I was in Egypt last week to witness the rise of Islam as a political force in the Arab world's most populous country. In the past when I visited Cairo people would only whisper the name of the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood for fear of unwanted attention from the authorities. Not anymore. The movement now stands on the point of sharing power in Egypt and shaping the future of the country and the wider region. The mothership of all Islamist movements, its political offspring have already won office in Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia.
In many ways, the elections in Egypt — the second phase of voting continues today — is a referendum on Islamism. Egyptians told me that they had either voted against the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party or for it. The Brotherhood has taken to Twitter and other media, and its leaders have done walkabouts at the Pyramids to reassure Egypt and the West that it can be trusted.
We should not fear the march of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is far removed from al-Qaeda and the supporters of violent jihad. Despite dreaming of recreating the Caliphate, a state encompassing all the Islamic world, the Brotherhood is deeply pragmatic. It is not about to plunge Egypt into a theocracy where adulterers are stoned and women swathed in burkas. On bread and butter issues — jobs, healthcare, housing and education — Brotherhood policies are hazy but it has a clear platform of stamping out corruption and regenerating the economy. It has vowed not to impose veils or ban bikinis and alcohol, knowing that Egypt needs tourists and that the secular Egyptians of Tahrir Square will revolt if women are forced to wear headscarves.