I recently had the privilege of being published in one of Wisconsin’s largest/most circulated newspapers.  My article can be read here http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/opinion/column/guest/michael-lethem-we-must-show-our-solidarity-with-egypt/article_6a6a37d8-1f64-11e1-ad67-001871e3ce6c.html?mode=story .  I am writing today in response to one of the people who commented on the article.  He or she made the following comment: “In reading the news and the election results, it appears that the radical muslims are posed to inflict their severe brand of government on the people, whether they like it or not! It could amount to another Afghanistan!”

This is illustrative of how effectively SCAF, Western media and Western governments have used scare-tactics to create Islamist boogymen in Egypt.  While I think Salafists are bad for Egypt and their beliefs abhorrent, they have very little actual following in Egypt.  The election results cannot be considered a reliable indicator of this.  Let me put it in perspective.  In an attempt to show their strength the Salafis organized a trip to Tahrir for all of their followers from across Egypt.  At great expense, they bused their supporters in from every corner of the country.  I was there while they were in Tahrir square.  Yes, they are a scary bunch, but it was the smallest demonstration I have yet seen in Tahrir; they could not have had more than 20,000 people and they only stayed for a couple of hours before hopping on buses and leaving.  Most were from rural areas, the expected strongholds of the Salafis, but very few were from the densely populated urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria.  It was a laughable demonstration in the eyes of those who have seen Tahrir at its best.

Then there is the second, and much more unreasonable boogyman: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  They are represented by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).  I disagree with their policies, I want to make that clear right away.  However, they represent an exponentially more moderate brand of Islam than the Salafis.  While that isn’t necessarily saying much, as Salafis are similar to the ultra-conservatism seen in Saudi Arabia,  I firmly believe that the FJP/MB are not as scary as they are made out to be by Western media.  Indeed, I doubt that they would ever actually try to establish an Islamic republic in Egypt, much less one which imposes the conservative brand of Islam they seem to be associated with in the West.

The results of the ongoing elections and run-off elections occuring right now offer significant insight into the amount of power/support that these boogymen actually have.  The Salafist’s political party (El-Nour) appears to be making unexpectedly significant electoral gains.  But keep in mind that, second only to the FJP, they have committed countless electoral violations to achieve these numbers.  The runoff elections currently going on indicate that, absent the threat of being fined 500LE (roughly $85), voter participation has dropped significantly.  The only people turning up to vote are those with strong convictions either for the FJP or El-Nour (in runoffs, the two parties who receive the most votes in the first round square off against each-other, which is why only the FJP and El-Nour are competing).  So, while turnout was at least encouraging in the first round, it cannot be considered an accurate representation of Egyptians’ actual political beliefs.  Not by a long shot.

The FJP has roughly 40% of votes so far whereas El-Nour has roughly 24%.  Secular coalitions captured a majority of the remaining votes.  While the run-off election results are yet unknown, there are reports coming in of polling stations closing hours early because there are no voters.  Participation has dropped SHARPLY; so too has the number of electoral violations being documented.  Absent behind-the-scenes rigging (which is unlikely in my opinion) we are going to get a much more accurate idea of how many voters FJP and El-Nour actually have supporting them and how many voters they, with cooperation from SCAF, were able to buy/influence.

Of additional importance is the fact that FJP and El-Nour are going to be on the political offensive against each-other for the next couple of months.  In just the first day of the current run-off elections numerous physical altercations occurred between MB supporters and Salafis.  One major altercation even involved groups shooting at eachother!  This indicates that these elections are going to create a serious divide between the two major ‘Islamist’ parties.  If El-Nour and FJP do not form a coalition, they are actually vulnerable to loosing majority control to an alliance of secular parties.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely given pretty strong divides among secular parties and their respective coalitions.

Given the growing rift between El-Nour and FJP and the fact that no secular party would be willing to form a coalition with El-Nour, FJP needs co-operation from secular parties if they are going to be able to run the country.  If FJP establishes a non-secular state, they will not have the support of the secular parties which they are very likely to need.  Additionally, as sad as it is to say that this is important, a non-secular government would not have the support of the United States; something SCAF can neither afford nor will they let it happen.

This leads me to my conclusion.  It is unlikely that FJP or the MB would create a non-secular state if/when they win the elections.  They are NOT the boogyman they are made out to be in the West.  The idea of them as a boogyman is manufactured by both SCAF and Western governments, perpetuated by Western media.  Western governments, particularly the United States, need this boogyman to justify their decades of massive financial and logistical support of dictators and non-democratic governance in Egypt.  SCAF needs this boogyman because it allows them to justify their stranglehold on all areas of Egyptian civil society and civilian governance.  Even the Salafis, as abhorrent as I find them to be, are not the boogyman they are made out to be.  These runoff elections will affirm what I have seen with my own eyes: our boogymen are figments of our imagination and we need to get back in touch with reality if we are to accurately understand Egypt’s burgeoning political culture.

Thanks for reading and, as always, comments are both welcome and encouraged!

-Mike

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