How Morsy's fall empowers Islamists
July 18th, 2013
09:58 AM ET

How Morsy's fall empowers Islamists

By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is a fellow at the Stimson Center and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is the author of "The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of Shi’a-Sunni Divide." The views expressed are her own.

In overthrowing Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s military, the judiciary, and the secular-minded revolutionaries in central Cairo just extended the political life spans of Islamists across the Middle East.

The Muslim Brotherhood, once at the vanguard of worldwide Islamist political and social movements, failed miserably in their year in power. Most likely, President Morsy’s term in office would have met a natural death during the next presidential election.

Instead, the coup has placed the Brotherhood in the uncomfortable but longtime position it had been in for decades — as the victims of a repressive, dictatorial state.

The coup has also empowered other, more socially conservative Islamist groups, whether or not they might be aligned with the Brotherhood.

The Salafists, in particular, stand to gain from the growing intensity of the broad-based Islamist movement as their vast social networks inspire popular support, and some Salafists are able to take the high ground as the true leaders of the faithful. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, could find itself more reliant upon the Salafists — adherents to a strict interpretation of the Islamic texts — if it wants to win future elections.

Since the July 3 coup, many in the media have speculated over the premature death of political Islam. But support for the Islamists will only increase the more the transitional government represses and imprisons Brotherhood leaders. Those celebrating the demise of Islamists must understand that in Egypt, the separation between religion and state has become blurred over the last 30 years, and moderate and radical groups — inside and outside Egypt alike — have called for the coup to be reversed.

More from GPS: Egypt's fever of violence

Just this week, for example, the influential Sunni cleric Yousef Qaradawi said, “It is obligatory under Islam that Morsy remains president, and it is prohibited for anyone to claim that the people have the right to remove him.”

A posting on a jihadist website that announced the creation of Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt, or Partisans for Sharia in Egypt, meanwhile, outlined its goal of arming and training Muslims to wage war against the new transitional government. “We offer our blood in the place of Muslims and their honor,” the post reportedly said. The group declared democracy to be “anti-Islamic” and called on Muslims to “rise against” anyone who stands in the path of implementing the Sharia.

Sheikh Abdullah Alsa’ad, a popular Salafi sheikh in Saudi Arabia, tweeted that Egypt’s military had carried out a coup against Islam, while Sheikh Saud Shreim, the imam and dean of the College of Jurisprudence and Systems in Um el-Qurra University in Saudi Arabia, tweeted: “It comes as no surprise that those who call for democracy choose to manipulate words. They call injustice justice, imprisonment freedom, and a coup, a revolution.”

Such outrage from influential clerics is inspiring a street movement that is demanding Morsy’s reinstatement, and the former president’s supporters were even more enraged this week when it was revealed that an interim cabinet did not contain anyone hailing from an Islamist group.

And the military’s response to the street — shooting demonstrators, imprisoning hundreds of Brotherhood leaders and supporters — is only likely to encourage radicals to turn to violence. When Morsy was in power, moderate Islamists held some sway with the radicals by encouraging patience with the first Islamist president in Egypt. But now, as the military declares martial law and acts with impunity, it will be increasingly difficult for moderates to make the argument that violence is not necessary. “We lost what leverage we had to keep the extremists at bay,” one Salafist leader told me. “Now we cannot argue to be patient, and for some, violence is the only option now.”

Egyptians who led the rebellion to oust Morsy claimed that they had collected 20 million signatures — an impressive number for a population of about 80 million. However, one should not assume that all of these 20 million Egyptians are secular-leaning. In fact, religious and socially conservative Egyptians, who are now at odds with the Brotherhood, are perfectly willing to place their trust in another Islamist party.

In February and April, while conducting research in Egypt, I met residents of Imbaba, a district of Cairo that was once a base for militant Islamists in the 1990s. Many residents I met were furious with the Brotherhood over economic issues: life in Imbaba had become worse than ever with fewer jobs, no electricity on some days, and rising food prices. Yet they told me their disenchantment with the Brotherhood was not drawing them closer to secularist groups. Rather, they were looking to back another Islamist group that would govern more effectively than Morsy and the Brotherhood.

