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A supporter of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi prays during a rally in Cairo July 8, 2013. (Reuters

During the decades when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was a barely tolerated opposition party, it campaigned against the reigning secular autocrats under the banner “Islam is the solution.”

With the military’s removal on July 3 of the Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, the region’s oldest exemplar of political Islam has lost its best and perhaps only chance to validate that slogan. Indeed, the rise and abrupt fall of the Morsi presidency are a timely comeuppance for a world view that, starting with Iran’s 1979 revolution, seemed to be gaining adherents throughout the Muslim world.

Political Islam has had a long arc, reviving in the modern era with the founding of the Brotherhood by Hassan al Banna in 1928 in opposition to a monarchy largely controlled by Western interests. Over the decades, monarchs and military-run governments of assorted Arab nationalist, socialist and capitalist hues have suppressed the Brotherhood and its various offshoots. Then came spring 2011.

While Islamic movements did not lead the rebellions against aging autocrats, they were well placed to benefit because of superior organization, a history of providing social services to the poor and a record of repression by the state.

Once in power, however, these movements frequently overreached. Nowhere was this more evident than in Egypt, where the Brotherhood reneged on initial promises not to seek a parliamentary majority or the presidency – promises made to avoid provoking a backlash from secular forces.

“Morsi’s removal is a warning that Islamic parties cannot count on religious identity alone to govern successfully and need to work constructively with others.” – Barbara Slavin, Atlantic Council

Then, Morsi – a substitute for a more powerful Brotherhood official, Khairat el-Shater, who was disqualified from running – misinterpreted his narrow victory in a runoff a year ago as a mandate to consolidate power and essentially gut the Arab world’s most important democratic transition.

Given the magnitude of the problems Egypt faced after the removal of Hosni Mubarak, only a government that truly reached out beyond its political base stood a chance of succeeding. Without that broad popular support, the Brotherhood was loathe to implement crucial economic reforms and incapable of concluding a bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

An protester uses his shoe to show his disapproval of President Morsi during a rally in Cairo's Tahrir square June 28, 2013. (Reuters)

An protester uses his shoe to show his disapproval of President Morsi during a rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square June 28, 2013. (Reuters)

The constitution rammed through by the Brotherhood last spring disappointed those looking for major improvements from the Mubarak era. Morsi was also tone-deaf in many of his appointments, going so far as to name a member of the once-violent Gamaa al-Islamiya that had massacred foreigners in Luxor to govern one of Egypt’s most important tourism hubs.

The Brotherhood mistook the piety and religiosity of ordinary Egyptians for allegiance to a largely one-party religious government. This is a common mistake among Islamists. Many people in the Middle East might like to have a pious Muslim as a president but even more, they want competent leaders who will listen to others and forge constructive relations with the outside world.

Morsi’s removal is a warning that Islamic parties cannot count on religious identity alone to govern successfully and need to work constructively with others. This lesson seems to have been internalized by the Nour party, a nominally more hard-line group that supported Morsi’s ouster and pushed for a consensus choice for prime minister instead of Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and champion of secular forces.

The fate of the Brotherhood experiment in Egypt has important ramifications throughout the region – for Tunisia, still struggling to write a constitution, and for Syria, whose opposition includes numerous Islamic groups and whose regime is banking on the support of religious minorities terrified by the notion of Islamic rule.

Morsi’s fall is also a sobering lesson for Iran, the world’s only theocracy, and Turkey, whose ruling AK Party has strong Islamist roots. Both initially welcomed the Brotherhood victory but instead of validating an Islamic world view, the events in Egypt have underlined its limitations.

A protester holds the Turkish flag in front of a riot police line in Istanbul June 22, 2013. (Reuters)

A protester holds the Turkish flag in front of a riot police line in Istanbul June 22, 2013. (Reuters)

In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan is still reeling from protests in Istanbul and other major cities against his government’s authoritarianism and creeping efforts to legislate Islamic morality. Erdogan’s behavior in recent years has contrasted with the AKP’s tolerance of opposing views when it first came to power a decade ago. Increasingly, Erdogan has come to resemble previous Turkish autocrats with an Islamic veneer.

In Iran, meanwhile, the 1979 Islamic Revolution died years ago. Iran is now one of the least religious countries in the Middle East, a place where Muslim holidays such as Ramadan are barely observed compared to ancient Persian celebrations such as Nowruz.

In urging Iranians to vote in last month’s presidential elections, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had to resort to appealing to the electorate’s patriotism as Iranians, not their religious identity as Shi’ite Muslims – a telling sign that he recognizes how unpopular the system has become. Iranians promptly chose the least hard-line candidate allowed to run, Hassan Rouhani. One of the reasons his victory was surprising is because he is a cleric and clerics are notoriously unpopular among the citizens of the Islamic Republic.

In a speech shortly after his election, Rouhani indicated that he understands that religious ideology is no substitute for competence and accountability. He promised to listen to the “majority of Iranians” who voted for him and added:

“In our region, there were some countries who miscalculated their positions, and you have witnessed what happened to them… The world is in a transitional mood, and a new order has yet to be established. If we miscalculate our national situation, it will be detrimental for us.”

This post was previously published on the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist blog and by IPS News. It is reprinted with permission.

The views expressed in this Insight are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you’d like to share your opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. If you are a Middle East expert or analyst associated with an established academic institution, think tank or non-governmental organization, we invite you to contribute your perspectives on events and issues about or relevant to the region. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for an Insight post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your institutional blog.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, "Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation," and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

13 Comments

  1. Joseph Lee

    July 23, 2013

    god is NOT tech phobic.

    god does NOT have tech phobia.

    if there is one real pizza god, will will have.

    internet

    web pages

    twitter

    facebook

    500 channels of cable TV.

    cosmic WIFI.

    cosmic radio

    4 forces govern universe.

    1. Gravity. gravity holds universe together.

    2. Electric/magnetic forces. TV, Radio, cell phones. internet. web. satellites uses electric/magnetic forces.

    3. Strong/weak atomic that holds the atom together.

    One true pizza god will use the 4 forces of universe and NO need to cut down trees to talk to us.

    One true would use 1. gravity 2. electric/magnetic forces. 3. Strong/weak atomic forces to talk to us NOT, cut down dead trees.

    Reply
  2. Joseph Lee

    July 23, 2013

    pizza god

    chicken god

    taco god

    burger king

    sun god

    moon god

    earth god

    1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000s of gods in Free world.

    Free to invent new gods today. Free free free to invent new gods.

    Reply
  3. Brian Zapert

    July 21, 2013

    Islam has the answer? When has it ever had the answer? The Islamic world has been a calamitous mess since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

    One should look forwards, not backwards to some imaginary perfect caliphate that never existed.

    Reply
  4. Yasmin Darwish

    July 20, 2013

    Yes, I think that many points are right. They should participate young specially those whom made the 25 January revolution with them in developing Egypt.If they did, I think , it would have to be different now.

    Reply
  5. Nazar Younis

    July 17, 2013

    Your article is like Swiss cheese, full of holes, misinformation, opinions projected as facts, lies projects as truth, and so much bias. If you are a journalist, be HONEST. Do not tell lies. Keep your bias to yourself. Every line you keep telling us how much you hate Islam, ok, we got it, and it is ok , it is your choice, but do not force us to accept your lies by casting them with a shadow of objectivity, There is no objectivity of what you are saying, Grow up and be mature.

    Reply
  6. disqus_UswqTKG61d

    July 16, 2013

    Islam was NEVER the solution to problems of our society. However, no one will be able to govern without some lip service to the word “Islam”. Islam of today is what Christianity to the European persons 400 years ago. At that time, the same phrases were used, the Bible is the exact words of God dictated to Moses and the disciples of Christ. The bible contained in itself all what is needed for happy family, strong society and good government. Obedient to the king is an obedient to Christ God.
    The problems of the then European Christians and the current Eastern Muslims societies is the the fallacy of their position. The politicians in any society are typically a power hunger (not servants) who know how to speak with both sides of their mouth (liars). So when a liar speak religion, he makes mockery of that religion. I think this was the biggest walking call to Muslims every where.
    Improve the economy, and you will create peace and prosperity in your societies.
    And if you like to live in a truly religious and free society where you can freely practice your religion (even if it Odd), then come to America. Your will never find free Muslim communities as we have here. Welcome to the America, where religion and state are separated-except, maybe in Texas…But even in Texas, Muslim communities have their Mosques and their Halal meal and their cultural communities and are in peace with their communities.
    Peace, Salam, and Shalom

    Reply
  7. Hanchorque Umno

    July 16, 2013

    I don't agree. The fault of Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood is because they are non-secular and non-liberal but practicing Muslims with the aim to revive the Islamic way of life. This has made the west and their liberal and secular puppets (bearing muslim names) afraid of Islam. So these century-old enemies of Islam and their slave-minded puppets have worked hand in hand to topple Morsi. Their conspiracy against Islam and the muslims is not new to the muslims. The rest are just cosmetic views and reviews ti justify their wrongful acts and to belittle Islam.

    Remember we muslims believe in God. Never assume that God the All-Knowing is not aware on what those tyrants had done to the Muslim. Now our faith to true Islam even become stronger. Watch out.

    Reply
  8. Nasrudiin Abdirahman

    July 15, 2013

    Barbara you want to tell us that Morsi was overthrown by the people. In fact, it is the same army of Mubarak and Islam has the answer to our problems not corrupt military leaders who are not importing wheat in Egypt. No thanks to your article.

    Reply
  9. Yousif Ajaji

    July 14, 2013

    The stance taken by Alnour party is due to the support it receives from Gulf influentials who hope that the military will govern Egypt

    Reply
  10. Robinoz

    July 12, 2013

    What ails the Middle East is stability of governance and a system of law and government that works well; democratically with freedom and a sound economical structure. No religion is the answer. You can’t run a country in 2013 on a book written thousands of years ago no matter how much you feel it is the solution. Turkey is a good example of a mainly Muslim country that was secular and look how well it has done compared with many others that don’t have oil.

    Reply
    • Hal

      July 12, 2013

      This is a very simplistic view on things.

      Reply
    • Maslan Daoh

      July 16, 2013

      Your statement was based on your shear ignorance of Islam and the muslims. Quran was not written by Prophet Muhammad. It had been revealed to him. It was prescribed by the Almighty God who has created from non-existence into being.

      Reply
      • Gareth Connors

        July 19, 2013

        You are an idiot.

        Reply

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