A Sunni Domino?

by Conor Friedersdorf

Fascinating to read this 1999 interview with an Egypt expert today:

What would happen in Egypt -- and in the Middle East generally -- if Egypt were to, as you say in the book, "go Islamic"? How would such a revolution compare with the Iranian revolution of 1979?

Egypt's "going Islamic" would have far more profound and far-reaching consequences -- in the Arab Middle East, of course, but also in the larger Islamist world -- because the Iranian revolution was a Shi'ite revolution. The Shi'ites are a minority sect of Islam -- most Muslims are Sunnis, and Egypt is very representative of Sunni Islam. It is not only representative; it is the fountainhead of Sunni Islamic thought.

Thus, even among scholars who normally shun domino theories of history, there is a growing concern that if Egypt "goes Islamic," so could much of the Arab world. Egypt is the most populous and the most influential Arab state, and since the 1970s the Islamists there -- with growing vigor, in growing numbers, with growing support -- have infiltrated the courts, the universities, the schools, the arts. A number of preeminent Egyptian thinkers and ideologues are quite convinced that an Islamic victory in Egypt is inevitable.

If, for example, Hosni Mubarak -- who has named no successor -- were to die tomorrow, there's no logical person to assume the helm of the Egyptian state. And whoever succeeds Mubarak will have to have the active support of not only the army but also the growing number of Egyptians who have embraced the Islamists' call for the implementation of Islamic law, or Shariah.