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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

Egypt, Year Zero

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Let's not tell ourselves any stories.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate just won the presidential election in Egypt, is not a democratic organization.

They were not at Tahrir Square, in Cairo, at the beginning of the revolution.

Engaged in a curious game where, as long as they were left free to do their (economic, financial and other) trafficking, the army had already handed over an entire part of the prerogatives (concerning health and education, for example) that are normally those of a State, they began by doing everything they could to curb the movement.

I remember, on February 20th, at their headquarters in El-Malek El-Saleh street, an edifying encounter with Saad Al-Hoseiny, a member of the strategic leadership of the Brotherhood, whose attitude towards the insurgent peoples' demands for rights and liberty was, to say the least, one of prudence, if not ambivalence or even hostility.

Worse, we can never be reminded enough that the organization whose pale apparatchik is in the process of acceding to the leadership of the largest Arab nation was born in the late '20s as a totalitarian sect, inspired by Naziism, one whose founder, Hassan Al-Banna, never neglected an occasion to inscribe Adolf Hitler after Saladin, Abu Bakr or Abdelaziz al-Saoud in the lineage of "reformers" whose "patience, firmness, wisdom and obstination" had guided humanity.

And this "error of youth," far from being washed away with time, has been constantly reiterated, confirmed, the theorized about -- didn't Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the current guide of the Brotherhood and master, by the by, of a certain Tariq Ramadan, describe Adolf Hitler as the latest-born of these "representatives of Allah" who have appeared regularly to "punish the Jews" for their extreme "corruption," in a January 2009 statement on Al Jazeera, picked up and disseminated by the excellent Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)?

In short, all that to underline the fact that any vague impulse to present this election as indicative, in one way or another, of "progress" or of a "democratic advance" would be inappropriate or odious.

In the best of cases, it is the renewal of the pact the two forces have held to for decades under Mubarak, keeping Egypt under the yoke, and in the very worst, it is the triumph of a "fascislamist" line the new president was intent to reaffirm by granting an interview, just hours before the official announcement of his victory, to the Iranian news agency Fars, in which he promised a new "regional strategic equilibrium" -- in plain words, the establishment of an axis with Iran and Hamas. Who could say it better?

However, at the same time...

Without wishing to minimize the symbolic influence of the event, I am not sure, for all that, that it is tolling the knell for the Egyptian spring, and this for two reasons.

I'll pass over the fact that Mr. Morsi has inherited a presidency whose shape and powers it remains for the armed forces to define -- and that, at the end of the day, is more than likely to be reduced to a hollow shell.

There is an initial element that seems to escape the commentators of catastrophe of this Monday, that being that, on the second round of voting, better than half the electorate refused to choose between the post-Mubarak plague and the new look Islamist cholera.

And there is a second, correlative factor: the weight, in the first round, of the three candidates (Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa, Abdul Foutouh) who expressed this double rejection as well as the choice, very clear for the first, less certain for the last, of a political order in which the sinister heritage of Al Banna would no longer be the law.

Concretely, that means that scarcely more than a quarter of registered voters adhere to the president-elect's supposedly "moderate" Islamism.

Better still, there exists today in Egypt a huge "modern party" that, though certainly divided and rife with contradictions, consists of half of the electorate.

Or, even better put, it means that a battle is engaged where there will be, on one side, as usual, the military-Islamist bloc, and on the other, this formerly unheard of bloc that, though disorganized, has not renounced the spirit and the hope of the Tahrir Commune, and no one knows what the outcome of this battle will be.

Revolutions are not events but processes. These processes are long, conflictual, fraught with sudden leaps forward and discouraging retreats. But nothing says that things will not happen in Egypt at this dawn of the 21st century as they have in other great countries, heirs of immense civilizations that have taken time to give birth to their respective futures -- France, for example, where we had to pass through the Terror, the counter-Terror, two Empires and a Commune crushed in blood before we saw the birth of the Republic, or these countries that have emerged from a long communist coma and are groping towards a democracy whose first stage will have been the return to power, at the voting booth, of this or that Communist Party, or, worse, the appearance of a chimera named Putin, synonym of crimes that are right in line with those of the red czars of the last century.

Will we regret the fall of the Wall because of the war in Chechnya? 1789 and the glorious Gironde because of the massacres of September? No, of course not. And that is why the sombre lesson coming, these days, from Cairo does not make me regret the breath of spring of Tahrir. The promise is still alive. The struggle continues.