Morsi’s Downfall Forces Islamists to Rethink Strategy

The failure of political Islam in Egypt might have violent repercussions across the Muslim world.

The Muslim Brotherhood's banner hangs at a demonstration in support of President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, Egypt, June 29
The Muslim Brotherhood’s banner hangs at a demonstration in support of President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, Egypt, June 29 (Gregg Carlstrom)

President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office this week jeopardizes his Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of creating an Islamic state in Egypt. But the army’s political intervention might have an impact beyond the country.

The Brotherhood’s experience in Egypt forces likeminded political groups across the Middle East to assess the value of obtaining their goals through a democratic process over means of armed aggression. Abiding by the democratic process got the Brotherhood ejected from the system while the Afghan Taliban’s commitment to armed resistance got them a seat at the negotiating table.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power through free elections. Mohamed Morsi was elected with nearly 52 percent of the votes. The coup that replaced him was a rejection of his legitimacy and a rejection of the will of those that put him into power. The Islamist backlash in Egypt should come as no surprise. The marginalization of such a large group of individuals is bound to provoke and infuriate.

This is not the first time the results from a free election were met with resistance. Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, was democratically elected in Gaza in 2006. Despite winning popular support, it was not well received in the West with the United States, which considered Hamas a terrorist organization, refusing to recognize its legitimacy.

The Taliban’s efforts in Afghanistan, by contrast, provide an example of how to obtain political legitimacy. The war was meant to displace it and create a democratic government in the Taliban’s void. Elections were held in which the Taliban refused to participate. It sought to obtain legitimacy through violence instead. After more than a decade of violence, the Taliban finds itself with a seat at the negotiating table. The Taliban will have a say in their country’s future, one obtained with bullets and bodies, not with votes casted at a ballot box.

Political recognition in Afghanistan and Egypt took two routes and ended with two polar outcomes. Afghanistan’s example of violence provides one path to political legitimacy; the democratic rise of the Muslim Brotherhood provides another. The results of both paths have been seen and the message to Islamists is clear: if their voices won’t be heard through peaceful means, perhaps they will when they resort to violence.

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