Arab Uprisings Shatter “Bogeyman Theory” of Islamist Takeover

Arab Uprisings Shatter “Bogeyman Theory” of Islamist Takeover

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EYE ON THE ARAB MEDIA -- While the American mainstream media emphasized the threats posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that they could fill the power vacuum created in Egypt and Tunisia, Arab scholars from the U.S. and the region believe such threats are baseless.

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University told Al Jazeera “I would not even begin to talk about the American media. Everybody chasing everybody else’s tail to talk about how backward Arabs are and how we all are going to be eaten up by Islamists if the secret police do not beat them down.”

According to Khalidi, “the salient majority is now on the streets. And the amazing thing is, the demands that are developing starting in Tunisia and now in Egypt and other Arab countries, so far, have no prominence of an either Islamic, left, or right lean. It is a remarkable mix of the various trends that actually existed in the Arab society and were masked by this ridiculous narrative that was paddled to us.”

Mehran Kamrava, the interim dean of Georgetown University in Qatar told Al Jazeera, "these [Arab] regimes have very effectively used the bogeyman of Islamic fundamentalism. In fact we are hearing it again in this country in the U.S., with the comparison of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, very effectively done to provide a false choice to pro-Western governments.”

“I do not think it is going that way at all," Kamrava said. "The Muslim Brotherhood both in Tunisia and Egypt did not play a leading role in the demonstrations and they can’t claim credit for them.”

Abdel Aziz Al-Khamis, Editor-in-Chief of the Arabian Observer Magazine agreed. He told the London-based television, Arab News Broadcasting (ANB) that “in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood did not participate in the uprisings in the beginning. They came at the end, once Ben Ali left the country. When they realized that change will happen; they rushed to reap the fruits [make political gains].”

According to Al-Khamis, the Muslim Brotherhood is now in a weak position. "Now the Tunisian public view the Muslim Brotherhood as cowards and therefore they do not deserve to be depended on in forming the new political structure in Tunisia.”

Because of what happened in Tunisia, in Egypt the Brotherhood took a different approach. “In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to avoid this mistake and this is why they went to the Tahrir Square later on and wanted to play a role”. The Muslim Brotherhood did not participate in the demonstrations held in Cairo's central Tahrir Square until Dec 27, by then the demonstrations were already widespread throughout Egypt.

“The Muslim brotherhood has strong influence in Egypt, but they have always feared confronting the military regimes," Al-Khamis added.

Dina Ibrahim, an Egyptian-born assistant professor of journalism at San Francisco State University also believes that the Muslim Brotherhood threat is exaggerated. She recently returned from a month in Cairo where she discussed the Brotherhood's popularity with "quite a few people of different socio-economic classes." She told New America Media that "they are definitely popular, but not quite enough to rule the country. They will have a pivotal role in any new government, but I do not believe that the people are ready to be ruled by them.”

Furthermore, to assume that the Muslim Brotherhood is a static organization that never changes is wrong. There are indications that the younger generation of the Muslim Brotherhood has modernized. Muslim Brotherhood leaders have expressed a willingness to be part of the political system along with other opposition groups who do not share their Islamic ideologies.

Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi, the world renowned Egyptian novelist and feminist, told Al Jazeera that “when we were in Tahrir Square among millions, I was met by the younger generation of the Muslim Brotherhood, they embraced me and said ‘we disagree with some of the ideas in your books, but we love you and respect you.' The fear of Islam or Islamophobia is fake".

In fact, there are indications that the entire Egyptian society is changing, El-Saadawi said. "The revolution is political, social, cultural, and economic and it will change the basis of the patriarchal class system and it will change the culture.”

“Not a single church was burned during the revolution and not a single woman was harassed during the revolution," El-Saadawi said. "When we were living in Tahrir Square, we were millions. Women, men and children were under tents day and night. In fact, all the differences between Egyptians evaporated, Christians, Muslims, men and women were all together and there was equality between all.”