Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist
Featured Post

A ‘funny’ thing happened on the way to the ballot box

The results of the Egyptian elections don't bode well for the country's forward looking 'Facebook generation'

Those film buffs amongst you — or those old enough to have enjoyed the film went it was first released in 1972 — may recall the opening and closing images of the outstanding musical Cabaret, set in Berlin, in the 1930’s. In the opening scenes Nazi supporters are manhandled out of the Kit Kat Klub and kicked into the gutter outside the nightclub, but the film closes just a few short, brutal years later with performers entertaining an audience made up overwhelmingly of Nazi uniformed clients.

In a strange way the happenings in Egypt during the last 12 months are not incomparable with the theme of director Bob Fosse’s classic movie of 40 years ago, because somewhere between the ecstatic scenes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square one year ago and the voting booths that presented the Egyptian public with their first ever free elections, something went horribly wrong, and those that were portrayed as no more than a moderate political force have suddenly come very much to the fore and are running the show.

The tumultuous atmosphere as hundreds of thousands of mostly young, secular Egyptians piled into the central square and demanded that Hosni Mubarak stand down after thirty years in power, followed hot on the heels of the fall of the Tunisian regime some weeks earlier. But for those of us here in Israel that have grown up with Mubarak on the other side of the fence and — despite his many well documented flaws — grown used to the status quo of having Egypt in the south and Jordan to our east as “partners in peace,” there was a gnawing sense that the jubilant masses who greeted the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation on February 11 might one day come to regret having done the “donkey work” for Islamic radicals who might well step in to take advantage of the predicted political vacuum.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the historic overthrow of one of the Arab world’s most powerful leaders rightly focused on the joy and hopes of a people who have for so long been denied the opportunity to express themselves openly, benefit from a free press, and who yearned for an end to the era of cronyism, nepotism, and corruption. Even the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining a significant percentage of seats in the promised new Egyptian parliament failed to ring alarm bells amongst most reporters covering the story, as the Brotherhood proved conspicuously absent from the violent and non-violent demonstrations that hastened Mubarak’s end.

Sitting on the sidelines, letting the overwhelmingly non-religious, educated youth of Egypt take the baton blows and sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of freedom, the Brotherhood knew that should the regime — which did not tolerate their often-extremist vision for Egypt — fall, they would quickly be able to muster large support through their networks based around the many mosques that housed supporters of their ideology. A year later, with Egypt under “temporary” military rule, the elections that have generally been regarded as free and fair showed that the Muslim Brotherhood, together with a number of allied Islamist parties, received no less than 48% of the vote and are readying themselves to take over the reins at the head of Egyptian politics when General Tantawi and his men eventually step aside.

A quick glance at the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood would have quickly put to bed any thoughts that it is a tolerant Islamist party that will offer religious and social freedoms to all, and work towards peace in the Middle East. Here is a quote from “Jihad is the Way” one of the seminal works of the late Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Mustafa Masshur:

It should be known that Jihad and preparation towards Jihad are not only for the purpose of fending-off assaults and attacks of Allah’s enemies from Muslims, but are also for the purpose of realizing the great task of establishing an Islamic state and strengthening the religion and spreading it around the world.

The Brotherhood’s prospects of standing by the peace agreement signed by Anwar Saddat and Menachem Begin in 1979, and adhered to by both Israel and Egypt for more than three decades, looks now to be on decidedly shaky ground. Their website states the following:

Honourable brothers have achieved Shahada (Martyrdom) on the soil of beloved Palestine, during the years 47′ and 48′, [while] in their Jihad against the criminal, thieving, gangs of Zion… The Jihad is our way and death for Allah is our most exalted wish, this is the call which we have always called.

Today, the crowds demanding that the military regime immediately hand over power to the democratically elected government are made up in almost even parts of those that led the way to the revolution and those who have an Islamist agenda. Twelve months ago there were no obviously Islamist protesters. This doesn’t augur well for Israel and others in the region; but no less significantly, it sadly doesn’t augur well for the “Facebook generation” of modern, forward-looking Egyptians who took the fight to the authorities, brought the regime down, but now appear set to be overwhelmed by a parliament that for the most part does not reflect their views and aspirations.


About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at