Radial Islamist groups gaining stranglehold in Egypt
Published 18/04/2011 | 10:49
The rapid spread of Muslim political parties ahead of September's parliamentary elections has strengthened fears that Egyptian democracy will be dominated by radical Islamic movements.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic movement and the founder of Hamas, has set up a network of political parties around the country that eclipse the following of the middle class activists that overthrew the regime. On the extreme fringe of the Brotherhood, Islamic groups linked to al-Qeada are organising from the mosques to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the dictatorship.
The military-led government already faces accusations that it is bowing to the surge in support for the Muslim movements, something that David Cameron warned of in February when he said Egyptian democracy would be strongly Islamic.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, warned on Sunday that the direction of Egyptian politics was anti-Israeli. He told diplomats last week that Egyptian officials – including Nabil al-Arabi, the foreign minister – were pandering to political militants by branding Israel as the "enemy".
"I am very concerned over some of the voices we've been hearing from Egypt recently," Mr Netanyahu said. "I'm especially concerned over the current Egyptian foreign minster's statements."
An Egyptian court on Saturday disbanded the National Democratic Party, which won 80pc of seats in parliament in December's rigged election. Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president, and his protégés are under arrest and threatened by prison.
Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, last week predicted the group's candidates would win 75pc of the seats it contested.
Fundamentalist factions have also emerged as parties. Gamaa al-Islamiya, an al-Qaeda linked group that promotes Salafist traditions has used its mosques as a political base for the first time since the 1970s.
A scare campaign that a No vote in last months referendum would eliminate Islamic law from the Egyptian constitution ensured a 77pc Yes result.
But the April 6th movement that spearheaded protests has no clear plan for party politics. Diplomats have warned the demonstrators are not well prepared for elections.
"The leadership of the protests was so focused on the street-by-street detail of the revolution, they have no clue what to do in a national election," said a US official involved in the demonstrations. "Now at dinner the protesters can tell me every Cairo street that was important in the revolution but not how they will take power in Egypt."
A clean-up campaign, including the laying of fresh grass on the roundabout, has transformed Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests. Last Friday was the first holiday since the outbreak of the uprising that was protest-free at the square. Only the daily gathering of hundreds to perform Islamic prayer ceremonies is a reminder of the protests that topped Mr Mubarak.
Mahsud Arishie, a teacher visiting the square, said Egypt would be a different country in the wake of the uprising. "Muslims have their own space now where there is no pressure from the government, only a direct connection to the Lord in the sky," he said as he made his way to the prayers. "That does not mean our country will be hostile to the West but it does mean we will do what we want."
Although the leading contenders for Egypts presidency are independents, many have begun wooing the Muslim blocs. Front-runner Amr Moussa, the Arab League president, has conceded that its inevitable that Islamic factions will be the bedrock of the political system.
As hardliners compete for street power, Egypt's Christians – who make up 10pc of the population – are emigrating in growing numbers.
Al-Masry al-Youm, an Egyptian newspaper, reported last week that the Canadian embassy had been swamped by visa requests from Coptic Christians.
Others are fighting back. Naquib Swiris, a Copt who is one of Egypt's richest men, has formed the Free Egyptians Party as a rallying point for a liberal democracy.