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The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Dec 21, 2011

The Rise of Political Islam

The recent parliamentary election of stage one and stage two reflects an impressive victory for Islamic political parties. Both major parties, the Freedom and Justice Party (which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the Al-Nour Party (an Islamic Salafi group) have both won more than 2/3 of the future parliament seats. I have no doubt that the third and final stage of the election, which will take place in January 2012, will bring similar results to both Islamic political groups. The Freedom and Justice Party will end up as the major winner with at least 40% of the parliament seats. The Al-Nour Party will probably end up as the second winner with at least 25% of the seats.

This political trend has raised many speculations and concerns about the new rising political Islam. Any person who is familiar with the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, which go back more than 80 years, could have predicted in advance that they would be a winner. The projection made prior to the election gave the Freedom and Justice Party between 30 and 35% at most. Nevertheless, they ended up with a higher margin than what analysts expected, and this sends a wave of concern over western governments and Egyptian secular groups and political parties, who ranked as third place winners. There are a number of reasons behind the political successes of the Freedom and Justice Party. First, they are highly organized and disciplined and their members strongly believe in their cause. Second, thousands of their members and many of their leadership have been arrested during the past seven decades and have served long periods in jail. Third, the Muslim Brotherhood are well financed, which enables them to provide social, religious and economic help and services to the poverty stricken segment of the Egyptian population. Such economic and social services have been going on for many decades among grass roots, especially in poor neighborhoods. This is part of the rationale used by many Egyptian voters in support of the Freedom and Justice Party. Furthermore, poverty-stricken people in general tend to have strong religious beliefs that, psychologically speaking, tend to bring relief and hope to many of them. They view the Muslim Brotherhood as a religious political party.

All of these points played an influential role among the poor especially in support of political Islam and against the secular political parties. Most probably, many of the Egyptian voters view secular political parties as part of the previous regime. They were referred to as the opposition political group, but for many decades their role was not effective at all.

For that and other reasons, many of the voters have lost faith in many of these secular political parties. Also, many of those who supported the Freedom and Justice Party among the Middle social strata, viewed them as more liberal in terms of their interpretation of religion. They view Islam with a modern outlook that is totally the opposite of the Al-Nour Salafist views.

Nevertheless, the success of the Al-Nour Salafi Islamic group came as a big surprise to too many people who were not well known to the public at large. Reports revealed that large financial support from the Gulf region played a role in their political support, as well reflected in the results of the election. It was also reported that money was used to buy votes, a political tactical strategy that was used by the previous regime as well as in other Arab states. The Arab Gulf government doesn’t want to see a secular government in Egypt. Whatever political model will emerge in Egypt will end up impacting all other Arab states.

Despite the fact that both political Islamic parties, the Freedom and Justice Party and the Al-Nour Party, will end up with more than 2/3 of the future parliament seats, they will not end up having a joint government. Their religious-political strategies and agendas tend to be the opposite of each other.

I predict that the Freedom and Justice Party will align itself with some of the secular political parties to form a majority government. I doubt very much that they will be concerned with the various religious issues as circulating rumors reflect. They have major economic challenges that need to be dealt with, such as unemployment, poverty, tourism, foreign investment, health and education among many other pressing issues. Also, they are aware that the public, especially those who voted for them, will be eager to see quick and positive economic changes that will benefit them. This is not an easy task for any political group in Egypt to bring rapid changes at all levels.

The Freedom and Justice Islamic political party is facing a very difficult challenge so let us give them a chance and wish them success. Furthermore, the Freedom and Justice Party has been pressing their demand that the elected parliament should assume the responsibility of appointing a commission to draft the proposed new constitution. Such a responsibility should be outside the jurisdiction of parliament. The members of the commission should be independent and its members should be nominated by all political segments of the Egyptian society, including the Egyptian Higher Military council, in order to reflect a broader range of views. This will safeguard the principles of equality and democracy for all.

I hope the January 25th revolution, which opened the political door for political Islamic parties, will bear fruits that will benefit those who were the vanguard of that uprising.

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