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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 ...

“You can’t just stand there and shout, the way he did – that’s what Erdogan does, too – that doesn’t inspire or frighten the people anymore.”

It is a sign of the times that people don’t accept this anymore, Prof. Fishere said. “I think Egyptian and many Arab societies have profoundly changed over the last 20 years. There is more individualism, different expectations and a different attitude towards authority. The old passive, submissive and hierarchical Egyptian is giving way to an assertive pragmatic egalitarian one.

“This new culture cannot accept authoritarianism even – especially – in the name of religion.”

Prof. Fishere concludes that “political Islam is receding – it won’t disappear but its moment has been eclipsed.”

Even staunch Islamists – supporters of militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and Gamaa Islamiya – believe Mr. Morsi was far too authoritarian.

“He surrounded himself with Muslim Brotherhood people and their heavy-handed approach is making the Islamic project much less popular,” said Montasser el-Zayyat, a lawyer for several Islamist organizations.

Mr. Morsi should have been “the Nelson Mandela of Egypt, bringing people together,” said Najeh Ibrahim, a physician and a founder of the radical Gamaa Islamiya movement.

Islamists aren’t the only group that fall victim to this trap of authoritarianism, said James Traub, a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation of New York University.

“This is also a disease of young democracies, where the stakes are so high that both ruler and opposition often see compromise as a betrayal of the national interest,” he wrote in a recent online column for Foreign Policy magazine .

“This was true even in the first decades of the American republic,” he said. “The concept of legitimate difference of opinion was very slow to take hold.”

In Turkey, Mr. Erdogan just doesn’t get it, Mr. Traub said. “‘Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes it choice,’ Erdogan lectured his people. Wrong. Electoral authoritarianism won’t work the way it used to because too many people won’t accept that transaction.”

While Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Morsi demonized those who protested against their policies, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, facing similar, large-scale protests, praised the demonstrators “for waking the country to its shortcomings,” Mr. Traub pointed out.

It is all a question of political maturity and a consensual approach rather than a majoritarian one.

That’s more like the style with Gen. Sissi, Prof. Momani said. “He is soft-spoken, chooses his words carefully, and the people love him.”

“It’s almost sickening to see the outpouring of love for him. Women have signs saying they will marry him; they paint hearts on his pictures. It’s a lovefest.

“Already we’re seeing ‘Sisi for president’ posters,” she said. “Egypt is heading toward another police state, and it will have popular support behind it.”

But don’t count the Brotherhood out, Prof. Momani insists.

“If the Brotherhood gets rid of its old-style leaders it could still be very popular,” she said. “Their brand of Islam is not vilified…its newer leaders have shown it can draw the support of youths, women, liberals.”

Four reasons why so many people have turned against political Islam

Anti-Islamic

Many Turks and Egyptians, as well as Tunisians and Syrians, jealously guard the secularism ushered in by the likes of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and the secular political movements of the 20th century in the Arab states.

In Egypt and Syria, Christians in particular fear the consequences of an Islamic regime.

Anti-authoritarian

A wide range of people in all these countries object to the heavy-handed nature of the Islamist regimes.

In Turkey, protesters include secular liberals as well as many moderate Muslims who supported Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current prime minister, but are disappointed by his efforts to silence opposition.

In Egypt, liberals as well as moderate supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood objected to president Mohamed Morsi’s thuggish behaviour. Even Salafists thought he was giving the Islamic project a bad name.

In Tunisia and Libya, people recoiled at the assassinations of leading secular politicians, believed to have been carried out by agents of Islamist parties.

Anti-U.S.

Many leftists, and even Salafists, in all these countries object to the U.S. support given to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab countries and to the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey.

Pro-military

Supporters of the military-backed old guard in both Egypt and Turkey side with the protests against the Islamist-oriented parties in power; so too do many Christians in Egypt who see the military as the best means of protecting their community from sectarian attacks.

As well, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are strong backers of the military in Egypt, believing it is the best way to keep the Brotherhood at bay and to ensure support for these countries’ anti-Iran policies.

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