News / Middle East

Upheaval in Egypt Sharpens Middle East Divisions

Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi protest in Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2013.
Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi protest in Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2013.
The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt has sharpened political divisions throughout the Arab Spring nations of the Middle East and North Africa. 
 
The division is between those who align with Islamists and argue that Morsi’s overthrow was a military coup, and supporters of more secular parties who believed Morsi was an autocrat and watched in frustration as the clout of political Islam grew steadily since the Arab Spring uprisings began two-and-a-half years ago.
 
Some liberals and secularists, however, worry that the overthrow of Morsi, an elected leader, could backfire and bring about an end to the fledgling democratic experiment in the region’s most populous nation.
 
In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring uprisings started with the ouster of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, liberal protesters celebrated outside the Egyptian Embassy chanting “Today Egypt, Tunisia tomorrow.” Young Tunisian liberals drew inspiration from Egypt and launched their own Tamarod (rebellion) campaign, modeling it on the movement Egyptians used to rally millions of anti-Morsi protesters in the streets of Cairo and other cities last week.
 
Tunisian movement calls on government to resign
 
They called for the resignation of the Tunisian government led by the Islamist Ennahdha party, which had condemned Morsi’s ouster. They also called for the National Constituent Assembly to be dissolved and early presidential elections. The Tunisian movement’s leader, Mohammed Bannour, claims a Tamarod petition there has gathered more than 180,000 signatures in two weeks.

Police fire tear gas to break up a demonstration by the hardline Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia May 19, in Kairouan, Tunisia.Police fire tear gas to break up a demonstration by the hardline Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia May 19, in Kairouan, Tunisia.
x
Police fire tear gas to break up a demonstration by the hardline Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia May 19, in Kairouan, Tunisia.
Police fire tear gas to break up a demonstration by the hardline Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia May 19, in Kairouan, Tunisia.
This has drawn a stern warning from the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR) in Tunisia, a conservative Salafist group that has been accused of using violence to intimidate opponents.
 
“We have yet to organize protests in support of a legitimate power in Tunisia, but we have contacts of people in every governorate,” said the League's chief, Mounir Achour. “We are ready to resort to violence if necessary.”
 
For Achour, Morsi’s ouster was neither legitimate nor a revolution, but simply a coup. “I am really upset by how the Egyptians removed Morsi. That is not fair. He was doing his job perfectly and governing by the rule of law.”
 
In Libya, there are mutterings that it too needs a “second revolution” to fulfill the objectives of the uprising that led to the downfall of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Suspicions are mounting about the intentions of Islamists following the passage of a political exclusion law that forced the resignation of the president of Libya's parliament.
 
Confrontation in Libya

On Sunday, protestors in Tripoli demonstrated against the continued existence of unofficial revolutionary brigades, many of which are influenced by political Islam, and threated to take on the militias at some time in the future.
 
“When we have enough people, we will go on to the headquarters of these militias,” said one of the protest organizers.
 
The protest coincided with the first anniversary of the election of Libya’s parliament, the nation’s first free election in almost half a century. But there was no sense of celebration, just frustration with a parliament that has made little progress because of deep political divisions and a lack of willingness to make compromises, according to Libyan journalist Umar Khan.
 
Fighting has flared in Tripoli and Benghazi in recent weeks, roiling the already unruly regional and tribal politics in the area.  Islamists, concerned about the turn of events in Egypt, are reportedly beefing up their militias even though there is no army to speak of capable of mounting a coup.
 
A setback for democracy?
 
Traditionally, countries across the region have looked to Egypt as a leading example in religion, politics and culture. For Islamists, Egypt is the birthplace of Sunni political Islam, the place where the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928. For them, Morsi's fall was a strategic setback -- not just for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but also for similar groups farther afield.
 
In a statement, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya in Lebanon, a Sunni Islamist party, decried Morsi’s ouster, saying: “Everyone is suffering from what is happening in Egypt, the great Arab country that held a referendum on the constitution, and free elections for the [lower house of] parliament and the Shura Council and the president of the republic.”
 
Some analysts fear Morsi's overthrow may lead the Islamists to draw the wrong lessons and not see fault in the ousted president's overreach, his mismanagement of the economy and his  failure to accommodate political opponents.
 
These analysts worry that Islamists, already distrustful of democracy as a Western import, will turn their back on elections and explore violent ways to win governing power. It was a point made last week by Morsi aide Essam Haddad, who tweeted as even the army intervened, this “message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: Democracy is not for Muslims.”
 
That conviction was echoed by al-Qaida's Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
 
“[We] always knew that our rights can only be regained by force and that is why we have chosen the ammunition box instead of the ballot box," the militant group said on the day Morsi fell.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs