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Islamists exploit Egypt´s freer politics
Military says nation won’t be ‘turned into Gaza or Iran,’ but some aren’t so sure
Islamic hard-liners, some of them heavily suppressed under three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, are enthusiastically diving into Egypt’s new freedoms, forming political parties to enter upcoming elections and raising alarm that they will try to lead the country into fundamentalist rule.
Some militants, taking advantage of a security vacuum, aren’t waiting for the political process. They have attacked Christians and liquor stores, trying to impose their austere version of Islamic law in provincial towns.
Islamists could fare well in parliamentary elections scheduled for September, especially if the various groups run on a unified ticket. Their chances are boosted by the disarray among other groups.
Traditional opposition parties were deeply restricted under Mr. Mubarak’s 29-year rule and have no popular base to speak of. The liberal youth groups behind the 18-day uprising that forced Mr. Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11 are still scrambling to organize before voting day.
The Islamists, furthermore, are well-funded and organized. The most established fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has years of experience in contesting elections.
Liberals and leftists, including the youth activists who led the protest uprising against Mr. Mubarak, are caught between their stance that all sides must be allowed to enter the political game if Egypt is to be a real democracy and worries whether Islamists will play by the rules.
“I think there is too much Islamophobia,” Khaled Abdel-Hameed, one youth leader, said of fears of Islamists hijacking the process. “Everyone is trying to hijack the revolution, including me. If people elect religious groups, I will respect their choice.”
Another activist, Mustafa al-Nagar, is more concerned.
“I am worried most about the Salafis, because they are not accustomed to politics,” said Mr. al-Nagar, who campaigns for Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and potential candidate in presidential elections due in November. “Their main concern is to exclude anyone else.”
Salafis are ultra-hard-liners, close to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and more radical than the Brotherhood. They seek to emulate the austerity of Islam’s early days and oppose a wide range of practices they view as “un-Islamic” - rejecting the treatment of non-Muslims as citizens with equal rights, as well as all forms of Western cultural influence.
Salafis traditionally stayed out of politics, rejecting democracy because it replaces rule by God’s law with the law of man. The movement grew in recent years because it was tolerated and even encouraged by the Mubarak regime to counter the Muslim Brotherhood.
By Brahma Chellaney
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