Whats been happening in Egypt this week is as important as the revolution that overthrew the old regime almost two years ago.
A new dictator has arrived, and while the Muslim Brotherhoods overturning of democracy was totally predictable, Western policymakers walked right into the trap. They even helped build it.
President Mursi has now declared his ability to rule by decree. The key concept is that he can do everything to protect the revolution. In doing so, he is defining the revolution as the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979, which was made by a broad coalition of forces, soon after became defined as an Islamist revolution.
One could call the Islamist strategy a short march through the institutions. Once Islamists take power in Iran, the Gaza Strip, Turkey, and perhaps too in Syria that is only the beginning of the story. They systematically do a fundamental transformation.
The media, or at least a large part of it, is tamed. The draft constitution written by the Brotherhood and Salafists allows the government to shut down any newspaper or television station by decree. The courts are made impotent and judges replaced. Mursis decree said he could ignore any court decision.
At a November 18 press conference, a few days before Mursi issued his decree, the leading secular-oriented representatives in the constitution-writing constituent assembly resigned, charging the new document would enshrine Sharia law. The problem was not the statement in Article 2 about Sharia being the main source of Egyptian legislation but rather later provisions making it clear that Islamist-controlled institutions would interpret precisely what that meant. Amr Moussa, former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general, said the new constitution would bring disaster for Egypt. Abdel Meguid called this combination "Taliban-like.
Scattered secularist forces, Coptic Christians, liberals or the remnants of the old regime, and modern-minded women do not pose a real threat to the regime. They are not violent, not organized and not flush with cash. They can expect no material international support. There will be no civil war between the moderates and the Islamists, the suppression of one by the other.
The Salafists are itching for confrontation; the Muslim Brotherhood is patient. But when Salafists harass women or stab secularists or attack churches, the Brotherhood-controlled government will do nothing to protect the victims.
Of critical importance for Egypt is control over the religious infrastructure: The ministry of Waqf that supervises huge amounts of money in Islamic foundations; the office of qadi, the chief Islamist jurist; al-Azhar University, the most important institution defining Islam in the Muslim world; which clerics get to go on television or have their own shows; and appointments of preachers in every public mosque in the country. (continue reading...)