It was Lenin who once said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. After decades of stagnation under Mubarak, there could not have been a more fitting description for the events in Egypt of early 2011.
In 18 days, the Middle East experienced a geo-political earthquake. President Hosni Mubarak was successfully overthrown after 30 years in power. Yet what made the events spell-binding was the relative non-violent nature of the protestors, the all-inclusiveness, Muslim-Christian unity, and the communal spirit – an inspiration to the world. After the Pyramids, Tahrir Square became one of the most famous Cairo landmarks and was elevated to the hall of famous squares alongside Tiananmen Square.
After the January overthrow of Tunisia’s leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Middle East experts were appearing and proclaiming that the Mubarak regime would not follow the Tunisian path. Yet what so-called experts and intelligence services could not measure or foresee was the indomitable spirit of a downtrodden people. Once unleashed, people power kept gathering momentum at a formidable pace.
So, where to from here? Can Egypt handle its own version of democracy and put to rest the fears that have done the rounds on the news circuit? While the road ahead will be difficult, it is an absolute essential that a transition to democracy takes place and is supported by the international community.
It is not 1979
Egypt will not befall the same fate as Iran. The constant historical comparisons to 1979 Iran are dubious at best.
The Egyptian military establishment, many in the High Council of the Armed Forces who are old enough to still remember, learnt a valuable lesson from the 1979 Iranian Revolution when senior officers in the Shah’s military played a minimal role in the uprising as various Iranian factions battled each other out for control of the revolution. The secular Egyptian military establishment from the early days of the Egyptian uprising intervened, much to the delight of the protesters, and upon the ousting of Mubarak, have taken up the mantle of transition and stability until a civilian government is elected.
Economic considerations often underpin political considerations. The Iranian analogy does not take into account the vast differences between oil exporting economies and service-driven economies. Iran does not depend on the goodwill of the international community as there will always be customers to buy their oil. Egypt does not have this luxury, and maybe for good reason too, as the tourism industry is Egypt’s lifeblood – the country’s image is paramount in order to attract tourists, thus self-sufficiency is not an option to fall back on for the Islamists if they ever thought of implementing ultra-conservative laws. A national income that depends on tourism, Suez Canal revenue, cotton exports and so forth propels Egypt into the world’s inter-connectedness of economic and social networks.
Moreover, it was Facebook and Twitter that played a large part in facilitating the revolution and bringing Egyptians from all walks of life onto Tahrir Square and beyond. An optimistic sign as no political party or ideology could claim credit.
To group the Muslim Brotherhood with other Islamist movements such as Hamas, is to group Europe’s Christian Democrats with the US Evangelical Right. The organisation had denounced violence long ago, and has stuck to it. A diversity of members, especially the younger guard, cooperates with Egypt’s Coptic Christian community and women's groups.
The only solution to address fears of an Islamist takeover, real or imagined, is to open up the political space to the Brotherhood in a pluralistic process. Mubarak’s regime inflated the fear in order to offer the West himself as the only viable alternative. Democracy will be the great leveller, and a vibrancy of newer political parties will enable Egyptians to choose those with the most promising policies. If the party makes a mess of things, then they are voted out. If recent events are any clue, Egyptians have lost their fear to address corruption and mismanagement head-on.
The Peace Process
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