Even in Egypt, Arab Spring not yet secured
Egypt may have swept aside Mubarak in the Arab Spring, but the real fight lies ahead.
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Politicking and ideology were absent from Tahrir Square in the euphoria just before Mubarak's fall. That was what allowed Coptic Christians, Islamists, and liberals to strive for the common goal of removing Mubarak. When he was gone, however, politics quickly reentered the fray.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Exclusive Monitor photos of Egypt's turmoil
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The moment when politics reemerged
The day after crowds in Egypt learned they had toppled one of the world's longest-standing dictators, Essam returned to his stage for another performance. A string of women in head scarves quietly made their way toward him, followed by a group of young men who roughly and forcefully segregated the crowd by gender.
A woman in a head scarf jumped on stage, grabbed the microphone, and began an accusatory religious harangue about the sanctity of prayer time and the importance of being a good Muslim. She resisted efforts to get her to desist, and furiously denounced the boos that started to pour from sections of the crowd.
Essam, in his ponytail and jeans, looked on bemused. After half an hour, the woman gave up and the show went on – though with a segregated crowd watching.
In the following months, the politics have ramped up. The Muslim Brotherhood, the once-banned Islamist group that operated in the background of the revolution, is pushing for more power in a country where they've been ruthlessly hounded for generations. Despite that, they have the best political organization of any group vying for power.
How they perform in this fall's elections – and what they do with any power they get – will be eagerly watched for signs of how political Islam evolves in the region when allowed to compete openly.
Marc Lynch, a political science professor at George Washington University, says that he's "cautiously optimistic" about Egypt's transition and says fears of an Islamic state emerging in Egypt any time soon are off the mark.
"There's a really broad consensus in the country for democratic elections and some form of representative government," says Mr. Lynch, who recently returned from a research trip to Cairo. "It's hard to believe anybody could openly take a position against that at this point."
The Brotherhood is "extremely cognizant of another Algeria or a Gaza. They are hyperaware of what happened in those cases," he says. In Algeria, when Islamists won a free election in 1991, the country's military plunged the country into a bloody civil war. When Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, a brief civil war led to the splintering of the Palestinian territories.
In the case of Egypt, Brotherhood leaders have promised not to contest more than 49 percent of the seats available in upcoming elections, guaranteeing they won't have an outright majority.
"They don't want to provoke the international community. They don't want people to freak out," says Mr. Hamid. "The last thing Islamists want is to abort this opportunity that not only they have, but Egypt has."