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Is the Islamist era over?

Click photo to download. Caption: A protest against now former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt on June 28, 2013. Credit: Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ben Cohen/

With the overthrow of
Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, one is almost forced to
question whether the global Islamist movement has been dealt a mortal blow.

Click photo to download. Caption: A protest against now former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt on June 28, 2013. Credit: Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons.

The notion that the era of
Islamism has come to an end is not as outlandish as it seems. While the faith
of Islam crystallized in Arabia 15 centuries ago, the ideology of Islamism—which
aims to place the imperatives of sharia law at the heart of a coercive and
all-powerful state—is a product of the last century.

Like its totalitarian
cousins—fascism, communism and national socialism—Islamism’s point of departure
is a visceral loathing of the political liberties that are integral to liberal
democracies. All these monstrous political systems were convinced that, once
empowered, they would stay empowered.

Hitler, for example, spoke
of a “thousand-year Reich.” At the height of the purges in the Soviet Union,
Stalin told the writer H. G. Wells that, “socialist
society alone can firmly safeguard the interests of the individual.” But the
Nazi Reich perished in the ashes of Berlin in 1945, while the communist
paradise of the Soviet Union went out of business in 1991.

Will 2013 go down as an
equivalent year of defeat for Islamism? In answering that question, it’s hard
to overstate the importance of the current turmoil in Egypt. After all, Egypt
was where the Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928. It is the cradle of
Islamism, and it is the country that gave the Islamist movement a pronounced
taste of bitter struggle as far back as the 1950s, when the Egyptian dictator
Gamal Abdel Nasser crushed the Brotherhood.

Yet Egypt is not the only
Middle Eastern country where the Brotherhood’s insistence that “Islam is the
solution” is being sorely tested. In Gaza, where Hamas, the Palestinian branch
of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been in power since 2006, the Egyptian crisis
has exacerbated an already febrile situation. Infighting among its leadership,
as well as worsening relations with its one-time allies, Syria, Hezbollah and
Iran, is leading many ordinary Palestinians to question the competence of
Hamas. In turn, Hamas is discovering that thundering slogans and terrorist
assaults on Israel cannot feed, clothe, educate and employ a population in
Gaza, or anywhere else for that matter.

In Turkey, a country that is
light years away from Gaza in terms of its economic development, the Islamist
government of Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan has faced angry demonstrations
at home and severe censure abroad. Here, too, the citizenry is beginning to
realize that the Islamists cannot deliver when in government—corruption,
nepotism and contempt for free speech are all hallmarks of Erdogan’s regime,
and its talk of Islamic values seems increasingly hollow against that context.

It’s a similar story for
Islamist parties and governments elsewhere in the region. In Tunisia, the
secular political parties in coalition with the Islamist Ennahda party have
been alienated by Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi’s support for Morsi in Egypt.
In Sudan, the Islamist government of Omar al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal,
remains embroiled in conflict with South Sudan, a largely Christian and African
state that …read more

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Posted by on July 15, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.