Why the Egyptian People Are Choosing Islamists

Friday, 23 Dec 2011 04:35 PM

By Tawfik Hamid

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The overwhelming victory for Islamists in the first stage of the Egyptian elections deserves closer examination.

Careful analysis of the situation in Egypt reveals that the selection of Islamist parties was due to a number of factors:

Desire to implement Sharia rules in the country. Several polls suggest that a significant number of Egyptians want to implement Sharia rules within the country.

The overwhelming number of women who have been wearing the Hijab (Islamic head scarf) and the Niquab (face cover) in recent decades provides a clear indication of the degree that religious fervor has spread among the population.

As many as 80 percent of all women are thought to be wearing the traditional Hijab.

This also correlates well with the percentage of votes attained by Islamist groups in the recent elections (around 70 percent).

The desire to implement Sharia law is partially based on the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) that “Islam is the Solution” which gives hope for many Muslims that implementing Sharia law will magically solve all the problems in the country (Note: Failure of the MB, in Egypt, to fix the economic problems of the country can be the biggest blow to political Islam in history).

Desire to have less corruption. Some Egyptians supported the MB with the hope that it will be less corrupt than the Mubarak regime.

During my recent visit to Egypt, after the revolution, several non-religious Egyptians expressed their desire to elect members of the MB because they viewed religious ties as being “not corrupt.”

Financial penalty associated with failing to participate. Some Egyptians told local TV stations that they participated in the elections to avoid paying a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds.

These tend to be simple people and easy prey for well-organized Islamist groups, who use the word “Islam” to motivate voters.

Feelings of guilt. When I attended the Medical School of Cairo (1978-1984) the Jammaa Islameia (Islamic Group) used to win student union elections.

Several Muslim students who were not religious at all supported members of Jamma Islameia because they felt guilty for not meeting the religious edicts of Islam (such as the five daily prayers).

In their view, choosing an Islamic group was a good deed they could use to compensate for a lack of piousness.

Desire for change. Some Egyptians explained their support of Islamist parties as way to try something new.

In their view, Egypt had already tried socialism (Nasser), Capitalism (Sadat), and free market enterprise (Mubarak) with poor results.

Accordingly, they believe that an Islamic system might bring prosperity.

This reminds me of someone who has lived in pain for a number of years, only to consider an experimental treatment.

In the case of voters, this is really more about past failures than a genuine desire and confidence in the new approach.

Increased crime. Some Egyptians said they have been living in fear since the Jan. 25 revolution following an increase in crime.

Many Egyptians feel that the tough criminal laws of Sharia can help control the streets and restore a sense of security.

Lack of trust in current leadership. The failure to put Mubarak and his wife in prison and their “five-star” treatment by authorities was perceived by many Egyptians as misplaced loyalty.

This included destruction of a CD recording containing a communication between the president and his top officials during the revolution. This was considered the ONLY evidence that could prove that Mubarak ordered the killing of demonstrators.

Consequently there was a feeling that Mubarak will face punishment under an Islamic system.

Ignorance. Many people chose the symbol of “balance” used by the MB while not necessarily knowing which political party it represented.

Some people even said they were told to look for this particular symbol.

Nefarious tactics. These include:
  • Bribing voters with food and even money in some cases.
  • Defaming secularism by saying that it goes “against Islam” and that it would encourage nudity and prostitution.
  • Breaking election laws by promoting Islamic parties during the 48 hours that preceded election day.
  • Illegally using mosques and Islam to promote political parties.
  • Failure to understand the consequences of implementing Sharia laws. Some Egyptians believe that Sharia laws will bring “blessings’ and prosperity to the country.
Fear of Punishment by Allah. Many Egyptian Muslims feel that Allah will punish them if they do not choose an ‘Islamic’ party, as Allah will see this as rejection of religion.

Weakness of secular and liberal parties. Secular and liberal parties suffered from a number of fundamental weaknesses that limited their effectiveness:
  • Fewer financial resources.
  • Lack of street presence (unlike the Islamists who have been providing food and health services for the poor).
  • Inability to effectively counter the Islamist message.
  • Misplaced focus on the SCAF (who are seculars) rather than dispelling radical Islamic views.

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