An Islamist Egypt inevitable? Not so fast
December 6th, 2012
01:31 PM ET

An Islamist Egypt inevitable? Not so fast

By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.  The views expressed are his own.

The rapid rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after the deposing of Hosni Mubarak last year prompted many observers to see an Islamist Egypt as inevitable. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was the best organized and most popular political party in Egypt, the opposition was divided, there was little Western support for the secular opposition and the United States welcomed Muslim Brotherhood delegations to meet White House officials. Most recently, it worked openly with President Mohamed Morsy to achieve a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. All this seemed to many to be a rough replay of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Yet, as the mass demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood recently in Tahrir Square and across Egypt have shown, an Islamic Egypt, while still likely, is far from inevitable.

Successful revolutions are usually led by charismatic leaders with strong political intuition – think Mao, Lenin, Tito, Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini. All personified their revolutions and drove the masses on to victory. But Morsy is no Ayatollah Khomeini, who embodied revolutionary mysticism and spent a lifetime steeped in political thought. The reality is that Morsy lacks charisma, and spent his life gaining a PhD and chairing an Egyptian engineering school until 2010. His abrupt and radical moves belie a lack of political savoir faire.

Morsy and the Brotherhood also lack the great wealth in oil and gas revenues (and do not have the option of expropriating the great wealth of the Shah) that gave the Ayatollah financial leverage in Iran. Egypt is a poor country, whose GDP per capita is only about $6,500 per year, according to the most recent IMF figures.

More from CNN: Morsy miscalculating rage

Equally important is the lack of any Great Satan (Khomeini’s name for the United States) and Little Satan (his term for Israel) against which the Ayatollah roused the Iranian masses. Instead, Morsy, through his negotiations with, and accepting money from, the United States, looks if anything more like an ally of the Great Satan. He also lacks a war with an external enemy such as Iran faced with Iraq in the 1980s, around which Khomeini could rally the Iranian population.

The Shiites in Iran, after a lengthy period of perceived persecution, also rallied around the idea of a revolutionary Iran restoring them to their “proper” role in a Sunni dominated region. This appeal was reinforced by the frequent and powerful interference by the U.K., the United States and Russia in their internal affairs. Egypt lacks such a history. And, to boot, has 8 million Coptic Christians, many of whom oppose the Brotherhood.

More from GPS: Egypt's deeply flawed constitution

The Muslim Brotherhood also faces a significantly stronger regime than post-Shah Iran – there’s a million -security force, multi-million man bureaucracy, independent courts and media. Meanwhile, unlike Iran, Egypt lacks the resources to provide serious help to the impoverished masses.

And finally, having seen what happened in Islamic revolutions in Iran (1979), Afghanistan (1996) and Gaza (2006), its secular opponents are far more likely to come out and fight for their interests.

The flight of Morsy from his presidential palace on Tuesday, and the massive number of demonstrators in front of the palace and elsewhere, does not augur well for the president, and the Muslim Brotherhood faces either a protracted battle for consolidation of its power or the possibility of ultimately being ousted from power. Either way an Islamic Egypt does not look quite so inevitable anymore.

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Topics: Egypt • Iran • Iraq • Islam • Middle East

soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. Tony

    I can't believe how biased CNN is regarding this case. The Muslim Brotherhood is the worst news in Egyptian history. And the Egyptians realised this. We do not want to turn our home to a new Afghanistan or Iran.

    Why is CNN rooting for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why is Obama supporting them? Look at what BBC says about this story. There is a BIG gap.
    Cut this dirty game. We do not want the Brotherhood, we do not want Morsy, and we most definitly want Sinai!!!!!!!!! It belongs to Egypt. It will never belong to Palestine!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  2. sparks2000

    Funny thing about all of this.....look up the history of the Muslim Brotherhood.It was created by the British,funded by the West.Odd,eh?Why would a western backed Islamic group want to Islamize Egypt?Could it be that the intentions of western governments(including the USA)are not as they seem?Are their hidden agendas going on we don't know about?It seems apparent,doesn't it?oNE SECOND,THE us IS AGAINST iSLAMIC terrorism and extremism,all about protecting Israel and ushering in democracy to the Middle East,and the next they are helping Islamic regimes into power.In fact,we are the ones who helped overthrow the Shah and help Ayatollah's gain power in Iran,contrary to what some history sources tell us.What is the US gov't up to anyway?WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON?

