Sunday, December 11, 2011

Islamists, elections and the Arab spring

    Sunday, December 11, 2011   No comments

IS THE Arab spring turning into bleak midwinter? Earlier this year the revolutions sweeping through the region seemed encouragingly modern and secular. Indeed, the young Facebookers and Twitterers braving the bullets in Cairo and Tunis seemed to give the lie to the dictators’ claims that the only alternative to the thuggery of a strongman was mullah-led theocracy. But look across the Arab world today and political Islam has jumped to the fore (see article).

Egypt offers the most dramatic example. The relatively mild-mannered Muslim Brotherhood, the best-organised of the Arab movements espousing an ideology that bases its message on the texts of Islam, is winning the three-stage election to Egypt’s parliament by a wider margin than pundits predicted, with 46% of the seats so far. Far more frightening is the party coming second, with 21% of the seats. The Salafists, whose name denotes a desire to emulate the “predecessors” who were early followers of the Prophet Muhammad, decry alcohol, pop music and other aspects of Western lifestyle. They want to ban interest in banks, think women should cover themselves and stay at home, would segregate the sexes in public, might turn Christians, around a tenth of Egypt’s 85m people, into second-class citizens and denigrate Jews, not to mention the people of Israel. Assuming that the two Islamist parties do no worse in the next two rounds this month and next, generally in more conservative areas, they will control a clear majority of seats; the only question is whether the Brothers will keep their promise not to team up and rule together.

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