MUSTAFA AKYOL > The blessings of the new Islamist Egypt

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Since the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, everybody is talking about Egypt’s positive role in the diplomatic effort that put an end to the bloodshed in Gaza. The country’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has particularly emerged as an effective mediator. “I want to thank President Morsi,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence.”

However, Western expectations about an Egypt ruled by Islamist politicians such as Morsi were very bleak until very recently. In fact, during the long decades before the Arab Spring, secular dictators such as Hosni Mubarak were rather hailed for keeping the Islamists in check, if not in jail and torture chambers. During the revolutions that toppled Western-friendly tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, some “Middle East experts” warned of a dark future for the region. Israel, they said in particular, would be encircled by wild-eyed fanatics who would lovingly kill themselves en masse in order to kill the Jews.

In return, other observers of the Middle East, including my humble self, have argued that the suppression of the Islamists by secular dictators was not a solution, but in fact the very problem. It was one of main reasons that made Islamist parties and groups angry, strident and sometimes violent. Coming to power with democratic vote, we also argued, would force the Islamists to become more responsible and thus moderate actors. I had a particularly Turkish perspective which compelled me to think that way: The evolution of political Islam in Turkey has proven, in my eyes, that the cure to the radicalism of the Islamists was to include them in the political system. Today, the AKP, the incumbent Justice and Development Party (which is still too “Islamist” for Turkey’s hardcore secularists) is much more pragmatic and moderate than its Islamist predecessors, for it was given the chance to grow pragmatic and moderate. Had Turkey not had free and fair elections since 1950, and had Islamic ideas and sentiments not been allowed to find a place under the sun, Turkey’s Islamists, too, would be much less reasonable.

None of this means that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and its parallels in other Arab countries, will become pro-Western liberals overnight, or even in the long run. (Being “pro-Western” and “liberal” can be very different things, by the way.) But political power through democratic means will force them to see political realities and adapt to them. Banning alcohol in Egypt, a standard Islamist goal, will become less attractive because of the harm it will do to the tourism industry. And chanting “down with Israel” will prove to be ineffective, leading to more sober analysis of how Arabs should stand for Palestinian rights with sober tools such diplomacy, lobbying and soft power.

That is why I welcome the new Islamist Egypt, if you will, and its contribution to the crisis of the Middle East. Unlike some commentators in Turkey who complain that this new Egypt has overshadowed Ankara’s role in the region, I feel glad for the region. (Putting an end to killings is more important than who helped accomplish it.) Moreover, I know that any peace, or at least truce, the Islamists will achieve with Israel will have more credibility in the eyes of their peoples than the credibility of their secular predecessors.


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Brian Irlanda

11/26/2012 10:31:51 AM

The Pharoah Morsi 1st will love you Mustafa! Maybe a golden chariot is on its way to you! :-)

Hasan Kutlay

11/25/2012 10:29:13 PM

Morsi has made a joke of the revolution, he has no clue of democracy. He thinks his constituencies have chosen him to do what he likes. He is a chosen dictator now.

mara mcglothin

11/25/2012 6:43:54 PM

Mr AKYOL'S Next piece? The Misunderstood Humanitarian: MORSI. Can't wait to read it.

Lior Uziel

11/25/2012 3:53:54 PM

neglected to note that Israeli offocials also thanked Morsi for balanced management of the crisis, stopping the missiles shot at Israel at 1500 (and ~2500 from the beginning of the year). More importantly, there is a coordinator that would uphold the ceasefire, prevent missile fire on Israeli cities and enable easier life for Gaza civilians (still blockade to prevent those Fajers, but opening the Rafah cross to Egypt)... An example how one can be Islamist but positive and influential, unlike....

Köksüz Kosmopolit

11/25/2012 2:28:20 PM

Given the headlines of the past 48 hours or so, all I can say is: brilliant timing, Mustafa Hoca. (Insert picture of G. Wilder as W. Wonka here: "So, Morsi is attempting to forbid any questioning of his rule? Tell me more about how Islamists are the best democrats!")

ege capulcu mustafa

11/25/2012 2:22:20 PM

Mr. Akyol the new 'Pharaoh' of Egypt acted in the way he acted to bring a cease fire in the Gaza because his armed forces rely utterly and completely on the USA.

ege capulcu mustafa

11/25/2012 2:17:29 PM

Yes we have seen the 'blessings of the new Islamist Egypt' delivered by Morsi's new decrees. He has made himself the new 'Pharaoh' and the people don't like it. Mr. Akyol your islamist fundamentalism once again blinds you to the truth. There is only one way to true democracy. A liberal secular state with religion kept out of politics. No good laws ever come based on religion of whatever kind, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other. Good common sense is enough.


11/25/2012 1:32:56 PM

Of course the AKP is more pragmatic and moderate, how else would they shamelessly fill their pockets with booty?

Morse Fan

11/25/2012 10:10:42 AM

The person/country you choose as a partner for negotiating a ceasefire in a conflict you don't care about much may not be the same as the one you choose for an agreement that may be a major turning point for your nation. Given his latest move, President Morsi probably eliminated himself from contention for the latter role. Given how aggressively Israel is courting Turkey, Mr. Erdogan always seemed to be the most likely to get the part anyway. Now, Mr. Netanyahu seems ready for a deal.

rich bind

11/25/2012 8:44:17 AM

If anyone really wants to see what a radicle Islamic party does with power, just look to Hamas.
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