Quilliam Foundation on secularism vs Islamism in Egypt

January 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm (democracy, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, protest)

While the BBC (especially Jeremy Bowen and John Humphries on the ‘Today’ programme) continually promote the Muslim Brotherhood as a major and “moderate” force in the present Egyptian revolt, the Quilliam Foundation gives a different view. The Quilliam Foundation is based upon a group of British ex-Islamists, many of whom are former sympathisers of the Brotherhood and/or its British offshoot, the Muslim Association of Britain (promoted by the SWP). The Foundation is following events in the Arab world closely. Here’s its analysis:

Islamist support may have been over-estimated.

The high levels of support for the Egyptian protests among ordinary people may indicate a larger than suspected groundswell of support for genuinely democratic, non-sectarian politics in the Middle East. The lack of vocal support among the protestors for standard Islamist slogans perhaps indicates that much of this apparent support for the Brotherhood was not ideologically-based but rather based on a shared opposition to the status quo for whom the Brotherhood was the only available outlet. This shows that Brotherhood claims to be the ‘only real opposition’ to dictatorial regimes in the Middle East should be viewed with a considerable amount of scepticism in future. Given the opportunity, many people in the Arab countries clearly prefer civil, non-sectarian parties over Islamists. 

 Rise of secular discourse.

The basic demands of the Egyptian demonstrators for jobs, food and accountable government are both tangible and strikingly non-ideological. The Egyptian protests are also remarkable for the wide cross-section of society represented through them – civic, non-Islamist activism is not just popular among the elite but also among the masses. This is also a rebuff to those on the Right who believe that Muslim-majority societies do not want or understand liberal secular democracy and also to those on the Left who argue given a free choice that Muslims will chose Islamism over pluralism and political freedom. Aside from Egypt, the unfolding events in Tunisia are also a challenge to supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who argue that Islamism is the only alternative to either Mubarak dictatorships or al-Qaeda. There is now another clearly option for the Middle East: genuine pluralist democracy. The process is still ongoing.Although the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt have so far been largely secularist and pro-democratic, and often deliberately excluding of Islamists, this may yet change. Although groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have been caught off-guard by the protests, they are looking for ways to re-gain the initiative in both Egypt and in Tunisia. Previously Islamists have tried to take over and usurp revolutions in Muslim-majority countries, doing this successfully in Iran in 1979 and unsuccessfully in Egypt in 1953. Although secularists in Egypt and Tunisia are clearly alert to this danger, this does not mean that Islamists will not try, perhaps with some success, to hijack these mass movements. Similarly, if secular democratic regimes are ultimately established in these countries, some Islamists groups may deliberately try to push them towards collapse (as Hezbollah has recently done in Lebanon) in order to ultimately take control of these states.

Read the rest here.


  1. SteveH said,

    I agree with the general thrust of this, the demands are economic and therefore the solutions people want are not based on religious dogma. It is a significant point I think, one that gives space to the left, but you cannot simply write off the ‘Islamists’. United fronts are still a justified tactic. Also from these economic demands come demands for more personal and political rights, so people are not in the mood to exchange one lot of despots for another lot. Exciting times and worrying ones for all the Zionists out there!

    What I take issue with is the analysis of the Lebanon, but that is a debate for another day.

  2. Egg on your face said,

    An utterly amazing lack of political comprehension in this statement:

    “…and also to those on the Left who argue given a free choice that Muslims will chose Islamism over pluralism and political freedom.”

    Anyone who made such a point would be an idiot. However, those who screamed that Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006, for example, was a manifestation of ‘Islamofascism’ actually did make this very point.

    More sane leftists, untained by Shachtman’s dogmas, have for many years said that mass support for Islamist movements in many countries is not some kind of mass ‘fascist’ manifestation , but rather a response to savage national/imperialist oppression in a situation where the secular left largely appeared to have failed and/or gone over to the enemy, and that given an opening up of the situation, many of the supporters of ‘Islamism’ would embrace more conventional leftist and ‘secular’ forms of politics.

