Cairo today was the scene of an extraordinary display of resurgent Islamist power: Tens of thousands of Islamists came to Tahrir to demand a state governed by shari'a, Islamic law:
"Islamic, Islamic," went a popular chant. "Neither secular nor liberal."
After days of negotiations between the rival factions, the demonstration Friday had been billed as a show of national unity, but adherents to a spectrum of religious movements -- from the most puritan and conservative, known as Salafists, to the comparatively more moderate Muslim Brotherhood -- vastly outnumbered other voices in a sun-drenched Tahrir Square. The numbers of Salafists, in particular, represented the most definitive declaration yet that they represent a formidable force in Egyptian politics, riding an ascent since the revolution that has surprised and unnerved many secular and liberal activists -- and poses new challenges to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In an Atlantic cover story a couple of months ago, I raised the question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist-oriented groups would come to dominate the Arab Spring:
Since the Arab revolution began, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown signs of fracturing along ideological lines, but its leaders have proved somewhat adept at playing politics, particularly that aspect of politics in which hard questions are ducked. I recently had a conversation with Mohamed Morsy, one of the Brotherhood's senior leaders, in which he refused, to an almost comical degree, to grapple with two simple questions: Could the Brotherhood support a Christian for the Egyptian presidency? Could it support a woman? (The Brotherhood's 2007 draft party platform, from which the organization is now trying to distance itself, makes clear that a Christian could not serve as president of Egypt.)
"Which Christian?" Morsy responded when I first asked.
I explained: not a particular Christian, but any Christian.
"There are no Christians running for president," he said.
Yes, I know. It's a theoretical question.
"This is a nonsense question," he said. So I asked him if the Brotherhood had ideological objections to a woman's running for president.
"Which woman?" he asked.
It is worth remembering, particularly at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to soften its image, that the group's essential platform remains unchanged. The Muslim Brotherhood's avowed creed is "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
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