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Supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi pray during a protest against the Egyptian Army near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. More than a month after Morsi's ouster, thousands of the Islamist leader's supporters remain camped out in two key squares in Cairo demanding his reinstatement. Egypt's military-backed interim leadership has issued a string of warnings for them to disperse or security forces will move in, setting the stage for a potential violent showdown. (Manu Brabo/AP)
Supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi pray during a protest against the Egyptian Army near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. More than a month after Morsi's ouster, thousands of the Islamist leader's supporters remain camped out in two key squares in Cairo demanding his reinstatement. Egypt's military-backed interim leadership has issued a string of warnings for them to disperse or security forces will move in, setting the stage for a potential violent showdown. (Manu Brabo/AP)

Patrick Martin

Why political Islamic movements are under fire Add to ...

The ouster of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi is only one of several cases of a popular backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood and related political Islamic movements throughout the region.

In Turkey, protests continue against the heavy-handed behaviour of the ruling party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There have been widespread anti-Islamist demonstrations in Tunisia and Libya following assassinations of popular secular political leaders.

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It is the outcome in Egypt, however, that will have consequences for Islamist parties throughout the Middle East, for whom the Egyptian Brotherhood has long been the archetype.

It began to go wrong for Mr. Morsi shortly after he took office last summer when he ordered the army back to its barracks, and relieved General Mohamed Tantawi and several other officers of their command. For 16 months, since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the army under Gen. Tantawi had been the executive power in the land and, by all accounts, was happy to escape the limelight.

But the move to dismiss the familiar faces upset many in Egypt because they revere the military or were just frightened by the prospect of an all-powerful Islamist leader imposing his will.

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi had ridden the wave created by that political Islamic movement to a 51-per-cent majority victory in last year’s presidential election. And there he sat – the first freely elected leader in Egypt’s history.

He had made a deal with the country’s liberals to establish a modern and democratic government but he wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain. In November, he declared that his rulings, as well as the decisions made by the Islamist-dominated Shura Council and constituent assembly, were immune from judicial review. He also pushed through constitutional reforms over the objection of almost every other political group in the country.

His supporters blocked the entrance to the constitutional court for several weeks, preventing judges from holding court, while security forces stood by. To end media criticism, another group of supporters carried out a daily slaughter of farm animals outside the offices of several broadcast companies. The animals wore masks painted in the image of various media personalities.

“It was our Iran moment,” said Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, a politics professor at the American University of Cairo and former adviser to the minister of Foreign Affairs. “There was no legal recourse … so, we had to take our fight for democracy back to the streets.”

Ignoring the growing protests, Mr. Morsi announced the appointment of 17 Brotherhood-affiliated governors, including a member of Gamaa Islamiya in Luxor, a town where the group had killed 58 foreign tourists in 1997.

“Egypt was not moving to democracy,” Prof. Fishere said, “but towards Islamist authoritarianism.”

General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the new commander of the armed forces, came to oppose the government because of its Islamist nature.

Mr. Morsi, Gen. Sissi said recently, was “not a president for all Egyptians, but a president representing his followers and supporters.”

Brotherhood members are more devoted to their Islamist beliefs than they are to Egypt, he argued. “The idea that gathers them together is not nationalism, it’s not patriotism, it is not a sense of a country.”

He explained that he had opposed the idea of an Islamist standing in last year’s presidential election, and had warned Mr. Morsi that the nation was becoming polarized under his leadership.

Consequently, Gen. Sissi had Mr. Morsi detained on July 3, and declared his administration at an end.

Following extensive protests against this move by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Gen. Sissi took the extraordinary step of calling for help from the people.

“All honourable Egyptians must take to the street to give me a mandate and command to end terrorism and violence,” the general said as he addressed a military graduation ceremony near Alexandria.

And the people responded. Tamarod, the popular youthful movement that spearheaded the mass anti-Morsi rallies that led up to the July 3 ouster, called on citizens to rally across Egypt “to support the military in its upcoming war on terrorism.”

For these people, it was all about countering Islamism and upholding what appointed Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi refers to as “the civilian state.”

But for many others, their opposition to the Morsi regime was about his authoritarianism.

“Morsi’s difficulties didn’t come from his Islamic policies – there were very few of those,” said Bessma Momani, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and fellow of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. “They stemmed from his style of governing.”

He justified his sense of “absolute power” with his “winner-takes-all interpretation of democracy,” she said.

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