CAIRO — Sheik Mohamed Abu Sidra had watched in exasperation for months as President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood bounced from one debilitating political battle to another.Well, nobody's coming out roses so far. If folks aren't careful we'll be seeing Damascus on the Nile before too long.
“The Brotherhood went too fast, they tried to take too much,” Sheik Abu Sidra, an influential ultraconservative Islamist in Benghazi, Libya, said Thursday, a day after the Egyptian military deposed and detained Mr. Morsi and began arresting his Brotherhood allies.
But at the same time, Sheik Abu Sidra said, Mr. Morsi’s overthrow had made it far more difficult for him to persuade Benghazi’s Islamist militias to put down their weapons and trust in democracy.
“Do you think I can sell that to the people anymore?” he asked. “I have been saying all along, ‘If you want to build Shariah law, come to elections.’ Now they will just say, ‘Look at Egypt,’ and you don’t need to say anything else.”
From Benghazi to Abu Dhabi, Islamists are drawing lessons from Mr. Morsi’s ouster that could shape political Islam for a generation. For some, it demonstrated the futility of democracy in a world dominated by Western powers and their client states. But others, acknowledging that the takeover accompanied a broad popular backlash, also faulted the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for reaching too fast for so many levers of power.
The Brotherhood’s fall is the greatest in an array of setbacks that have halted the once seemingly unstoppable march of political Islam. As they have moved from opposition to establishment, Islamist parties in Turkey, Tunisia and now Egypt have all been caught up in crises over the secular practicalities of governing like power sharing, urban planning, public security or even keeping the lights on.
Brotherhood leaders — the few who have not been arrested or dropped out of sight — have little doubt about the source of their problems. They say that the Egyptian security forces and bureaucracy conspired to sabotage their rule, and that the generals seized on the chance to topple the Morsi government under the cover of popular anger at the dysfunction of the state.
Their account strikes a chord with fellow Islamists around the region who are all too familiar with the historic turning points when, they say, military crackdowns stole their imminent democratic victories: Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954; Algeria in 1991; and the Palestinian territories in 2006.
“The message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims,” Essam el-Haddad, Mr. Morsi’s foreign policy adviser, warned on his official Web site shortly before the military detained him and cut off all his communication. The overthrow of an elected Islamist government in Egypt, the symbolic heart of the Arab world, Mr. Haddad wrote, would fuel more violent terrorism than the Western wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And he took aim at Western critics of the Islamists. “The silence of all of those voices with an impending military coup is hypocritical,” Mr. Haddad wrote, “and that hypocrisy will not be lost on a large swath of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims.”
See also, Ashraf Khalil, at Foreign Affairs, "The Irony of Tahrir Square."