Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egypt: The arts in the era of the Islamists | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Before I begin, let me relay this political joke about the Islamists strong showing at the recent parliamentary elections [in Egypt]. One Egyptian entertainment figure was told, “there will be no place for your brand of entertainment under the rule of the elected Islamist government, what will you do?” The Egyptian artist quickly replied, “Believe me, they won’t get rid of me, they will have to make religious television series, and someone has to play the infidels!”

The fact is that this is a serious issue, and there is nothing to laugh about here, particularly as the Egyptians do not know exactly what will happen when the Islamists are in charge of the system, and how they will deal with Egypt’s arts and entertainment sector, not to mention the cabarets and nightclubs on al-Haram Street [in Giza], or the new year celebrations or indeed the Egyptian Film Festival. Everybody is eagerly waiting to see how all of the above will be handled; namely those who hate to see the above and hope that they will disappear, as well as those who love Egypt’s artistic and entertainment scene and fear for its future. This has become increasingly clear, particularly as everybody is aware that most of the Islamists’ rhetoric, speeches, statements, and articles focus primarily on criticizing such phenomenon. Besides this, the Islamists would not have enjoyed the same amount of influence and publicity – and electoral votes – if they had failed to criticize such “sins”, and promise to change them.

The issue is even more complicated when the “Muslim Brotherhood” is being more pragmatic than the Salafists. The Brotherhood took the decision to delay putting forward views on combatting these “sins”, or what programs they intend to launch to combat this, instead focusing on development, fighting poverty, ending financial and administrative corruption, fighting unemployment, and solving the problems of security and unrest. This is what was expected of them, and so the Muslim Brotherhood turned away from their Salafist rivals – an Islamist trend that is considered less pragmatic and which never accepts compromise on such issues – who focused on “preventing vice”, which in turn was what was expected of them.

Someone might say: what is the complication here? The difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists over these issues is a difference of methodology, rather than a difference of opinion. Or let us say this is a difference in the distribution of tasks. This would see the Muslim Brotherhood, which is more immersed in politics, focusing on development, combating political corruption and the management of foreign affairs, whilst the Salafists, who are less immersed in politics, would apply themselves to “purifying” Egyptian society from the corruption of such “sins””

The issue is certainly more complicated than this simplified explanation, because the Egyptian public will not understand the issue of “difference of methodology, rather than difference of opinion”, as understood by the Egyptian elites. Rather, the public would see this as evidence of the Salafists’ sincerity, and as evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s fickleness and changeability, as well as the corruption of their political program. This is something that would certainly increase the Salafists’ popularity at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood, hence the balance would tilt in the Salafists’ favour, or at the very least, this would weaken the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity at future elections.

In short, the Egyptian Salafists, despite their marginally different approach to the Muslim Brotherhood, would confuse the implementation of the Brotherhood’s political program, in the same manner as they confused the Muslim Brotherhood’s political approach, forcing them to change their strategy and content themselves with 30 percent of the votes as a result of the Salafists’ fierce competition. Just as Egyptian society was surprised at the high share of the vote the Muslim Brotherhood received during the first phase of the parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood – in turn – was surprised by the number of votes won by the Salafists. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood is facing a completely difference situation to that faced by Erdogan’s party during the Turkish election, because it did not face any competition from the Turkish Salafists. Political parties can gain experience and knowledge from the experiences of foreign countries and parties, but these scenarios will never be imitated perfectly.