Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s victory in Egypt’s presidential election will deal yet another blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose once formidable political machine has been in shambles since the Egyptian military ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last July. Although Sisi has effectively been running the country since the coup he initiated as commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces, the election -- extended into a third day of voting amid low turnout -- will undoubtedly formalize an authoritarian regime that is a military dictatorship in all but name.
On its face, the election represents a clear victory for secular authoritarianism over moderate Islamism. After all, Sisi campaigned on a platform of annihilating the Brotherhood. Although the military will claim victory, however, the election may have another, less obvious beneficiary: militant Islamist groups. From al Qaeda’s perspective, the election results have validated its core ideological claim that violence -- rather than peaceful participation in politics -- is the only way to build an Islamic state.
The evident failure of the Brotherhood’s political strategy presents al Qaeda and like-minded groups with an opportunity to reverse the setbacks they suffered as a result of the Arab Spring protests in 2011. The success of those protests, which were overwhelmingly peaceful and nonideological, appeared to refute the jihadist claim that change can be achieved only through violence. But since then, the overthrow of a democratically elected Islamist president in Egypt, the criminalization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the arbitrary detention of thousands of its members have played directly into the hands of extremists.
For one, in the immediate aftermath of the July coup, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s Egyptian-born head, and other jihadist leaders were able to blame the Brotherhood’s downfall on its abandonment of violence in favor of political participation. Jihadists could likewise point to the military’s brutal crackdown on pro-Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo on August 14, in which over 500 people were killed. Rather than tamp down on radicalization, the military’s heavy-handedness vandalism, and torching police vehicles. Meanwhile, a number of new jihadist groups have carried out a wave of armed attacks and suicide bombings outside the Sinai Peninsula, and are increasingly threatening urban areas far west of the Suez Canal.
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