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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid