David Calling

Islamism’s Time


Midway through the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, I used to go to Cairo more or less every year. The traffic in the city reflects a society in which the law is merely indicative and it is every man for himself. So I relied on Muhammad who became a friend as much as a driver. He used to warn that time was running out, the Muslim Brothers would inevitably take over Egypt, and that meant disaster. I can still see the look of unhappy resignation on his face.

The Muslim Brothers have always been prepared to use force in order to obtain power. All Egyptian presidents from Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat to Mubarak have kept the Muslim Brothers in check through superior force. The modern history of Egypt really consists of the struggle between these two incompatible groupings, the one standing for ideology, the other for privilege. Now and again the army would sweep up a few hundred Muslim Brothers, and execute some by way of frightening the population. Acts like the assassination of Sadat showed the extreme to which Muslim Brothers might go but on the whole they have been tacticians skilful enough to keep the army at bay. They had only to wait their time in the belief that the Islamist revolution that turned Iran into a Shia dictatorship was bound to turn Egypt into a Sunni dictatorship.

The crude dumping of Mubarak by his army colleagues put them irretrievably on the back foot. One false move led to another. They put themselves in the position of trying to fix elections to parliament and the presidency, rigging the committee set up to draft a new constitution, playing games between their candidate Ahmad Shafiq and the Muslim Brothers Muhammad al-Morsi, and all for the sake of continuing to enjoy privilege.

In theory the generals can fight a rearguard action, holding on by cunning and if necessary, violence. In practice the new president and the Muslim Brothers are in a position to claim that they have the superior force of Islam and revolution. It so happens that the Turkish Islamists have just got the Turkish army out of its political role, imprisoning scores of senior officers on the way. This is the time of Islamism everywhere, and millions like Muhammad my driver have no choice but to survive it as best they can, with law as indicative as ever and every man still for himself. 


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