First polls de­liver un­ex­pected dilemma

Egypt’s elite un­easy at strong Is­lamist show­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - HA­NIA EL MALAWANI

CAIRO: For decades, Egypt’s West­ern­ised elite kept the coun­try’s grow­ing re­ligos­ity at arm’s length, but a pro­jected Is­lamist surge in the first post-rev­o­lu­tion polls has driven many to think of mov­ing abroad.

Sport­ing the lat­est fash­ions and min­gling in up­mar­ket coun­try clubs, Egypt’s rich fear vic­tory for the Mus­lim Brother­hood and hard­line Salafis in the first phase of par­lia­men­tary elec­tions presages change ahead.

“I hope they don’t im­pose the veil and ban women from driv­ing like in Saudi Ara­bia,” said co­quet­tish 50-some­thing Naglaa Fahmi from her gym in the leafy neigh­bour­hood of Za­malek.

Nar­dine – one of Egypt’s eight mil­lion Cop­tic Chris­tians who are alarmed by the prospect of a new Is­lamist­dom­i­nated par­lia­ment – is pon­der­ing a move abroad. “My fa­ther is se­ri­ously think­ing about send­ing me and my broth­ers else­where be­cause he thinks we won’t have a fu­ture with the Salafis,” said the banker in her 20s.

Ten months af­ter a pop­u­lar upris­ing ended the 30- year au­to­cratic rule of Hosni Mubarak, mil­lions of Egyp­tians em­braced their new demo­cratic free­doms this week at the start of multi-stage par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

The mod­er­ate Mus­lim Brother­hood has emerged as the dom­i­nant force, but with a sur­pris­ingly strong show­ing from the hard­line al-nur party.

Its lead­ers ad­vo­cate the fun­da­men­tal­ist brand of Salafi Is­lam, re­ject­ing Western cul­ture and favour­ing strict seg­re­ga­tion of the sexes and the veil­ing of women. They say they have been the vic­tims of Is­lam­o­pho­bia and fear-mon­ger­ing by lib­er­als in the Egyp­tian me­dia.

Nev­er­the­less, the fear that they will try to im­pose their val­ues on the rest of so­ci­ety has driven Angie to con­sider leav­ing her com­fort­able Cairo life. “My hus­band re­cently got a job of­fer in Dubai. In the be­gin­ning I was hes­i­tant, but now I’m en­cour­ag­ing him to take the job and I’ll join him.”

For Ahmed Gabri, hav­ing the Is­lamists in power means hav­ing his free­doms re­stricted. “I will leave the coun­try,” said Gabri, a Mus­lim. “Why don’t they just let peo­ple live the way they want?”

The next par­lia­ment will be charged with writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion and the idea of an Is­lamist-dom­i­nated assem­bly has sent shock­waves through some seg­ments of so­ci­ety.

Many stress the dif­fer­ence, how­ever, be­tween the dif­fer­ent Is­lamist groups. “It’s the not the Brother­hood that wor­ries me, it’s the Salafis I’m con­cerned about,” said Ma­nar, a blonde in her 40s. – SAPA-AFP

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

LET US BE FREE: Pro­test­ers chant slo­gans dur­ing a demon­stra­tion against the Egyp­tian mil­i­tary coun­cil in Tahrir square in Cairo. This week the coun­try started go­ing to the polls in a multi-phased par­lia­men­tary elec­tion process.

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