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What Does Tahrir Square Want Now?

Signs point to MB popularity but also to rise of secularism

by
Marc Tracy
April 08, 2011
Protesters in Tahrir Square—not in January or February, but today.(Reuters/LAT)

Protesters in Tahrir Square—not in January or February, but today.(Reuters/LAT)

They are still there, in Tahrir Square: Tens of thousands arrived today after Friday prayers, and while their main, most immediate demand is trials for members of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime (including Mubarak himself), the unavoidable subtext are the upcoming elections, which, after last month’s referendum, will be held as soon as September—as both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood wanted, and as nascent secular, liberal parties do not.

David Ignatius reports that while some important liberal voices have cropped up—he cites the Social Democratic Party, the Egyptian Liberal Party, and the leftist Popular Alliance—it is clear that, particularly among the poor of Cairo (which is to say, the folks who end up deciding elections), the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties are making the most headway, in part with appeals to keeping Egypt a Muslim nation in the face of a (fabricated) threat from Coptic Christians. Indeed, if the Brotherhood does not end up with much power following elections, it is much more likely that it will be because the Islamist vote was split among several parties, and even several factions of the Brotherhood itself, than because great masses of voters turned out for secular candidates. Many have said for months now that the best-case scenario for Egypt is something like Turkey’s AKP: Inherently Islamist, but moderately so; a thorn in Israel’s side (and to a lesser extent the West’s), but not a genuine enemy. Dissent’s Juliana DeVries reminds us, however, that the AKP is still way behind when it comes to the rights of minorities, including women.

That said, there is some cause for optimism. The leading presidential candidate is Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister and Arab League head, who is basically a secular guy, and his Wafd party, which is secular, was the most popular party according to one U.N.-commissioned poll. And that same poll found 63 percent of Egyptians in favor of maintaining peace with Israel. Developing …

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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