by Austin Bay
February 1, 2011
Egypt's complex rebellion is rushing toward revolution. For
the near-term, how the Egyptian military promotes, thwarts, and/or negotiates
the inevitable redistribution of power among individuals and factions within
the country is the most critical issue. Even if the current president, Hosni
Mubarak, survives, his personal authority will be drastically diminished.
In a replay of Tunisia's popular revolt, Egypt's generals
have seen their troops openly sympathize with the demonstrators' grievances and
demands, and removing Mubarak is the demonstrators' angriest demand.
Promising to protect rather than fire on peaceful
demonstrators signals that the military wants to act as a stabilizing national
institution. If the generals and admirals unite behind Mubarak (he insists on
serving through this fall's elections) or opt to support a new leader (whether
civilian or military, with military far preferable), the difficult and painful
process of addressing popular demands for reform may avoid anarchy and
wholesale bloodshed. Should disputes among senior officers crack the consensus
and the military factionalize, however, civil unrest could become ruinous civil
war, which would only benefit Militant Islamist organizations.
How the military manages (or mangles) the near-term directly
affects the answer to the long-term question that revolt in a predominantly
Muslim state eventually confronts: What type of Muslim religious party or
faction will emerge as a major force in Egyptian politics? Will it be Islamist
or Militant Islamist?
There is a significant difference. Turkey's moderate
Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has had demonstrated success in a
democratic secular politics and at least claims it remains committed to
Turkey's secular structure. There are reasons to be wary of the AKP, but it
exists -- and it is a sworn enemy of al-Qaida. In Tunisia, moderate Islamists
also pledge to support democracy.
Egypt has its moderates, but it is also the home turf of
some of the world's most vicious militant Islamists. Al-Qaida's second in
command, Aymen al Zawahiri, is Egyptian, as was author Said Qutb, the
intellectual godfather of al-Qaida. The Egyptian government executed Qutb in
A book published last year by the Naval Institute Press
titled "Militant Islamist Ideology" (note the capital M) analyzes the
differences between Islamists and Militant Islamists. Its author, Yousef
Aboul-Enein (who happens to be a U.S. Navy officer), says the use of
"violent means" to achieve and impose "ideological goals"
cleanly splits the Militant Islamist from Islamists.
Islamists advocate implementing Shariah (Islamic) law
"as the basis of all statutory issues." Americans may find Islamist
policies arbitrary and restrictive, but Islamists do not use violence.
Moreover, the Islamists represent cultural and moral values respected in
predominantly Muslim societies. Islamists can accommodate themselves to
democracy -- a Militant Islamist is a totalitarian and despises democracy.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution began as a popular rebellion
against the authoritarian Shah. Opposition to the Shah united liberal
modernizers, workers, nationalists and Muslim militants led by the Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini. The Khomeinists eventually imposed their own dictatorship
because they were willing to kill other Iranians. One dictatorial clique
In a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor,
Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran's first president after the revolution (and living
in exile since 1981, when Khomeini toppled him), wrote that if Tunisians are to
protect their revolution from the fate that befell Iran's, "despite their
many differences from secular to Islamist, political organizations should
develop a common commitment to democratic values and the rights of
Most Iranian political organizations "did not commit
themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one
they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic
Party, and were pushed aside." It's an old story. Revolutionary Russia's
moderate Mensheviks were tossed aside by the violent Bolsheviks.
Bani-Sadr's article echoed Aboul-Enein's contention that
faithful Muslims play a central role in defeating Militant Islamism:
"Militant Islamist ideology can be opposed among the Muslim masses only by
Islamic counter-argumentation. We cannot contain Militant Islamist ideology but
only work to marginalize, de-popularize, and erode its influence and mass
appeal by identifying it as different from Islam or even from Islamist
At some point, the Militant Islamists will resort to terror
and assassination in their bid to secure unrivaled power. It will take a
resilient alliance of Egyptian secularists, moderate Islamists and the military
to defeat them. Encouraging this alliance should be America's foremost