    December 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
    • deep thought

      Similar agenda to China and Iran propping up North Korea? Shiite Iran is to Sunni Egypt as NK is to U.S. ?

      December 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Reply
      • deep thought

        Correction: Sunni Egypt is to Shiite Iran as NK is to U.S. ?

        December 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  3. Ben G

    The initial evaluations/personality of a new leader cannot rule out much. The fact that he got a PhD and lacks charisma mean little in terms of how he'll respond to pressure. See Bashar al-Assad.

    December 11, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  4. Sam

    Moslem brothers hood are linked to hamass linked to Quaida, its important to understand this... islam is not against slavery, islam is slavery, women and child abuse, and much worse. Human rights is so great but should be used in a way not to let Arabs miss use it against others.

    December 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  5. Coptic

    I love how he mentions that Copts oppose the Brotherhood as if it makes any kind of difference. Coptic Christians' lives have already been threatened over and over again, and it is not rare for mass murders of Coptic Christians to happen. To me, that's the beginning of a genocide, so the Coptic opposition means nothing at all. Egypt simply wasn't ready for a democracy because every political leader in Egypt has some sort of religious agenda and because the simple statute of equality of all humans that we have here in America simply does not exist there, and hopefully this is becoming quite clear to the rest of the world.

    December 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • Marcus

      Copts please save yourselves and move to Europe or America! I guarantee you will be greatly welcome. We love hardworking, industrious and peaceful people. Contrary to popular opinion, we don't hate immigrants. We just don't like those that publicly proclaim that their religion will take over our continent in a few decades.

      I'm also feel sorry for you Copts that your plight has attracted so little attention in the West. Well, that's because you're a Christian group, and well, Christianity is not "cool" in the West. In general, most people in the West view Christianity as how one would feel if he had a father who is a convicted rapist: you know he's around, you know he's your father, but you're sure as hell embarrassed to be associated with him.

      December 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  6. Kathy

    GO to and learn the truth about islam.

    December 12, 2012 at 4:49 am | Reply
  7. Kathy

    prophet i meant

    December 12, 2012 at 4:50 am | Reply
  8. Jerry Lemieux

    The people wanting change and freedom are not terrorists. However, there are terrorist groups among them. When the power vacuum is created, those groups that are willing to go to the most violent means possible will ultimately achieve power. You can spin it anyway you like, but that is the cold, hard reality of the situation in both Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

    And if the President has a lick of sense (which I doubt), he will not transfer another 20 F-16's to Egypt. Such a move is illogical and not in the best interest of the United States.

    December 12, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  9. allenwoll

    There can and will be no peace in thw world as long as we allow Extremists to operate UN-restrained - BOTH Religious AND Economic Extremists !

    This applies to UNRESTRAINED Religions : Christianity, Islam and all other organized religions, AND to UNRESTRAINED Economic Philosophies : Communism and Capitalism. . Each and every one is wholly evil from its very deepest foundations, for their common goal is to utterly repress the individual and to "keep him in line" and under their control ! ! !

    December 12, 2012 at 10:11 am | Reply
  10. Just for Fun

    To all of you!
    December 21st is coming so why worry!!!!!
    If the Mayans are right then its time to bend over, kiss you’re ***, will you know good bye.

    December 12, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
  11. Hate Wins

    Food for thought:
    What is the difference between? Communism, Capitalism, Christianity, Judaism, Socialism, Atheism, Islamism, Liberalism and Conservatism and any other ism you can think of.
    NOTHING: In the HEART and MIND of the TRUE BELIVER in each case.
    In the mind of the TRUE BELIVER they are the only good and true, and all else is blasphemy.

    December 12, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
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