“What happens to the Islamists in Egypt will determine their status in the remaining countries of the region,” said Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi. “This is making them nervous because they know that if they lose in Egypt, they will end up losing everywhere.”
It is far too early to write off political Islam as a force in the region, and the Egyptian army’s role in forcing President Mohamed Morsi’s departure sets a potentially worrying precedent for the future of democratically elected governments.
Islamist extremists, in Egypt and elsewhere, may argue that what many are calling a military coup validates the use of violence to achieve their aims. The regimes and monarchies still holding at bay the clamor for greater freedoms will cite the example of Egypt as evidence that elections that empower Islamists will lead to chaos, perhaps braking further progress toward political reform.
But there can be little doubt that the specter of the Arab world’s most populous nation rising up in seemingly unprecedented numbers against an Islamist leader has tainted the Brotherhood’s long effort to present itself as a viable alternative to the region’s mostly repressive regimes, in ways that it may find hard to redress.
“This is one of Islamism’s biggest crises in recent memory, indeed in decades,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
Molhem al-Drobi, a senior official with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, acknowledged the anxiety. “This is not what we hoped for,” he said.
Drobi defended Morsi’s record, saying he had not been given a chance, in just one year in office, to address the multiple problems confronting post-revolution Egypt. He nonetheless e-mailed Morsi on Tuesday to ask him to submit to fresh elections, out of concern that his refusal to surrender power gave “the wrong indication that indeed we are no different from any other ruler, that we want to stay in power even if the people don’t want us.”
He did not receive an answer, he said.
“We in Syria would love the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to prove they are really democratic,” he added.
Perhaps nowhere are the potential ramifications greater than in Syria, where the use of the army by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to violently suppress demonstrations prompted protesters to take up arms, triggering a civil war that has lured both Sunni and Shiite volunteers regionwide to fight in the name of jihad.