Will pro-freedom protests be enough to stop Egypt's transformation into a Sharia prison?
Thousands of pro-freedom protesters surrounded the presidential palace in Cairo Tuesday. Reuters reported Tuesday that “officers fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators,” and that Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi actually fled the palace. However, although the demonstrators chanted that “the people want the downfall of the regime,” they are unlikely to get it.
Hussein Abdel Ghany, a spokesman for the secularists and Leftist opponents of Sharia who demonstrated on Tuesday, declared: “Our marches are against tyranny and the void constitutional decree and we won’t retract our position until our demands are met.”
However, even though he and his colleagues could muster 10,000 demonstrators to the presidential palace, Ghany quite clearly represents a minority in Egypt. The transformation of Egypt from a Western-oriented state to one dominated by Islamic law has been proceeding for decades. The Muslim Brotherhood’s societal and cultural influence outstripped its direct political reach for decades, until the fall of Mubarak, and now is in the ascendancy, despite the unrest. One highly visible example of the pervasive Islamic supremacist influence in Egypt is the fact that while in the 1960s women wearing hijabs were rare on the streets of Cairo, now it is rare to see a woman not wearing one.
From the time of the presidency of Gamel Abdel Nasser (1956-1970), the Egyptian government practiced steam control with the Brotherhood, being aware of its broad base of popularity and thus looking the other way as the group terrorized Coptic Christians and enforced Islamic strictures upon the Egyptian populace -- and cracking down only when the Brotherhood showed signs of growing powerful enough actually to seize power. Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat (1970-1981) not only released all the Brotherhood political prisoners who had been languishing in Egyptian prisons, but also promised the Brotherhood that Sharia would be fully implemented in Egypt.
Sadat didn’t live long enough to fulfill that promise; he was murdered by members of another Islamic supremacist group that was enraged by his peace treaty with Israel. Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak didn’t keep that promise to the Brotherhood either, and today the Muslim Brothers have their best chance ever to see Sharia in Egypt. They may have overreached in the early stages of Morsi’s presidency, but that doesn’t by any means mean that they’re going to give up.
After all, most Egyptians want Sharia, too. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in Spring 2010, before the chimerical “Arab Spring” and the toppling of Mubarak, found that no fewer than eighty-five percent of Egyptians thought that Islam was a positive influence in politics. Fifty-nine percent said they identified with “Islamic fundamentalists” in their struggle against “groups who want to modernize the country,” who had the support of only twenty-seven percent of Egyptians. Only twenty percent were “very concerned” about “Islamic extremism” within Egypt.
Another survey in May 2012 found little difference. 61 percent of Egyptians stated that they wanted to see Egypt abandon its peace treaty with Israel, and the same number identified the hardline Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the country that should serve as Egypt’s model for the role Islam should play in government. 60 percent said that Egypt’s laws should hew closely to the directives of the Qur’an.
Morsi is happy to oblige them: “It was for the sake of the Islamic sharia that men were…thrown into prison,” he recalled at a May 2012 rally. “Their blood and existence rests on our shoulders now. We will work together to realize their dream of implementing sharia.”
A Muslim cleric, Shaykh Usamah Qasim, warned of violence if Islamic supremacists were denied power and Shafiq or anyone else but Morsi were elected president: “The fate of any of them who reaches the presidency will be like that of former President Anwar al-Sadat, who was assassinated.” In November 2012, Nageh Ibrahim, the ideologue of the Islamic supremacist Gamaa al-Islamiya, declared that Morsi’s opponents could be targeted for assassination if they stood in the way of the Muslim Brotherhood president’s plans to implement Sharia in Egypt.
All in all, it is not a scenario that gives the impression that democracy and pluralism are about to dawn in Egypt. The Egyptian people have chosen Islamic law, and Islamic law is what they are going to get. The secularists who oppose this, as numerous as they may be, are spitting into the wind. Everyone from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (judging from their refusal to criticize Morsi’s repressive measures or slide toward Sharia) to the rank-and-file supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria want Sharia in Egypt. Barring some huge upheaval that completely resets Egypt’s political course, so it shall be written, and so it shall be done.
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