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Middle East

Egypt's rocky road to democracy

With the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi in power, Egyptian democracy activists fear that their January 2011 revolution has left them behind. They intend to stop the Islamization of Egypt.

Almost three months ago Mohammed Morsi took office as the first freely and democratically elected president in the history of Egypt. Since then most Egyptians have been wondering where the Muslim Brotherhood will lead their country. Morsi, who had been underestimated by many Egyptians and international observers, gained respect by his surprising dismissal of the seemingly omnipotent military leadership around Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. But Egyptian democracy activists and Tahrir Square revolutionaries fear for the achievements of the revolution of January 25, 2011 - and fear a creeping Islamization of the state.

Writer and women's activist Mansoura ez-Eldin is one of the artists, writers and intellectuals who made up the broad protest movement against the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak. But there is not much left of the euphoria she felt over the egalitarian "spirit of Tahrir Square" and during the fall of Mubarak in February 2011: "Many of us thought at the time that Mubarak was the problem. But reality, and also what has happened in the last few months, show that the real problems of this country run far deeper - and that in a certain way the Mubarak regime kept a lid on them," she told DW.

What remains of the 'revolution of dignity'?

Morsi surrounded by the military at a parade. Photo: Fady Fares, Egyptian Presidency/AP/dapd

Morsi has cleverly freed himself from domination by the military

Of course the heterogeneous democracy movement that emerged out of various youth workers, Facebook activists and established democracy movements, was united by a common goal: the fall of Mubarak. Ez-Eldin says there was also a broad consensus over "bread, freedom and social justice" as goals of the "revolution of dignity."

The opinion leaders of the revolution were without doubt fighting for a civil society, a secular state - as an alternative to the military state. "Such a state is naturally the opposite of a religious state such as the Muslim Brotherhood wants to bring about. But I am certain that the majority of ordinary people in this country have no interest in a religious state, and there is a growing concern among them that the role of religion in politics could increase - I call this the Egyptian formula. This cannot be enforced from above like in Turkey," ez-Eldin said.

Muslim Brotherhood, freeloader of the revolution

Although so far the Muslim Brotherhood has not promoted a discernibly Islamist program, distrust of the ruling Islamists is great in liberal and leftist groups. Many Tahrir activists feel that the Revolution has been stolen from them.

People protesting on Tahrir Square in May 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

If Egypt does not become a secular society, there could be further protest.

Ziad al-Alimi, one of the leading activists of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a member of parliament, welcomed the way Morsi clipped the military's wings, but he has great doubts about the ability to govern of Morsi's Party for Freedom and Justice, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. "Because they have no program, they take refuge in religion as a political ideology. They want to transform God's word into political action, but that is impossible. And in this way they will not solve a single problem in this country," he said.

Egyptians don't want an "Islamic renaissance" from President Morsi but workable solutions to the major social and economic problems of their country. And because the future of the entire democratic transformation of Egypt is being decided on just such social issues, al-Alimi sees two options for Egypt's future development: Either liberal and civil society parties succeed in reducing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood through elections, or there'll be a second revolution bloodier than the first.

But against all odds, Al-Alimi looks to the future with optimism: "I am convinced that within a decade we will arrive at a truly new political system. The requirements for this are that the civil parties who want a secular state join forces and do not let themselves be divided again. In addition, we have to create better basic living conditions for ordinary Egyptians."

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