advancing liberal democracy and countering violent extremism
Jul 1, 2020
3 min read
When Islamists Manipulated Religion and Democracy
Muslim Brotherhood in Iran
When the Egyptian people revolted against Mubarak’s authoritarian regime in January 2011, they had not imagined that the result of their action would be replacing Mubarak’s autocracy with a theocratic regime led by Islamic extremists from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. Calling for individual freedom, democracy, and social justice were among the top slogans of Egypt’s 2011 revolution that toppled Mubarak’s dictatorship, in less than three weeks.
The revolution’s chaotic aftermath and economic paralysis created a series of political splits among revolutionaries, and provoked public doubts about the political aspirations of the military. The mess and confusion created the perfect environment for Islamists to turn the revolution’s outcome into their favor. The Islamist groups’ hierarchal structure and long experience of working underground and taking advantage of political chaos, helped them navigate their way to Egypt’s presidency and parliament, within only a few months after the revolution.
On their quest to power, the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood did not hesitate to ditch their holy books prohibiting political practice and labeling modern concepts like the “national state”, “political parties,” and “democracy” as rituals of heresy imported from the west and foreign to Islamic Sharia. The only two forms of governance accepted by Islamists, according to their own books, are “Shura” and “Bay’a” [the pledge of allegiance to the god-chosen leader]. Soon after the 2011 revolution, Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist movement initiated their own political parties and started to preach their so-called modern agenda to both the Egyptian public and international observers, using the same democratic terms that they had been disdaining for decades.
In mid-2012, the Salafists had already succeeded in occupying the two chambers of the Parliament, while the Muslim Brotherhood took over the State Presidency. As an eye witness and commander of a huge team of seven thousand election observers, at that time, we documented severe violations and practices of forgery and manipulation that took place in both the parliamentary and presidential elections, which brought Islamists in power. As clever as they have manipulated religion for decades to attract followers among grass-roots citizens, Islamists successfully manipulated democratic elections among young liberals to get to power.
As soon as they came to power, Islamists decided to continue their manipulative tactics by destroying the ladder of democracy, so no other party could challenge them. They attempted to copy the miserable scenario of Mullah rule in Iran into the post Arab Spring Egypt. They started by obliterating the unique identity of the Egyptian national state and discriminated against women under the flag of Islamic Sharia. One shocking incident took place on the inaugural session of parliament, when the Salafist members of parliament and statesmen refused to stand up for saluting the Egyptian flag, claiming that it is not an Islamic practice.
In less than one year, the Egyptian people realized the span of the mistake they had committed by falling as an easy prey to Islamists’ manipulative rhetoric; and, thus, decided to initiate a second popular revolution on 30 June 2013, against the newly found theocracy. The same military forces, who sided with the Egyptian people against Mubarak in January 2011, took their side, once again, against the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2013, leading to the dramatic overthrow of Islamists from Egypt. The successful revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, did not only save Egypt form turning into another Iran, but also helped other Arab Spring nations, like Tunisia, to avoid this tragic scenario.
In extreme contradiction to reality, some western scholars and media still refer to the one year of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt as “democratic.” It is completely wrong to claim that the Islamists have reached sovereign positions in Egypt or other Arab Spring countries because they were the most committed to or skilled in practicing democracy. In reality, they were the most skilled in exploiting people's religious devotion and public ignorance about democracy.
The Islamists purpose from ruling Egypt, in 2012, had nothing to do with political competition within a democratic context. Rather, they sought political leadership as a powerful means to enable them to achieve their long-awaited dream of destroying the national state and building their own caliphate system on its ruins. I am proud of being part of the popular movement that halted Islamists ambitions and saved Egypt from their claws in June 2013. Happy seventh anniversary!