News / Africa

Egypt's Islamists Raise Alarms Over Western Freedoms

A girl in the women's section of the audience claps as she watches the filming of a new Islamic version of "American Idol," launched to promote and drum up talent for the Arab world's first Islamic pop music video in a bid to capitalize on a generation of
A girl in the women's section of the audience claps as she watches the filming of a new Islamic version of "American Idol," launched to promote and drum up talent for the Arab world's first Islamic pop music video in a bid to capitalize on a generation of

As Egypt holds the second phase of post-revolution elections, some in the West are alarmed by the front-running status of Islamist parties.  But some Islamists are raising alarms of their own, warning of Western-style freedoms, such as gay marriage, to bring voters to their side.  

Umm Radwan walks beneath the palms on a sidestreet of Mit Rahina, holding the hand of her young son as he practices his recitation of the Quran.   

The boy and his mother, her face concealed by the full veil of the niqab, reflect the deep faith and tradition that pervades much of Egypt, especially in villages like this just south of Cairo.

A Cautionary Tale

The Egyptian village of Mit Rahina is better known to most by its Greek name, Memphis. Founded in 3100 BCE, it was the capital of a unified Egypt for centuries. Little is left of those glory years except a few stones and several stunning, if shattered, statues of Ramses II, one of the greatest pharaohs Egypt ever knew.

All leaders' days are numbered, and the hubris of Ramses' rule is captured in the poem "Ozymandias," by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In a year when political arrogance has felled the long-reigning leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the verse, written in 1817, offers a timely - and timeless - lesson.

"Ozymandias I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed: And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away." -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Conservative values have been a boon to Islamist parties in the parliamentary elections.  Religious parties have taken a majority of seats in the first phase, a shock to some who hailed the liberal, secular values of the revolutionaries earlier this year.

Now in this phase, Islamists appear poised to do even better, with more rural voters having their say in charting Egypt's future.  In a nearby mosque, the sheikh is careful not to chose sides in the political contest.

But he tells the faithful that democracy means respecting everyone's rights, which he says would allow for same sex marriage, or people drinking alcohol on the streets.     

Framed that way, Umm Radwan says she wants no part of it. She says that is impossible; Egypt will never allow it.  Another of Mit Rahina's residents, Saad Darwish, agrees, saying choice only goes so far.

"Islamic people - they can be democratic, but Islamic democratic.  Not people drinking and making problems, making some not-good things, do you understand me?  Here, a man doesn't marry a man, not a lady marry a lady. We don’t like this," Saad stated.

The main Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party and especially the more conservative Salafis' Nour party, have played very well into these cultural taboos.    

Said Sadek is a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo. "They talk about alcohol as if Egypt is full of alcohol - wherever you go you will find trees dropping Johnnie Walker and other [alcohol], not fruit.  In addition, they talk about bikinis.  I mean, those people live in squatter settlements and poverty and you don't see bikinis anywhere. As if you would walk anywhere in Egypt and women are walking in bikini.  It doesn't exist," he clarified. 

While bikinis and booze may seem a false argument, the issues resonate not only with the traditionally conservative, but also, Sadek argues, with a sizable portion of a key voting bloc. "The aim of the speech is to mobilize frustrated young men, [the] unemployed," he said. "They talk about alcohol.  They talk about bikini [-clad] women and so the guys are very much interested."  

But there are signs the frustrations of these young men and others in Egypt will ultimately win out over what Sadek considers distractions.  Economic problems were as much at the heart of Egypt's revolution as politics.  

Umm Radwan says any group that makes the economy worse is doomed to fail, no matter what its social and human rights policies.  Villager Darwish agrees on the economic front.  He believes that any turn to a stricter interpretation of Islam would be slow in coming - despite a new constitution on the horizon.  

He thinks voters will correct any mistakes they might make now when they vote in the next election.

"[If] anybody succeeds and helps the people, [they will] come again [be re-elected].  If they don't help the people, they won't come again,"  Darwish explained.

Darwish may have deep commitment to his conservative values, but his words indicate an equal faith in the powers of democracy.  


(16 Dec correction: atribution of the first quote changed from Sadek to Saad)

You May Like

Map Shows Every US School Shooting Since 2013

There have been at least 150 school shootings in the United States since 2013, an average of nearly one per week More

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs