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
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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs