You don’t say! This must come as quite a shock to certain experts who assured us that the Ikhwan was a mostly secular movement. Even some hard-nosed realists might find themselves a bit surprised at how quickly the nature of the Egyptian revolution changed after Hosni Mubarak fled:
In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.
It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.
As the best organized and most extensive opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to have an edge in the contest for influence. But what surprises many is its link to a military that vilified it.
But what happened to all of those young idealists in the street that drove Mubarak out of power and put their trust in the military to protect them? Well, they don’t seem to be around any longer, but suddenly facial hair is the new fashion on the street:
“We are all worried,” said Amr Koura, 55, a television producer, reflecting the opinions of the secular minority. “The young people have no control of the revolution anymore. It was evident in the last few weeks when you saw a lot of bearded people taking charge. The youth are gone.”
Ralph Peters argued almost two months ago that this wouldn’t happen if we allowed the people of Egypt to control their own destiny:
Don’t let the pundits b.s. you, though: Those demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities are not made up of fundamentalists. While extremists would love to exploit the situation (we’d only help them by continuing to pretend that Mubarak remains a player), they don’t, can’t and won’t control it. Look at the pictures. You don’t see masses of bearded men in traditional dress waving Korans, but guys in jeans and windbreakers, college girls and entire families. What you’re seeing is Egypt’s version of the Tea Party: angry citizens who feel their government has refused to hear their voices. The difference is that, in Egypt, they haven’t had an outlet at the ballot box. These are not Islamist fanatics. Let’s not drive them into the arms of the radicals.
As I wrote during that period, it didn’t really matter that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t lead the protests. If the Egyptian government fell quickly, I warned, the Muslim Brotherhood would be the only political force organized to take advantage of the aftermath:
However, by signaling sudden distance between Mubarak and the US, the impulse to stage a coup will certainly not decrease. If Mubarak falls, the result will almost certainly be either a seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood or a military coup, both hardly desirable outcomes in Egpyt, especially considering its strategic position on the Suez Canal.
We actually ended up with both. The military forced Mubarak to leave immediately and assumed control of Egypt in order to establish a new form of government. They then apparently linked up with the Muslim Brotherhood in order to share power, at least for the moment. That’s why Obama’s own envoy, Frank Wisner, publicly warned that the US needed Mubarak around longer for a smoother transition. Egypt needed time for the newly-freed opposition to form and organize long enough to balance out the advantages that the Muslim Brotherhood already had.
Instead, the White House tried too hard to get out in front of events, leaving a vacuum that the Islamists have deftly filled. Unfortunately, the outcome isn’t a surprise at all, and was easily predicted from the first days of unrest in Cairo.