December 29, 2011
As President Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell in Egypt, some feared that radical Islamists were poised to take over the state and the country. This opinion was not shared in America by leading voices in government and the media, where pundit after politician confidently asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood, the dominant Islamist organization in Egypt, did not enjoy that sort of widespread public support.
This certainty started at the top, as President Obama told Bill O’Reilly, “I think the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don’t have majority support in Egypt.”
The president’s appraisal was echoed by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice in an interview: “There’s not indication that the Brotherhood is going to dominate Egyptian politics.”
This benign notion of the Egyptian future was pushed by renowned New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote that “the biggest losers of the revolution” would be violent Islamist extremist groups” that would “lose steam when the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood” joined the game, and that “Egypt won’t change as much as many had expected.”
Boy, were they wrong.
Through two rounds of voting (out of three), Egypt’s Islamist parties have secured between 67 and 75 percent of seats in the country’s first post-Mubarak parliament. The clear leader is the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which won 86 of the 180 seats up for grabs. The FJP’s closest contender thus far has been al-Nour—the political arm of Egypt’s fundamentalist Islamist Salafists—which has won roughly 20 percent of seats.
This comes after initial assurances from the Brotherhood that they did not seek to dominate a successive Egyptian government. They pledged not to offer a candidate for president and to run candidates in only about a third of all parliamentary races.
Meanwhile, distinctions between the Brotherhood and the Salafi parties may prove insignificant. “At the end of the day, we and the Brotherhood want the same thing. What is that?” asked Salafi al-Nour chief Sheikh Ayman Shrieb—”Well, we want an Islamic state. Every vote we don’t get, we hope it goes to the Brotherhood.”
So much for the Brotherhood’s previous claim that the revolution had “no Islamic agenda.”