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Islamist gains in Egypt give Washington pause
Islamist gains in Egypt give Washington pause Staff and agencies22 November, 2005  By Jonathan Wright CAIRO - The United States inadvertently helped Egypt‘s Islamists make strong electoral gains this month and is now rethinking the wisdom of pressing rapid democratic change in a major Arab country, analysts said on Tuesday. The Muslim Brotherhood, maki
Tuesday, November 22,2005 00:00
by Jonathan Wright ,

Islamist gains in Egypt give Washington pause
Staff and agencies
22 November, 2005
 
 
By Jonathan Wright

CAIRO - The United States inadvertently helped Egypt‘s Islamists make strong electoral gains this month and is now rethinking the wisdom of pressing rapid democratic change in a major Arab country, analysts said on Tuesday.
The Muslim Brotherhood, making the most of the more open atmosphere which Washington has promoted, has already tripled its strength in parliament to 47 of the 444 elected seats, with more than half the seats yet to be decided.
The secular opposition parties which Washington favored have performed poorly, picking up only a handful of seats -- way short of the five percent threshold they would need if they want to field a candidate in presidential elections.
Although the Brotherhood has no chance of breaking the government‘s control over parliament, this outcome has given the Bush administration pause and strengthened the hand of those in Washington who value stability over democracy, the analysts say.
"The Americans have reassessed the situation and come to the conclusion that fast and vigorous democratization in Egypt is impossible and will work in an undesirable way," said Mohamed el-Sayed Said, a political analyst at a Cairo think-tank.
The Egyptian vote so far has bolstered the view that free and fair elections could enable Islamist parties hostile to U.S. policies to gain strength in several Middle Eastern countries.
Washington insiders are now advising the U.S. State Department not to abandon existing Arab governments without clear alternatives and instead to work on long-term structural changes and ways to influence Arab public opinion, Said said.
"I think they managed to change the policy when it comes to Egypt," said Said, deputy director of the government-funded al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
The change in tone is evident in public statements from the White House and U.S. State Department, which have largely fallen silent on Egypt after frequent comments on the presidential elections in September, won by President Hosni Mubarak .
In a rare comment on Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack criticized election violence but said he had reason to believe the Egyptian government wanted voting to be peaceful.
Independent monitors say most of the violence has been by ruling party supporters, with the police standing aside.
Josh Stacher, an independent analyst who followed Sunday‘s voting in the Nile Delta, said much of the Bush administration‘s talk about Middle East democracy was for U.S. home consumption.
The U.S. campaign began after early justifications for invading Iraq began to lose credibility.
"The game has not switched that much. The United States now supports a form of authoritarianism less driven by state violence. As long as the state is not seen as clashing with citizens, they are unwilling to go out on a limb," he added.
"The reality of the situation suggests the United States is involved in ‘authoritarian adaptation‘ -- changing the appearance but not the substance," he said.
The United States supports the Egyptian government‘s refusal to recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as a party, although it is clearly the strongest opposition force in the country.
And, like the Egyptian government media, U.S. officials rarely mention the Islamist group by name.
But the group has benefited from U.S. calls for change, which have helped to open up debate in Egypt and emboldened civil society groups to monitor elections much more closely.
Saadeddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and democracy activist, said U.S. pressure for the release of political prisoners had also ended up helping the Brotherhood. Some of those set free were important in the Brotherhood‘s campaign, he said.
Ibrahim, who is well-connected in Washington, said U.S. officials were "very disappointed" at the poor electoral showing of the secular Ghad and Wafd parties. Those parties are the most sympathetic to liberal democracy but lack the mobilizing power and resources of Mubarak‘s ruling party or the Brotherhood.
Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, who came second to Mubarak in the presidential elections, lost his seat in parliament and his followers have not yet won a single victory.
"The Americans have had to reassess their bets on these forces, which obviously failed to materialize," said Said.
 


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