Such sentiments, widespread in economically deprived areas such as Imbaba, helped fuel the campaign for signatures. This was the reason the secularists leading the rebellion were able to get so many Egyptians on the streets to call for Morsy to step down. But the masses who signed up gave the mistaken impression that they would also back a more secular rule in Egypt than the Brotherhood.

Just as in 2011, when secular youth occupied Tahrir Square and led the massive marches for Mubarak to go, there was an expectation in the United States that secularism had triumphed. That was not true then; nor is it the case now.

The military, along with the remnants of the so-called deep state of the Mubarak era, may hold sway now, but the fact remains that this is only a transitional state. If free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections are held and the Islamists are allowed to take part, the religious nature of Egyptian society will once again emerge — and Islamists of all stripes will have their say in Egypt’s future.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Protests

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soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. ProperVillain

    Religion should play no part in governing. The Islamists need to be booted from all facets of the government in any country.

    July 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Although Egypt is the birthplace of political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood had been suppressed for decades. Only after Mubarak's fall had Islamists been able to have a taste of power.

      July 19, 2013 at 8:24 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Yet they made the mistake of riding roughshod over their opponents. Besides they hadn't brought jobs and growth to the country. They underestimated the power of the military, which has vested interests in Egypt's economy and didn't want chaos.

        July 19, 2013 at 8:26 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        With the ouster of Morsi, it raises the question, whether the Muslim Brotherhood's slogan "Islam is the solution" is still realistic and has future. Now that they have refused to part of the new government, they should do some soul-searching.

        July 20, 2013 at 4:32 am |
      • Master Rod

        They got power and look at the mess they made. They might as well pray to a rock. Oops! They do that already.....

        July 27, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • Fuad

      It's there country, the citizens should have the right to choose any party or leader they feel fit to rule. Anyways, America chose a dumb president ( George Bush) for two terms and they seemed happy about it.

      July 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  2. sadek

    All very nice. But could Egypt wait another 3 years until the next election, if it was to happen, and become a truly failed state. In one year the country saw it increase its foreign debt by a quarter, unemployment increase and the economy at a standstill, while minorities – be they Christian or Shia – persecuted, and the MB trying to take over the organs of the state, be it judicial, legislative or cultural. Be real when you come up with these analysis.

    July 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
    • Fuad

      The US debt is in trillions, the country is almost bankrupt and minorities are discriminated against at a higher scale than ever, in this case would you vouch for the Americans to do same by demonstrating in the streets and opt for an eventual coup or revolution as you naively call it? and in the process overthrow a legitimate democratic country and imprison the president and his members of the ruling Democratic Party ?

      July 28, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  3. AW

    You keep mentioning it as a coup & ignoring the fact that tens of millions of people went on the streets calling for Morsi and his gang to get out. The MB still did plays its stupidity by staging small riots here and there and staging a sit in at Rabaa AlAdawiya mosque. Do they really believe that they will convince outside forces to come and help them back to govern? The Egyptians are fed up with them and with the interference from the US administration and the EU. We are patient and don't want to shed the blood of anyone however we will not hesitate to take action to defend our people from the the aggression of the MB. We don't want them and if the west likes.them too much then they can have them

    July 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • LiveFree

      No. Thank you. We have more than enuf.

