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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid