The new Egypt – not so ‘dark’ after all

Despite the way it has been depicted in popular Israeli newspapers, the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president was less a vote for Islamism than a vote against dictatorship.

Since the glory of the Tahrir revolt last January and February, things in Egypt have seemed to go downhill. The young secular idealists who started the protests were displaced by Islamists as leaders of the new Egypt starting the day after Mubarak resigned. Mob violence, including gang rapes, started happening in Tahrir. Bloody soccer riots, burning of Coptic churches, and a parliamentary election in which a more  radical Islamist party finished second to the Muslim Brotherhood – the news from Egypt has not been good this last year and a half. Most people who were inspired by the Tahrir rebellion, myself certainly included, have been deeply disenchanted and worried by the direction Egypt seems to have taken.

Well, Sunday’s results of the presidential election are good news. Not that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won, but that he won by such a narrow margin – 51.7% to 48.3% – and against one of the hated Mubarak’s closest former aides, Ahmed Shafik. This is very, very far from being a mandate for jihad – aside from the narrowness of Morsi’s victory, a lot of voters clearly went for him not because they want an Islamist government, but because they don’t want a corrupt military dictatorship anymore. In the 2006 parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority, there were more than a few Christians who voted for Hamas rather than the corrupt, dictatorial incumbent Fatah: same principle.

Which way the new Egypt will go, especially considering the lingering repressive power of the military, nobody knows. There are plenty of arguments for optimism and pessimism both. In Israel, of course, you hear the latter almost exclusively. The post-election front page headline in Yedioth Aharonoth was “Hoshech Mitzrayim” – the darkest of the dark, like the plague of darkness God cast over Egypt – with a darkened photo of Tahrir celebrants holding up a Morsi banner. Ah, the Israeli popular media – educating for peace as always.

Haaretz, an unpopular medium, ran a very good editorial today on the election. (Disclosure: I’m a copy-editor at the paper.)

Mohammed Morsi’s election as Egypt’s president is the result of a revolution that, for the first time in 60 years, gave the Egyptian public the right to make a real decision. The people did not chose a state run according to religious law or the rule of Islam. Morsi, who was thrown into the presidential race, symbolizes the desire – held by secular and liberal Egyptians as well – to demolish the remnants of the old regime. For this democratic move, which was made out of respect for the law, Egypt deserves high praise.

As an Israeli. a Jew and a secular liberal, I cannot be happy that the Muslim Brotherhood has power in Egypt now. But it may not turn out so bad, either. In all, given the irrepressibly democratic nature of the elections, and the checks and balances implied in the presidential vote – the brakes it seems to put on Islamic rule – I think we, the disenchanted, should think again. The spirit of Tahrir is not lost. The new Egypt, after lots of stumbles and falls, seems to be finding its footing.