      July 19, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Reply
    • Dino

      The 10 Millions you have mentioned are mostly criminals. They are the same criminals that were used by Mubarak to kill protesters. These people were rapping women in Tahrir Sq. 2 of the victims were of them is a TV reporters. One is Britsh I guess and the other one works for France24.
      In regard to the economy, since the Military own 40% of the economy, and since most of the military members are corrupted, they have done their best to sabotage Morsy. They were shutting off water and electricity to just push people to turn against Morsey and and MB. Saudia Arabia and UAE who do not want freedom in neighboring countries have stopped all investments and actually bribed the Egyptian military to perform a coup. According to may media, there were millions of dollars that they were spent to buy people to start the protest.
      Also, we have all witnessed the military shooting on people were they praying..The videos are on line, showing the brutality of the Sissi and his gangs.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:18 am | Reply
      • Dino

        And also, 10 million is a big lie...You guys were not able to gather a one million..Note that some of the protesters, did not have the intention to remove the elected president. They have just protested for some changes. In another world they were fulled, and now, most of them are joining the MB after it became clear to them that the military used them for this dirty job..

        July 21, 2013 at 4:48 am |
  4. jasonshams

    The fact that millions of people went to the streets is irrelevant to it being a coup, it matters not how many people went to the streets. A coup is when a head of state is removed by the military of the same state. It doesn't matter if the military does so by the request of protesters or on its own. "We don't want them", where were you a year ago when he won the elections? So you boycott the elections, then when you don't like the guy who wins, you come to the streets and vindicate a coup against him? The "west" as you say doesn't "like" the MB, stop the conspiratorial thinking. Bringing down Morsi by coup will not result in democratic progress in your country, they will radicalize and provide a raison d'etre for the military to continue to rule your country, instead of elected leaders.

    July 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Reply
    • meph

      Please don't claim to know what the people of Egypt want. Most would take the military over the MB any day of the week. At least the military doesn't get involved in my religious affairs. At least the military does't claim to be speaking for God. At least the military doesn't support terrorism. The MB was as corrupt as they get, but they used religion to justify their actions. I, for one, hope that they are all charged with collaborating with terrorists, and inciting violence.

      July 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  5. AZ

    Interesting how many respectable authors including yourself make the a grand assumption that these "Islamic inspired" political parties will actually allow a democratic environment as you know it in the future and hence be potentially voted out. I do not fundamentally disagree in the sense that yes democracy should take its course and that 'eventually/ultimately' they could be voted out; this could take decades in a fast moving world where the cost would be so high. Egypt and the whole middle east can go through a middle ages phase then a renaissance as Europe did centuries ago, however, the world is a very different place now and waiting a few decades or a hundred years will only bring more misery to generations of Egyptians to come, Nothing in life is ideal, what happened in Egypt is certainly not ideal but in my view the lesser of two evils and I appreciate that others would prefer the "other evil" but that is just how life works...

    July 18, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  6. acrabahyiouspe

    Why bother having a comments section, if it censors ordinary, non-vulgar words? It's impossible to guess why the filters are censoring completely clean posts.

    July 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  7. acrabahyiouspe

    I c o u l d n' t d i s a g r e e w i t h t h e a r t i c l e m o r e. N o t h i n g e m p o w e r e d I s l a m i s m m o r e t h a n l e a v i n g M o r s i i n p o w e r.

    T h r o u g h h i s I k w a n i z a t i o n a g e n d a, M o r s i w a s r e p l a c i n g t h e v e r y d e m o c r a t i c i n s t i t u t i o n s w i t h I s l a m i s t o n e s. T h e v e r y C o n s t i t u t i o n i t s e l f, t h a t w a s s u p p o s e d t o p r o t e c t h u m a n r i g h t s o f a l l E g y p t i a n s, i n s t e a d b e c a m e I s l a m i s t.

    T o c u r t a i l I s l a m i s m, t h e i n t e r i m g o v e r n m e n t s h o u l d d r a f t a s e c u l a r C o n s t i t u t i o n t h a t p r o t e c t s t h e h u m a n r i g h t s o f a l l E g y p t i a n s. T h e n o p e n e l e c t i o n s, c l e a r l y c o m m u n i c a t i n g t h a t t h e e l e c t e d p a r t y – w h i c h e v e r t h a t m a y b e – h a s t o f o l l o w t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n. T h e y s h o u l d a l s o e x e c u t e a n y M u s l i m b r o t h e r h o o d o r S a l a f i s t l e a d e r s t h a t a r e r e s p o n s i b l e f o r t h e v i o l e n c e a n d t e r r o r i s m.

