An essay on this morning's broadcast of BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent" described two back to back political protests in Egypt. The first was led by moderate academics from Cairo University who called for more political freedoms and less corruption. It attracted about 50 protestors and about five times as many riot police. The second protest was composed of university students from the Moslem Brotherhood, an quasi-banned Islamic fundamentalist group that made gains in recent parlimentary elections. This rally drew 300 students to the square in front of Cairo University, who shouted similar reform slogans , but also held up copies of the Koran. Non-commital students watching from outside the ring of riot police criticized the first protest, stating that the academics were going too far, and also neglecting the importance of Islamic values.
That highly-organized, tightly-bonded hardline Islamic parties are winning elections and gaining supporters across a gradually awakening Middle East should not be a surprise. After all, the U.S. civil rights movement was led by African-American churches, and the ANC struggled for decades as a highly centralized and idealogical guerrilla organization before the collapse of South Africa's apartheid regime. The least corrupt, and most passionately organized groups will be the best at attracting followers who suddently find themselves free to hold political opinions. And in the Middle East, those parties are almost always religious. Policy planners who wished for agnostic political revolutions and election results in the Middle East similar to the hued models of Ukraine and Georgia forgot the vast differences between Kiev and Cairo.
But in a wink to real-politik, those Cairo protestors who adopted a religous mantle to their slogans also must realize that governments who require the backing of Muslim authorities to rule are much less likely to club and imprison moderate protestors holding up copies of the Koran than those holding up law books.