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What's it mean that an Islamist rules Egypt?

Egypt's President Morsi moved to consolidate his power this weekend. Here's what Morsi and the new Islamist politicians in Tunisia and Libya want to do.

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Salafis confronted police during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, in February. Salafists want their country to adhere to sharia or Islamic law.

Amine Landoulsi/AP/file

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Editor's Note: Over the weekend Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood sacked most of Egypt's senior military leaders, setting off a flurry of speculation about the presidents powers and the extent to which his Islamist movement will try to transform society. The following article was written for the Monitor's weekly magazine before the events of this weekend, and looks at Islamist movements across the region. It provides context for the unfolding story in Egypt.

Gender segregation as practiced in Saudi Arabia. A ban on drinking alcohol in public. Rolling back women's rights. Outlawing offense to religion.

For decades, dictators across the Arab world warned that this is what awaited their citizens if the region's Islamist movements gained power. Now that those dictators are gone, the Islamists they oppressed are entering politics amid excitement and scrutiny. Many still wonder what they intend. Governance offers them a chance to experiment and evolve.

Tunisia and Egypt have arrived at their first test: writing new constitutions. Libya is expected to join them soon. Voters are watching closely to see how Islamist parties address issues such as women's rights, free speech, and the role of sharia.

Sharia is often translated as "Islamic law," but it is more than that. It is a comprehensive understanding of how Islam guides life, from legislation to personal behavior. There are myriad interpretations of what that means.

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