Radical Islamists Make Gains in Egypt

Back in January, I expressed the fear that the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt might lead to a new regime that is as bad or worse than the old. I gave two reasons why this could happen: Illiberal forces in Egypt, especially radical Islamists, are much better organized than liberal democrats, and majority public opinion in Egypt is also highly illiberal, which creates the possibility of Islamists coming to power by democratic means.

The first round of the recent Egyptian elections, where Islamist parties got over 60% of the vote, at least partially substantiates these concerns. To be sure, two thirds of that went to the Muslim Brotherhood, the more “moderate” of the two Islamist parties. However, Islamist hardliners have more influence in the Brotherhood than more moderate “reformers.”

If the Islamists come to power and adopt repressive policies, it’s possible that they could be voted out in a future election. But this assumes that they will allow continue to hold competitive elections and allow opposition parties to operate freely. Unfortunately, it is all too likely that a radical Islamist regime would use the powers of the state to suppress opposition and ensure that it could never be voted out, as has happened in Iran. A democratically elected Islamist government could easily end up as a political system where there is “one man, one vote, one time.”

It is far from inevitable that Egypt will end up with a radical Islamist government. Perhaps the still-powerful Egyptian military will prevent it, or perhaps more liberal forces within and outside the Muslim Brotherhood will get stronger. The early indications, however, are not very positive.