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Hoda Osman

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Will the Islamists Win in Egypt Too?

Posted: 10/26/11 03:21 PM ET

"I still think they would get a majority," I insisted. Peter Jennings, the legendary anchor of ABC's World News Tonight who was visiting the Middle East at the time, believed the Muslim Brotherhood would not win if there were free and fair elections in Egypt.

I had covered the Muslim Brotherhood and saw first-hand the impressive range of services they offered people, even under the restrictions and harassments by the Mubarak regime. Jennings was confident that Egyptians would know what's best for them, and he didn't think it was the Muslim Brotherhood.

As we say in Arabic "we agreed to disagree." After all, it was 2000 and the possibility of free and fair elections in Egypt was a dream.

Fast forward to 2011. The year of the Arab Revolutions. Tunisians just had historic elections with an incredible 90% participation. The Islamist Al Nahda Party got the lion's share.

It is becoming clear that Islamist parties cannot be ignored or sidelined anymore. They will play a major role in politics, at least in the near future, and the people of those countries along with the world need to acknowledge it.

I expect that the revolution countries (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya so far) will go through an "Islamist stage" before figuring things out.

As Mona Al Qadiri (@moniraism) rightly pointed out on Twitter, "for the last 30 years living under oppression, disenfranchised people of the Arab world had one place to turn to: religion." Thus the appeal of such Islamist parties. The fact that they are usually well organized also helps.

Experts estimate that the Muslim Brotherhood will get around 30 percent of parliament seats in Egypt. Divisions amongst Islamists, which include the more radical Salafists, might also weaken them.

I believe in respecting the choice of the people. We wanted democracy. Here's the caveat: it comes at a price. You won't always be happy with election results, but you will learn to accept them.

Some of my friends in Egypt are panicking. They imagine their life changing under an Islamist government or president. Enforcing wearing the headscarf is one of the most prominent concerns.

I am not scared of the Islamist. As long as liberties are respected, the representatives -- and the president -- can be as religious as they want without harming the people or the country. I am not scared because if there was a democratic system in place and the Islamists disappoint the people, there would be a way to vote them out.

The Tunisian Al Nahda was quick to assure that it will respect freedoms and cooperate with other political players. In Turkey, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) managed to work within a secular system. (I am critical of their crackdown on the media, but it has little to do with them being Islamist) It has often been cited as a model for Arab countries.

Now what I am really scared of in Egypt is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been in control since Mubarak stepped down in February. SCAF is in charge during this critical time while we try to establish this system and guarantee those freedoms. Its actions have raised eyebrows along with doubts about its commitment to real change.

Pressure on the media has become so blatant that some say it's now worse than under Mubarak. Last week, a popular television presenter Yosri Fouda suspended his show indefinitely in objection to pressure on the media. Military trials of civilians continue. Human Rights Watch says12 thousand civilians have been tried in military courts in the past eight months. The timetable currently proposed by SCAF won't yield a president before 2013. Wendell Stevenson of the New Yorker wrote a an excellent piece explaining the complexities of elections in Egypt.


Elections start on November 28.

Let me end with a confession: I am jealous. I envy Tunisians. They are going at a faster pace and are on a better track than Egypt.

 

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