    July 18, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  8. Hamdy Sadek

    Where is my comment? I don't beleive I violated any rule here. Why bother having a comment section anyway?

    July 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  9. Tawfik

    Get over it CNN, Egypt is not supporting the Islamic Brotherhood like you want us to
    believe, shame on you CNN.
    Why you are supporting the Islamic Brotherhood against the wellness of the Egyptian people?
    Do your job and report the truth and show how the Egyptians are happy with the outcast of Morsi who was supported by Hillary Clinton and Obama.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Reply
    • muhamad

      ..بيان تحذيرى لحكومات العالم
      Cautionary Statement for the governments of the world

      بيان تحذيرى لحكومات العالم ..
      من السيد رئيس الوزراء المصرى د.هشام قنديل وبموافقة مجلس الشورى المصرى يقول :
      لن نعترف باى قروض او اتفاقيات يتم التوقيع عليها مع حكومة الانقلابيين نحن الحكومه الشرعيه للبلاد ولسنا مسؤلون عن الاموال التى سيتم اقتراضها من قبل الحكومه الجديده الغير شرعيه
      من فضلك انشر هذا البيان فى كل مكان ليعرف العالم ماذا يجرى فى مصر


      Cautionary Statement for the governments of the world
      Mr. Egyptian Prime Minister Dr.. Hisham Qandil and with the approval of the Egyptian Shura Council says:
      We will not recognize any loans or agreements to be signed with the government of the coup.
      We are the legitimate government of the country and we are not responsible for the money that will be borrowed by the new government illegal

      Please Share this statement everywhere for the world to know what is happening in

      July 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply
      • MPA

        I agree with the Prime Minister.

        July 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
      • Master Rod

        Gad! That spelling is terrible. I can't make any sense of it.......

        July 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  10. muhamad

    ..بيان تحذيرى لحكومات العالم
    Cautionary Statement for the governments of the world

    بيان تحذيرى لحكومات العالم ..
    من السيد رئيس الوزراء المصرى د.هشام قنديل وبموافقة مجلس الشورى المصرى يقول :
    لن نعترف باى قروض او اتفاقيات يتم التوقيع عليها مع حكومة الانقلابيين نحن الحكومه الشرعيه للبلاد ولسنا مسؤلون عن الاموال التى سيتم اقتراضها من قبل الحكومه الجديده الغير شرعيه
    من فضلك انشر هذا البيان فى كل مكان ليعرف العالم ماذا يجرى فى مصر


    Cautionary Statement for the governments of the world
    Mr. Egyptian Prime Minister Dr.. Hisham Qandil and with the approval of the Egyptian Shura Council says:
    We will not recognize any loans or agreements to be signed with the government of the coup.
    We are the legitimate government of the country and we are not responsible for the money that will be borrowed by the new government illegal

    Please Share this statement everywhere for the world to know what is happening in

    July 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Reply
    • honesty

      Hide behind democracy to bring the Islamic law. Treat women like parasite to men. Let lazy people justify their laziness as "investment for after death". It was impossible for your "so called legitimate" government to pay off all the loans. Unless the intention was to pay them all after death.

      July 22, 2013 at 8:30 am | Reply
  11. Dele

    Tawfik should realise that he and others like him are not the only ones in Egypt. Anyways, regardless of what you all may say, this is the only true article I have read in a decade.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Reply
    • Dino

      I agree, this is a great article..

      July 21, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply
  12. Eman

    60% of Egyptians are under the poverty line. As with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, they just want basic life necessities. The masses will want anybody who can satisfy those needs. Egyptian masses have been vaccinated against political Islam. if the current regime is able to deliver those basic needs. Progressive parties will be elected, radicals' popularity will weaken.

