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The popular uprising and military power that brought Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to its knees is worrying political Islamist movements across the region.
ISTANBUL, Turkey — The toppling of an elected Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt, and a subsequent crackdown on its leaders and ranks by the armed forces, is sending a shiver through political Islamists across the region.
From Turkey to Tunisia to Syria, Islamist movements either in power or operating as the political opposition are denouncing the military takeover, which took place Wednesday in Egypt, as a coup.
But after millions took to the streets to unseat now former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, prompting the army’s seizure of power, the Islamists are also worried about potential backlash once they end up in government.
Morsi’s unpopular policies and autocratic ruling style, which appeared to empower Islamist allies at the expense of inclusive governance, galvanized opposition to his presidency in just one short year. He was inaugurated on June 30, 2012, and deposed two days ago on July 3.
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He had granted himself sweeping powers, his office filed charges against activists for “insulting the presidency”, and he rushed through a referendum on a controversial constitution.
Tunisian and Syrian activists inspired by Egypt’s second uprising have already started a petition campaign to gather enough signatures to remove Islamists from power with early elections. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood plays a prominent role in the formal opposition movement.
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In both those countries, political Islamists “have done their utmost to distance their groups from the political tactics used by the Egyptian [Muslim Brotherhood],” said Raphael Lefevre, author of Ashes of Hama: The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
The Syrian Brotherhood’s own spokesman, Zouheir Salem, recently said another candidate that broke from the Brotherhood, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, would have made a better Egyptian president.
But even with these divisions, the Brotherhood’s ouster — the result of popular mobilization and military power — is likely to set a dangerous precedent.
In the days following the coup, Egypt’s military arrested some Brotherhood leaders, suspended the Brotherhood-backed constitution and appointed an interim president that dissolved the Islamist-led parliament.
On the streets of Cairo Friday, army troops fired at pro-Morsi protesters outside a military installation, killing three.
Even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad weighed in with a post on his Facebook page Wednesday, when Egypt’s military deposed Morsi. Assad has presided over a deadly military crackdown on an uprising that later morphed into an Islamist-tinged insurgency, and that has left 93,000 dead across Syria over the past two years.
“Anywhere in the world,” the post said, “whoever uses religion for political aims or to benefit some and not others, will fall.”
The deputy chairman of the Syrian Brotherhood, Ali Bayanouni, and that plays a prominent role in the opposition to Assad, said the dictator “was the first to use Egypt’s situation against us.”
Elsewhere, in Turkey, political figures from the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came out hard against Egypt’s military for the moves.
Mass, countrywide protests recently targeted AKP policies.
Among a number of protester grievances was the AKP’s passage of recent laws limiting the sale of alcohol and the morning-after pill — in a country with a long history of staunch secularism.
The protests, which took place in May and June, have largely died down. But Turkey’s Islamists are well briefed in military interference in politics.
Today, many of the army’s top brass are behind bars for plotting a coup against the elected leadership.
“This coup has also received foreign support,” said AKP spokesman, Huseyin Celik. “Some Western countries have not accepted Muslim Brotherhood’s arrival to power.”
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Secular Tunisians have accused their own ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, of ignoring a growing movement of hardline Islamists that have carried out attacks against cinemas, art galleries and bars since their uprising in 2011.
In February, thousands marched in the streets of Tunis after high-profile human rights activist, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated in the capital — and many accused of Ennahda of failing to find his killer.
Like in Egypt, Ennahda critics say the party also engaged in majority politics, where the Islamist leaders drowned out minority opinions.
“We support governance from the ballot box,” said Fathi El Mahri, the head of Ennahda in the Sousse province. “Morsi was an elected leader through democratic elections — not put there by the army. What about the people who elected him?”
El Mahri said Tunisia’s army stays out of politics, and is unlikely to enter the fray.