How The Islamists Took Over Egypt
By Samuel Tadros
When asked on January 30, 2011, about the Muslim Brotherhood's role in post–Arab Spring Egypt, the man seen by the media as a leading figure in the uprising, Mohamed ElBaradei, brushed aside Western fears: "They are not a majority of the Egyptian people. They will not be more than maybe twenty percent of the Egyptian people." For ElBaradei, Western fears of the Islamists dominating the Egyptian future were "a myth that was sold by the Mubarak regime." Nor was the former IAEA chief and Egyptian presidential hopeful alone in his insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood was only a harmless minority. President Obama agreed: "I think they're one faction in Egypt. They don't have majority support in Egypt."
The nearly unanimous consensus among both the Egyptian political class and the Washington experts was that the Islamists were only a scarecrow used by Mubarak to frighten the West. The Muslim Brotherhood, according to this view, counted no more than one hundred thousand adherents out of a population of more than eighty million. And its failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on January 25th made the group marginal to the current Arab revolt. Early warnings of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt were dubbed "hysteria." Yes, the Islamists were in the background of Tahrir Square, but they were weaker than people assumed. This was a liberal revolution led by tech-savvy youth, and the future of Egypt was a bright one.
Ten months later, after Islamists won seventy-two percent of the seats in the Egyptian Parliament, that optimistic avoidance of reality seems hard to fathom. Those who had been blithely confident of the future admitted that they never expected this result. Some professed never to have heard of the Salafists, although the party won more than a quarter of the votes. Shock and surprise, both in Cairo and Washington, soon gave way to a desperate effort to explain why the Islamists won and why the consequences of their victory might not be as disastrous as it seemed. Unfortunately, the explanations offered have created less rather than more clarity about the present situation in Egypt. . . .