August 16, 2013

Jihadists view crisis in Egypt as an opportunity

The call to arms could hurt the U.S. goal of replacing radical voices with democratic ones.

By ERNESTO LONDONO The Washington Post

Jihadists in the Middle East and beyond are moving to capitalize on the political crisis in Egypt, arguing that the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood vindicates their long-espoused view that democracy is a dangerous proposition.

As blood has poured down Egyptian streets and civilians have clashed with security forces, a chorus of Islamists have urged Egyptians to embrace violence to further their political goals.

The call to arms has the potential to fuel hard-line military movements that have taken root in Egypt's Sinai region and could prompt rank-and-file Muslim Brotherhood members to break with their group's pledge of nonviolence. The prospect of further radicalization, analysts warn, threatens to undermine a key U.S. goal in the region: drowning out extremist voices by boosting moderate, democratic ones.

Extremists "couldn't have wished for a better example of how democracy doesn't work," said Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadi groups. "Muslim Brotherhood members feel especially vulnerable now. They feel that they have been cheated. Radical rhetoric will likely be more acceptable to them now than before."

Hours after grisly photos of bloodied Egyptian demonstrators began circulating in social media and jihadist forums, militant groups began calling the crackdown an affront against Islam that must be avenged.

"Will Muslims wait until they are prevented from praying in mosques?!" the Jihadi Research Center said in a statement directed at Egyptians, which was issued as the crackdown was unfolding Wednesday. "Will they wait until the beard becomes a charge that is punishable by imprisonment?! Will they wait until their sons enter the prisons in the tens of thousands to be tortured and spend tens of years of their lives in their depths?!"

The warnings are certain to resonate among pious Egyptians, who for decades of autocratic rule were demonized, persecuted and barred from positions of authority. Bearded men were interrogated at airports and barred from certain resorts. Women who wore face veils were ostracized at universities and workplaces.

After the country's 2011 popular revolt, Egyptian Salafists, who adhere to an ultra-conservative wing of Islam, rushed to form new political parties. The Brotherhood mobilized its electoral base like never before. Together, they won the majority of seats in parliament and succeeded in getting Mohammed Morsi, a relatively obscure Muslim Brotherhood leader, elected as president.

The victories were short-lived. Egypt's top court dissolved parliament in 2012 on what many saw as a technicality. Last month, with the backing of millions of Egyptians, the country's powerful military deposed and imprisoned Morsi.

Gehad el-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, said Wednesday that the movement -- which disavowed violence in the 1970s -- remains committed to that pledge.

"We will always be nonviolent and peaceful," Haddad said in a tweet, adding that the group remained "strong and resolved" and would continue to fight to get Morsi reinstated.

By locking up Morsi and the group's top, venerated leaders and keeping them incommunicado, the military could be deliberately pushing the Brotherhood toward behavior that mainstream Egyptians will repudiate, said Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute.

"You might see individuals turn more to anarchy," said Zelin, who runs the blog jihadology.net. "You have a bunch of young people full of rage and emotion. The question is whether the military is doing that on purpose."

Regardless of the motive, the crackdown has been condemned and debated by jihadists of diverse backgrounds. Many greeted Morsi's election last year with apprehension; the Afghan Taliban was the only major group that issued a congratulatory statement.

Since the coup, virtually all have weighed in.

On July 4, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an extremist group in North Africa, called the coup a Western-backed conspiracy to "tame one of our largest human reservoirs."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)