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The European Institute: Post-Islamic Revolution

Author: Olivier Roy
February, 2011

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Olivier Roy writes that the recent Egyptian revolution hints at a move away from theocratic, Islamic rule in the Middle East.

In trying to interpret the grass-roots revolts in Egypt and elsewhere across North Africa, European public opinion views the situation with a mindset that is 30 years old – essentially based on the Islamic revolution in Iran. So Europeans are now expecting to see Islamist movements – in this case, the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots in neighboring areas – emerge at the head of these current revolts or at least waiting in ambush to seize power from them. People with these expectations have been surprised and worried by the Muslim Brotherhood's low profile and pragmatism so far.  What are the Islamists up to?

Actually, if you look at the people who launched these revolts, it is clear that they represent a “post-Islamist generation.”  For this generation, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are history -- something that mattered to their parents but not to them. This new generation is not interested in ideology, A their slogans are pragmatic and very concrete (like “erhal,” the Arabic word for “get out”). They do not invoke Islam like the older generation did in Algeria in the late 1980s. What they mainly express is rejection of corrupt dictatorships and the demand for democracy. Of course, this battle-cry does not mean that the demonstrators are demanding secularism. It does signify that they do not see Islam as a political ideology that can bring offer a better system for their societies. So the young generations are operating with the idea of a secular political arena. The same change is true for other ideologies: the younger generations are patriotic (as shown by the flag-waving) but they are not nationalistic. Even more surprisingly, they are not listening to conspiracy theories: they are not blaming the U.S. or Israel for what is wrong in the Arab world. (In Tunisia, they are even not blaming France for their problems despite the fact that Paris supported Ben Ali [the now-overthrown Tunisian leader] right to the end. Even “Arab nationalism” had disappeared from the slogans in the street, even though the existence of a “pan-Arab” political ethos can be seen in the copy-cat contagion that spurred Egyptians and Yemenis to revolt in the wake of events in Tunisia.

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