    This is now being borne out by the situation in Egypt and Tunisia. The converse analysis, of rampant ‘Islamofascism’ etc, is a product of Zionist ideology and a warped view of the Arab/Muslim masses as being akin something akin to a huge swarm of Nazi locusts.

    • Heather said,

      Sadly Christians in Egypt are facing severe oppression now, churches are being torched, people are being beaten. I’m an Anglican living in New Zealand. I regard Coptic Christians as my brothers and sisters. I think that the treatment of the Christians in Egypt, indeed in the whole of the Middle East, is an important indicator as to the sort of society that is emerging.

  3. charliethechulo said,

    200 Egyptians outside the London consulate today.
    Under slogans: ‘The people want to get rid of the regime’, ‘Bread, freedom, human dignity’; ‘Change, freedom, social justice’.
    Almost non of the women had hair covered. One man held a placard at the front which indicated Christian and Muslim unity in Egypt (i.e. anti-sectarian). The organisers described themselves as ‘youth’. I asked the stewards about the Brothers. They said a few had turned up earlier but they’d been told to get lost.

    About 3pm the Egyptians were joined by several hundred students from the student march.

    On 29 January 2011 19:19, Thomas Unterrainer wrote:

    Consider these wise words from Tom Woodcock of the SWP: “Egypt is the key to freeing the Palestinians” [taps nose]. “Which means what?” ask I. “Well, they’re the only people who can sort this out”. “You mean an invasion?” [non-committal shrug from cmrd w].
    We went back and forth for a bit in this fashion. The lesson? Seems like the SWP are gearing up for a full-scale tilt towards rrrrrevoltionary cretinism. ‘solidarity with the Brotherhood!’

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. charliethechulo said,

    The anti-semitic sickness of so much of the Brit “left” on display over at “Socialist Unity” from someone called (amazingly) “Darkness at Noon”:

    So, when Mubarak is deposed, how long before the Army can take up arms against Israel again? Do you have a timeline before the surrender state becomes the victory state? I think a 36 month wait should suffice before Egypt is ready to try again!

    The end of the Zionist regime is in sight.

    Comment by Darkness at Noon — 30 January, 2011 @ 1:37 am

  5. flyingrodent said,

    Nice to see Quilliam stepping up to all that money we paid for them to exist. what are they actually doing just now, i have to ask?

    do we need a debate, if they’re as clueless as everyone else?

  6. SteveH said,

    charliethechulo said,

    “Almost non of the women had hair covered.”

    You fucking fascist, how fucking dare you. This is the kind of cultural fascism that Shiraz encourage.

    In Egypt many many of the women had their hair covered, others did not.

  7. Mark said,

    #4 Darkness at Noon is a ZIonist you fucking idiot. One of your brothers in arms.

    For you, this remarkable and courageous uprising is defined by how many women wear headscarfs. Unbelievable.

  8. Clive said,

    SteveH – does it not occur to you that there are people *in Egypt* for whom the number of women not in scarves might carry some significance? (It certainly carries some significance for the women choosing not to wear them). That slogans about Muslim/Christian unity are enormously important? That people who want to keep religion and sectarianism out of these protests in particular deserve our support – and one aspect of supporting them is to point out their existence? (Especially when a big part of the Obama/Blair line is to do with the supposed fact that the Egyptian people are likely to turn to militant Islamism?) What in God’s name (so to speak) is ‘fascist’ about that?

  9. Rosie said,

    There has been recent history about an Islamist takeover of a popular revolt, when whether a woman was covered or not was of great significance. Eg in Tehran on 8 March 1979, International Women’s Day.

    “On that day, Iranian women activists and their male supporters demonstrated against an order for women to re-veil themselves in the chador worn in more traditional sectors of society. The demonstrations continued for five days. At their height, they grew to fifty thousand in Tehran, women as well as men. Some leftist men formed a cordon around the women, fighting off armed attackers from a newly formed group, the Hezbollah or “Party of God.” The demonstrators chanted “No to the Chador,” “Down with the Dictatorship,” and even the occasional “Down with Khomeini.” One banner read, “We made the Revolution for Freedom, But Got Unfreedom,” while others proclaimed “At the Dawn of Freedom, There Is No Freedom.” For their part, the Hezbollah chanted “You will cover yourselves or be beaten,” but their response was mainly nonverbal: stones, knives, and even bullets.”

