Since the military overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s government in early July, the rhetoric by critics of the Muslim Brotherhood has been vitriolic and relentless. The campaign has sought to delegitimize the Islamist movement, and in fact, negate its Egyptian identity. Morsi himself has been charged with espionage and serving foreign interests. The general prosecutor has accused Muslim Brotherhood supporters of hiring Syrian and Palestinian mercenaries. Partisans of the army-led government, including some familiar “democracy” activists, have repeatedly called for additional crackdowns on Islamists. More often than not, Muslim Brotherhood members are portrayed in juxtaposition to ordinary Egyptians, rather than among the people, and as a “cancer” that must be removed at all costs.
As the Arab world continues to politically devolve following the revolutions of 2011, it seems that a new fascism is becoming en vogue. In many ways, a response to the rise of religious supremacy over the past three decades, the ideology is predicated on a foundation of hypernationalism whereby the state is paramount, and any intellectual contestation is met with rhetorical — if not legal — excommunication. As the dust settles, a shrinking political class of moderate Islamists and liberals are increasingly caught between these dueling ideologies and their proponents.
This religious supremacy, or Islamism, has its roots in the modern Middle East in a seminal work by Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood leader imprisoned and executed in Egypt in the 1960s. In "Signposts along the Road" (or Milestones), Qutb intellectually grounds the rejection of fellow Muslims in a process of delegitimization, or takfir. This ideology went into overdrive with the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the subsequent jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, both of which laid the groundwork for Islamism as a modern political movement.
The continuum of Islamism has always been expansive, so it is sometimes hard to differentiate what constitutes the extremist elements of the political community as opposed to more moderate forces. In post–Saddam Hussein Iraq, the philosophy of takfir descended to a new level with the dehumanization of other Muslim groups, with authorization to kill those deemed takfiris. Yet, Morsi, allegedly a mainstream Islamist, sat applauding the same rhetoric targeting Shiites by preachers in relation to the Syrian conflict, illustrating how difficult it can be to draw distinctions.
With the rise of Islamism, most regimes in the region — lacking a real contesting ideology in response — felt compelled to peddle hollow exhortations of bygone regionalism, or pan-Arabism. Direct attacks on Islamism would have run the risk of alienating their Muslim populations. In this space and amid the tumult of the last two years during which Islamists have grown increasingly unpopular after ascending from the opposition to seats of power, religious supremacy has finally met its match — hypernationalism. In effect, takfir is now being opposed with takhwin, the delegitimization of opponents of the state as traitors of the national cause....
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