Islamists and Secular Society Battle for Freedoms After Arab Spring
The rise of political Islam following the Arab Spring has many worried that the democratic achievements of the revolution could be lost. In Egypt and Tunisia alike, citizens are once again taking to the streets. But this time they are opposing Islamism. Does secularism still stand a chance?
Egypt’s strongman was sitting in the first row of the mosque. “Anyone who criticizes the president is worse than the heretics who attacked the Prophet in Mecca,” the imam preached in his sermon. Then he handed the microphone to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, saying that he should address the faithful himself. But he never got a chance.
“Down with Morsi! Down with the Muslim Brotherhood!” chanted hundreds of men who were now pushing their way to the front. “Enough is enough!” they shouted. “No to tyranny!” For them, it was intolerable to hear the president being compared with the Prophet Muhammad. Morsi, surrounded by bodyguards, had to leave the mosque on Friday. It was both a scandal and a first for Egypt.
But it was only the beginning. Later, more than 100,000 people gathered on Tahrir Square again to protest the actions of their president.
There are no signs that tensions will ease in Egypt, and it is difficult to predict the outcome of the current power struggle. The president, who gave himself dictatorial special powers, seems unimpressed by the storm he has unleashed among secular Egyptians. In rushed proceedings, he also held a vote on a new constitution, in which the Constituent Assembly, dominated by Islamists, clearly voted in favor of Sharia law. The draft constitution will soon be put to a referendum. But the opposition will not accept this, because it is determined to stop the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi.
This says a lot about the most important country in the Arab world, which is only at the beginning of its democratization. It also says a lot about the emotional state of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power as a result of a revolution that it had only halfheartedly supported. The Islamist movement has decades of experience in dealing with authoritarian rulers, but it knows nothing about freedom and pluralism.