Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Islamist push dealt blow after big victories

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BEIRUT -- The ouster on Wednesday of Egypt's elected Muslim Brotherhood government barely a year after it took office represents a significant setback for the Islamist movements that have proved the biggest beneficiaries so far of the Arab Spring revolts.

From Tunisia to war-torn Syria, anti-Islamist activists have begun expressing unhappiness with the religious parties empowered by freedoms the turmoil unleashed. That the backlash has truly crescendoed in Egypt -- the Arab world's political and cultural trendsetter and the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood 80 years ago -- is likely to resonate far beyond, perhaps most forcefully in Syria.

"What happens to the Islamists in Egypt will determine their status in the remaining countries of the region," said Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi. "This is making them nervous because they know that if they lose in Egypt, they will end up losing everywhere."

It is far too early to write off political Islam as a force in the region, and the Egyptian army's role in forcing President Mohammed Morsi's departure sets a potentially worrying precedent for the future of democratically elected governments.

Islamist extremists, in Egypt and elsewhere, may argue what many are calling a military coup validates the use of violence to achieve their aims. The regimes and monarchies still holding at bay the clamour for greater freedoms will cite the example of Egypt as evidence elections that empower Islamists will lead to chaos, perhaps braking further progress toward political reform.

But there can be little doubt the spectre of the Arab world's most populous nation rising up in seemingly unprecedented numbers against an Islamist leader has tainted the Brotherhood's long effort to present itself as a viable alternative to the region's mostly repressive regimes, in ways it may find hard to redress.

"This is one of Islamism's biggest crises in recent memory, indeed in decades," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

Molhem al-Drobi, a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood senior official, acknowledged the anxiety. "This is not what we hoped for," he said.

Drobi defended Morsi's record, saying he had not been given a chance, in just one year in office, to address the multiple problems confronting post-revolution Egypt.

He nonetheless emailed Morsi on Tuesday to ask him to submit to fresh elections, out of concern his refusal to surrender power gave "the wrong indication that indeed we are no different from any other ruler, that we want to stay in power even if the people don't want us."

He received no answer, he said.

"We in Syria would love the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to prove they are really democratic," he added.


-- The Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 A6

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