Liberals left for dust as Egypt goes Islamist

By John Bradley, April 4, 2012
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Female members of the Egyptian parliament

Female members of the Egyptian parliament

One cannot but marvel at the deft political manoeuvring of Egypt's Islamists over the past year, as they distanced themselves from violence on the ground against their liberal opponents while orchestrating an action replay of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Indeed, as in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, the Egyptian Islamists' political skills have been matched only by the incompetence of the country's liberal elite.

This week, the latter was again on display, when the liberals decided to boycott a 100-member committee appointed by the new parliament to draw up a new constitution.

Their gripe? That, despite earlier assurances from the Islamists that the committee would be inclusive, they ended up appointing two thirds of the seats to their own rank-and-file. Only half-a-dozen Christians and women were appointed, leading the Coptic church to officially condemn the committee as illegitimate.

But what did the liberals and Copts expect?

Saying one thing and doing another is an integral part of a politician's job description the world over. In fact, the Brotherhood's treachery was as predictable as it was shameless, marking as it did the culmination of a series of similar betrayals.

Initially, they promised to stand for only half of the parliamentary seats up for grabs, then fielded candidates for all of them.

And after repeatedly stating they would not offer a presidential candidate - and even suspending one of their own members for putting his name forward - the Brotherhood has just selected its deputy chairman, Khairat Al-Shatir, to run for president on the group's official ticket.

In any event, since the Islamists won 77 per cent of the parliamentary vote, in contrast to the revolutionary parties' pitiful two per cent, the former have every right to dominate the committee.

By storming out in protest, the liberals come across yet again as spoilt children hopelessly outplayed in a game of football in which they end up sobbing at the opposition's refusal to let them shoot at an open goal once in a while.

They were so unprepared for Egypt's complex post-revolutionary political game, and so pitifully lacking in support, that they may as well have stayed at home - not least because the referee, in the form of the all-powerful military council, was always going to do its utmost to see that they got a good thrashing. This week, the Brotherhood was again publicly criticising the generals for betraying the goals of the revolution - this from a political group that itself firmly came out against an uprising in the revolution's early stages.

Of course, it's all empty rhetoric for public consumption.

The pact formed between the Islamists and generals when Hosni Mubarak stepped down - political freedom in return for supporting the status quo - is as strong as ever.

That Al-Shatir will be Egypt's next president can be little doubted. The real danger now, with Egypt's economy in worse shape than it has been for decades, the crucial tourist trade still showing few signs of recovery and crime rates at all-time highs, is that the Egyptian masses will lose any faith they may have had in the benefits of Western-style democracy.

Al-Shatir encapsulates the Brotherhood's shrewd ambiguity perfectly, extolling both the virtues of democracy and an Islamist state.

No one should be surprised when, in a final act of betrayal, having embraced the former, he establishes the latter.

John R Bradley is the author of 'After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolt' (Palgrave Macmillan)

    Last updated: 10:44am, April 5 2012