The Misleading Association of Islam and Revolution

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Cairo - Islam and revolution are used interchangeably.

Islamists in Egypt justify President Mohamed Mursi’s controversial decrees as vital to protecting the revolution, while demonstrations organized in his support are labeled as defense of both “legitimacy” and “Islamic sharia”. In the meantime, the words gradually become synonymous.

Ever since 29 July 2011, when Islamist forces united to call for applying sharia as the law in Egypt, the argument pit forward by the Islamists has been that revolution or a change in status quo means cementing Islamist rule instead. While other factions that made January 25 possible disagree with this definition, this Islamist rhetoric has been slowly spreading. The revolution connection even survived the disparaged absence of the biggest Islamists parties from the deadliest confrontations with security forces over the past 20 months.

The rise of former presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail provided the perfect platform for the supporters of the belief that Islam and revolution are synonymous. The hardline Islamist’s popularity was rooted in his revolutionary speeches and mosque sermons.

The connection was better manifested in the presidential election. President Mohamed Mursi first campaigned as the sharia candidate, who then transformed into the “revolution” candidate in the second round. The “revolution” tag only came in contrast to his contender, Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak. Mursi would have never acquired it or the consequent support from non-Islamist voters if he had ran against any other candidate.

Following his election, his decisions were justified as a defense of the revolution, weaved into a defense of the conservative approach to change, which is typical of the Muslim Brotherhood of which he is a member.

When conservatism and gradual change tactics were brushed aside – first by ousting military leaders and then in the current crisis – his camp sought support by appealing to the revolution. The promotion of sharia remained in the background.

At first, Mursi’s power grab in the November 22 constitutional decree was justified as a defense of the revolution against conspirators from the old regime.

Within a week, and when mobilization was needed for street action in support of Mursi, the defense of the revolution became a defense of religion. It was also a battle for Mursi’s legitimacy – incidentally, the Arabic words for legitimacy and sharia are almost identical. And both have been lumped together in street action and public statements.

It helped in attracting supporters for Mursi’s decisions, which included a rushed constitution. Meanwhile, defense of the revolution against remnants of the old regime continued to dominate discussions in defense of the Islamist president and his movement.

As said earlier, this is how the words became used interchangeably – the same way Muslim Brotherhood members were using the words thugs and opposition to describe to me their opponents during the clashes on December 5. The use of these words interchangeably means that opposition to Mursi is both illegitimate and religiously wrong. A voice against Mursi is blow to the revolution, which also means a conspiracy against Islam.

Consequently, the association of certain political stances with Islam becomes favorable, especially with a referendum days away. Mobilization for voting always requires a motive, and there is no stronger one than defending God.

This isn’t simply a deplorable political tactic. The implications of such rhetoric will last past the referendum, surpassing the political setting for which it was initiated. The sectarian tone, which surfaced during presidential election by blaming the Copts for voting for Shafik against the revolution, is now present and clear.

Islamist TV channels, including the MB’s Misr 25, are promoting that opposition protesters are mainly Copts. Association with Egypt’s Christians is portrayed as an accusation. It fuels enthusiasm of Mursi supporters eager to defend Islam, whether this defense materializes in the ballot box or on the street.

This feeds into this alarming state of polarization in which each side gradually believes that its win means the suppression of the other. But when one side believes it’s fighting for God, defending His religion, then the other side is always wrong. In this case and irrespective of the current political crisis; social dialogue, and much less reconciliation, become unimaginable.


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