In a brisk summary at The New Yorker of the case that the recent events in Egypt represented a setback for Islamism similar to that which occurred after Algeria’s civil war, Steve Coll raises good and disturbing questions about a post-Islamist ideology for Egypt and Middle Eastern countries generally:
What, if anything, will unite the Brotherhood’s opponents in Egypt in the years ahead, other than political and economic opportunism? Will any new ideology emerge—one based on nationalism, or propagating some theory of economic modernization or of the separation of religion and state—to sustain the struggle against Islamists? General Pervez Musharraf, in Pakistan, tried a version of Davos-friendly secular modernism after the September 11th attacks; it turned out to be hollow, and he was soon routed by both Islamist and liberal opponents. In the Arab world, Nasserism and Baathism are long dead. The kings who rule from Kuwait to Jordan to Morocco—and keep the Islamists sidelined—look shaky and anachronistic. In places like Tunisia, the anti-Islamist opposition is made up of old socialists, opportunists, and trade unionists, all struggling to connect with that country’s young, online, globally aware population. What ideas will mark the next wave of secular or nationalistic Arab politics, or simply provide a plausible veneer for Arab militaries as they send the Brotherhood’s leaders back to prison?
Tahrir Square’s youth protests at their most inspiring augured a new era of politics and pluralism that promised a break with the past; sadly, the trajectory of politics now is ceaselessly backward.
I sincerely hope Coll is wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
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