their way to the polling booths - an astonishingly low turnout for the first free and fair elections most Egyptians had ever had the chance to partake in.

In the run-up to the referendum, just two political groups had urged a "yes" vote: former dictator Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party and the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Still, more than two thirds of those who voted heeded their call.

Parties representing the secular, progressive Egyptian elite, who had vigorously campaigned against the revised constitution, were decimated.

All this points to a big victory for the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections slated for September.

The Brotherhood failed to back the revolution in its early stages, and Egypt did not witness an Islamist-led uprising. However, those in the West who interpreted their lack of presence on the streets as the birth of a pluralistic Egypt, were very wide of the mark.

Revolutionary upheaval in Egypt was always going to benefit the Islamists. It's not that the Brotherhood is especially popular. Rather, it's that when it comes to the nitty gritty of political debate, Egyptians are extraordinarily apathetic; the progressive parties in Egypt are all but unknown; and the Brotherhood is the best organised opposition party with the most disciplined and fanatical support base.

However, like all Islamist opposition groups, the Brotherhood does not seek to govern, because with real power comes responsibility and accountability. Hence the fact that they have ruled out nominating a candidate for president. Instead, they thrive in opposition, where they can obsess on trivial Islam-related issues - from opposing beauty contests to banning allegedly blasphemous books - in their bid to Islamise society from below.

The toothless parliament has for decades been their preferred arena, charitable work among the poor their chief recruitment tool, and as they campaign for the September elections their charitable deeds will be more in demand than ever. The revolution has left the economy in tatters.

Moreover, over the past two decades they have laid the groundwork for their forthcoming success. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre shortly before the revolution showed that the majority of Egyptians support stoning for adultery, amputation for theft and execution for converting from Islam. The Brotherhood won the referendum merely by claiming any further changes to the constitution would facilitate US and Israeli attempts to delete Article II, which states that Islam is the official religion.

Sadly, Egypt is now so conservative and reactionary, and the progressive elite so out of touch, that as the country gears up for parliamentary elections the Brotherhood's battle cry - Islam is the solution - will drown out the more subtle calls for moderation.

John R Bradley is the author of 'Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution'

Last updated: 10:59am, March 31 2011