    July 21, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Reply
    • ghazala

      I just returned from Cairo a week ago. These needs people food not F16s.US should consider giving food and train police than send Tanks.I saw dirty streets, poverty and big gap between Rich and Poor.Govt is taking all aid and putting their pockets and US Aid go directly to people. Great people, loving and humble. Islamist are not Terrorist but
      fighting for poor.

      July 28, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
  13. vistar hornbill

    While I still symphatise with the Arab Spring, I think the youth initialed revolts have turned countries upside downside, and resulting in half baked new governments taking over. There are total destruction of live and properties. Over 100,100 Syrians have since died after the revolt began. Libya is totally in economic tatters and a very divided country with rebel youths forming gangs to terrorise the civilians. Eygpt is faring no better after the youth led revolution. The country appears to be split into various inseparably religious ideologies. The worst is yet to come for Cairo.

    July 22, 2013 at 1:05 am | Reply
  14. stan

    "democracy is anti islam." no doubt about it, letting people think for themselves, letting them choose who will lead them is anti islam.............and this is good? This is what they want? How pathetic to be manipulated into thinking that the individual is too stupid to be trusted to make the right choices for himself and his family and his country.

    July 22, 2013 at 4:41 am | Reply
  15. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads is what Towel Heads do.

    July 23, 2013 at 9:26 am | Reply
  16. Adel Bishai

    Few years from now, the writer of this article is likely to find out how wrong she was in misunderstanding the Egyptian people.

    July 23, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  17. Brett Champion

    It's no coincidence that the Middle Eastern state in which Islamists are the least popular is Iran, the state that has been ruled by them for just over 30 years now. The West should welcome the rise to power of Islamists because one of two things will have to happen once they are in power. Either they will moderate their ideology so that they can actually govern or they will fall flat on their faces and become discredited in the eyes of the public.

    July 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Reply
    • MPA

      In all fairness, it was the West that created the problems in the ME, which has resulted in the Jihadists we have been witnessing. Had the the west never occupied Ottoman territories, they would not have sought help from the Germans. The fact that they did and lost, caused its dismantling and separate states we now have. The destruction of the Arab land to create a Biblical Israel didn't help matters either.
      What should have happened, is that the west knew that the dying man of Europe, ala the Ottoman Empire was needed to control the Islamists. Had Europe tried to help the Empire, rather occupy it as strategic use to fight the Germans, the world may be a better place because of it.
      Most Westerner's may cringe at the thought of a Caliphate, but a well funded one was able control the satellite states historically.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Reply
      • logic

        If this Caliphate were to be revived what will happen in 50 years time when the US will have to contend with an Islamic Europe? Wouldn't it be much easier to support secularism and create global alliances along principles that will be western friendly?

        July 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  18. Sami Aziz

    I feel bad for the writer,she do not know very much about Egypt and how Egyptians mind is thinking,it is better for her to write about other countries not Egypt .

    July 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  19. Rick McDaniel

    Islamists seize power........they aren't empowered.

    Only through conflict, can their religious dictatorship be held in check, and other religions be allowed to exist.

    July 25, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  20. logic

    Great logic Fareed.......if you lose you win. It sounds like weakness is strength. Perhaps you need a vacation.

    July 26, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  21. Gonzo

    They are learning quickly that WORLDLY governments can't be run by religious organizations. It took the west centuries to get it right. I give Egyptians credit for figuring out this in a very short period of time. Now for the period of enlightenment. I see hope for Egypt.

    July 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  22. America

    We want democracy in every country but only if it suits us.

    July 28, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  23. kam

    What absolute nonsense Mr. Zachariah. The exact opposite is true. I do wish you would apply didactic logic in your arguments.

    Morsi's demise sucker punches the power out of Islamists!

    July 29, 2013 at 1:48 am | Reply

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