    The Party of God won that round. I hope to Christ they don’t win this one.

  10. SteveH said,


    charliethechulo was making a virtue out of that fact that protestors in England were not covering their hair. So if women who covered their hair were present in numbers this would have been a cause for dismay. What a fucking attitude to have to these people, what a cultural fucking fascist. What dogma. Maybe you think it better if these women stayed at home and remained silent. Oh the fucking irony!

    “does it not occur to you that there are people *in Egypt* for whom the number of women not in scarves might carry some significance?”

    Absolutely fucking not!!!! No fucking way with bells on!!! And there were many many women in Egypt wearing scarves. And charliethechulo was talking about a protest in London!

    What did I say about Shiraz attracting cultural fascists!

  11. jim denham said,

    SteveH: I can only repeat a previous piece of advice: seek help.

    You are beyond political debate. You need mental health support: seek it!

  12. Jim Denham said,

    Flying Rodent:

    flyingrodent said,
    January 30, 2011 at 4:05 am

    “Nice to see Quilliam stepping up to all that money we paid for them to exist. what are they actually doing just now, I have to ask?

    “Do we need a debate, if they’re as clueless as everyone else?”

    Rodent: we *do* indeed, need a debate. The one you backed out of some months ago, when I asked you what, exactly, your political agenda *is*. You claim to be simply a “realist”, but I for one don’t believe you. I think you’re pro-Islamist but won’t admit it and hide behind the cover of being a “realist.”

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      Come on James, don’t mess about with terms like ‘pro-Islamist’, go on, call Flying an ‘anti-Semite’, you know you want to.

  13. Clive said,

    Perhaps you don’t understand, SteveH, that in contemporary Egypt, not to wear a headscarf is a statement. (It could be that women without headscarves are Christian, but I have certainly seen interviews with women without headscarves and Muslim names, and I have met women from Muslim backgrounds who don’t wear headscarves).

    It matters to them. They deserve our support.

  14. Clive said,

    Egyptian workers, meeting today in Tahrir Square, have started to set up a new trade union federation independent of the state; they are going to discuss calling a general strike. http://www.solidaritycenter.org/ – first article on the right (you have to download it in Word).

  15. jim denham said,

    “Don’t mess about with terms like ‘pro-Islamist’, go on, call Flying an ‘anti-Semite’, you know you want to”…

    …Not *always* the same thing, Lobby. Only *usually*…

  16. Rosie said,


    LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Hundreds protested outside Egypt’s embassy in London on Saturday calling for President Hosni Mubarak to go, but differences in message highlighted tensions between Islamists and others over the country’s future.

    Islamists in one demonstration wanted an Islamic government and Islamic law to replace Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule, around the corner was a secular protest.

    The parallel London protests came after five days of mass demonstrations across Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, calling for Mubarak to go. Egyptians have defied curfews in an unprecedented display of public anger over his rule, poverty, repression and corruption.

    “Mubarak out, Islam in,” and “Allah take Mubarak the pharaoh,” chanted Islamist protesters, including organisers Hizb ut Tahrir, a hardline Islamist group. Women and men in the group protested separately.

    Nearby, other demonstrators were careful to distinguish themselves from the Islamists, sticking to secular chants.

  17. SteveH said,

    “It matters to them. They deserve our support.”

    Dont twist this Clive, I support the right of women to wear or not wear head gear. That is the position of the Egyptian socialist party. What that fuck charliethechulo said was despicable. And your acceptance of it says everything about your sensibility.

    Jim D’s acceptance of it says eveything about his attitude also. You really are EDL style Islamophobes. No, really you are! Now seek help Jimbo, I said it first!

    As I said and has been confirmed Shiraz attract cultural fascists!

  18. jim denham said,

    Steve H is not a liar or a shyster. He is simply mad. I don’y know (or care) whether that is an excuse. Thankfully, his sort of hysteria and cultural/political relativism is increasingly being disregarded by the serious left.

  19. Clive said,

    Genuine question, SteveH – who do you mean by the Socialist Party? Do you have a link?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: