Most of the international community, and certainly the mainstream international press, has moved on from Egypt and its 18-day uprising that lead to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak and his dictatorial regime. The new story on everyone’s lips is Libya, where the masses are fighting, and dying, to similarly remove Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
But what is happening now in Egypt? The sudden removal of Mubarak cannot be the end of the story, and with the future of such a significant regional power hanging in the balance, what happens in the weeks and months after is far more important than the president’s resignation.
Amazingly, while the Western intelligentsia spent the two weeks leading up to Mubarak’s departure alternatively insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood was either not a threat or too small to worry about, almost no one covered the February 18 return to Egypt of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi as the major event it was.
Qaradawi was exiled from Egypt decades ago by Mubarak, and was also banned from entering the US and Britain for his radical views and teachings. But that didn’t stop the cleric. Instead, he was given a spot on Al Jazeera, where his show “Sharia and Life” quickly became the top rated program on the Middle East network.
When he stepped into Cario’s now-famed Tahrir Square this month, it was to a hero’s welcome by the estimated two million Egyptians that came to hear him. During his speech, Qaradawi advised those who had toppled Mubarak that “the revolution is not finished,” and insisted that democracy in Egypt must be along Islamic, not Western lines.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s platform officially states that Egypt’s government must be “republican, parliamentary, constitutional and democratic in accordance with Islamic Sharia law.”
During the Tahrir Square event, Qaradawi’s bodyguards prevented Google executive Wael Ghonem from coming on stage and addressing the crowds. The Western media had tried to make Ghonem, who was a major player in the opening days of the uprising, as the “new face” of the Egyptian street - educated, moderate and Western.
Prof. William Jacobson of the Cornell Law School aptly noted that the event signified that “the yuppie revolution in Egypt is over, the Islamist revolution has begun.” Jacobson accurately explained that Ghonem never was the face of the Arab street in Egypt, “he merely was a face to which Western media could relate.”
The real face of the street in Egypt is Islam, and that is why just as many people who turned out to demand Mubarak go home also came out to hear Qaradawi.
Some in the mainstream media are still trying to whitewash Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the cleric’s long history of poisonous decrees against Israel, calling for attacks on Americans in Iraq, and general hatred for all infidels speaks for itself.
For example, when asked a few years ago about interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Jews, Qaradawi said:
“There is no dialogue between us except by the sword and rifle. We pray to Allah to take this oppressive Jewish, Zionist band of people…do not spare a single one of them…count their numbers and kill them down to the very last one.”
Despite cleverly wording his public speeches in a way that allows the likes of the New York Times to paint him as a “moderate,” Qaradawi remains dedicated to the Muslim Brotherhood’s stated goal of imposing Sharia Law with the goal of eventually establishing an Islamic empire.
What’s more concerning is that Qaradawi is far from being a fringe figure. Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center in Qatar, confirmed in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor what should have been clear from Qaradawi’s reception in Cairo earlier this month:
“Qaradawi is very much in the mainstream of Egyptian society, he’s in the religious mainstream, he’s not offering something that’s particularly distinctive or radical in the context of Egypt.”
It should also be noted that if free elections are held in Egypt, there are very real indicators that the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly formed political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, will sweep them by a large margin.
In Egypt’s most recent parliamentary election, Mubarak’s party and allies won 80 percent of the vote thanks to heavy rigging of the system. But despite having the deck stacked against them, the Muslim Brotherhood still managed to win 20 percent of the seats in parliament. Imagine what the group could do in free elections without a strong or recognized “liberal” opponent.
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