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Egypt

Opinion: Good Islamists, bad Islamists?

How the West responds to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi will show whether Western countries are serious about supporting democratic movements in the Arab world, says DW's Rainer Sollich.

Deutsche Welle Rainer Sollich. Programm Afrika/Nahost, Arabische Redaktion. Foto DW/Per Henriksen 21.05.2013 #DW3_8938.

Rainer Sollich from DW's Arabic Department

Arms deals with Saudi Arabia, but distancing themselves from Iran and different militant groups, like Hamas or Hezbollah: a casual observer of the West's Middle East policies might get the impression that there is an attempt to distinguish between "moderate" and "radical", or "good" and "bad" Islamists.

This impression isn't wrong. But the distinction isn't made based on democratic standards, or human rights records. It depends, instead, on whether the Islamists in question generally respect Western interests, or disregard and fight them.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the double standards that people in the region have decried for so long have become obvious once more. The West praises democratic values and advertises them aggressively, but when in doubt, stability and geostrategic interests have a higher value. Saudi Arabia with its strict interpretation of the Sharia and its continuous disregard for human rights is a prime example. And what about Egypt?

Morsi takes Western interests into account

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first, freely-elected president, knows the Western parameters and takes them into account. When he was an activist with the Muslim Brotherhood, he publicly reviled Jews as "blood suckers."

Today, as head of state, he's not seriously questioning the peace agreement with Israel, despite all his anti-Zionistic rhetoric. And he's even less inclined to end the partnership with the US, which earns the Egyptian military more than a billion dollars each year.

Morsi knows: Egypt needs this money. And he also knows that in the turbulent transition time since the Mubarak regime was overthrown, the West has been tempted to see Morsi, too, as a "moderate" Islamist - a "difficult" but ultimately acceptable partner. At least he was elected democratically. And Egypt pulling out of the pro-West alliance, or destabilizing fully would be a disaster for the West.

Signs of a severe crisis abound. Ever since the revolution, Egypt has been in a dangerous downward spiral. No one has a magic cure or panacea - and that includes Morsi's opponents.

The president also has not succeeded in keeping the Egyptian people in line during these difficult times. Quite the contrary, his autocratic style of governing has divided the country and led to a dangerous polarization. Against the will of a sizeable minority, he pushed through a constitution that is too religious in the eyes of many Egyptians. He agreed to share power with the country's powerful military, without any democratic legitimization. He actively advances the Islamization of state institutions, and the entire society. Human rights organizations complain that the repression under Morsi is even more brutal than it was under Hosni Mubarak. 

The West seems meek

Western countries have criticized all this only mildly so far. Even if their own interests are touched upon, as was the case with the verdict against employees of foreign foundations, the reactions seem rather subdued.

Many Egyptian citizens, however, do not want to put up with Morsi's style of politics any longer. New, large protests have been held and more are planned to coincide with the president's one year "anniversary" in office, and a group of opponents has collected millions of signatures calling for Morsi's ouster.

The president, in turn, encourages his supporters to stage protests themselves. So, Egypt, once again, is on the brink of a dangerous escalation of violence. The first deaths from clashes have already been reported. The military takes the present danger seriously, barely masking its threat to interfere, if necessary.

It remains to be seen whether Morsi the Islamist should be considered a "moderate" or a "radical" compared to others in the region. He doesn't play with his cards on the table.

It is clear, however, that he is overwhelmed with being head of state. In his most recent speech on June 26, he stoked the fires once again by portraying his opponents as enemies of the revolution and of Egypt.

It would be disastrous should democratically-minded Egyptians get the impression that the West is again leaving them to their own devices, as it did under Mubarak.

DW.DE

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