Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Ron Smith: Egyptian Revolution: where to from hereLabels: Democracy, Egypt, Fundamentalism, Middle East, Ron Smith
For present purposes, I am taking it that by ‘democracy’ we mean something more than occasional expressions of popular opinion. Rather, the permanent establishment of institutions which protect human and political rights, equally for men and women, and freely-elected representation.
A crucial factor in the North Africa/Middle East case is the dominating influence of Islam, which, in its traditional form, implies a coincidence between religion and politics and mandates Sharia Law. The extent to which this factor dominates will determine the character of the regime and the extent to which we might describe it as a democracy.
As matters stand, there seem to be three scenarios for Egypt, which might also apply (to a greater or lesser extent) to the other cases:
· Interim arrangements, mediated by the Army (with other remnants of the Mubarak regime in the background), result in free-elections from which a secular, representative government emerges.
· This process is ‘captured’ by Islamic fundamentalist interests (Muslim Brotherhood), which then establishes an Islamic state, perhaps through a manipulated process, as in Iran. A theocratic state could also arise, progressively or immediately, from the exercise of a free choice.
· The Army mediates a process which effectively continues the ‘martial law’ situation that has persisted in Egypt for the last thirty years. Protestors in the ‘square’ are divided and marginalised (by doing a deal with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood for more recognition of Sharia Law and by emphasising the mounting economic damage that continuing protest is doing)
Obviously, the security implications for Israel and the West are enormously different in each case. The appearance of a fundamentalist Egypt, dedicated (as Iran is) to the advancement of the universal caliphate and the destruction of Israel, would end any prospect of a settlement of the Palestinian problem, increase the threat of terrorism and threaten oil supplies from the Middle East. At the very least, it may be presumed that such a government in Egypt would abrogate the present peace treaty between that country and Israel and cease its cooperation with the Israeli authorities over ‘supplies’ to Gaza.
An end-point in which a military-backed, persistent ‘transitional’ government is established, may have some of the above Islamic flavour, depending on the extent to which it depends on Muslim Brotherhood support. On the other hand, such an administration may not be so different from what has gone before, if it is successful in improving security within the country and, particularly, if it improves economic and social conditions.
Clearly, the ‘democratic’ outcome envisaged in the first scenario above, would offer the least threat to Israel and the West and would attract the greatest support from those parties. It might also support a trend in this notoriously undemocratic part of the world towards greater respect for human rights, and, greater tolerance for difference and plurality.
But which is the more likely? Insofar as this will be driven by popular sentiment, there are some clues in the behaviour of the crowds in relation to foreign media, and in the results of such surveys of public opinion as have been undertaken in Egypt (and other Muslim countries). Notwithstanding pro-democracy sentiment and calls for freedom, differences in the crowds have been settled by violence, and journalists from UK and US have been beaten up, whilst the Army stood by, and then taken into custody for interrogation by the authorities. There is a lot of anti-western sentiment.
Again, opinion surveys seem to show that whilst there is support for ‘democracy’ and antagonism to ‘Islamic extremism’, there is also strong support in Egypt for a bigger role in government for Islam and, specifically, for traditional Islamic punishments, such as stoning for adultery, cutting off the hands of thieves, and for death for apostates. We might also notice here that the secular democracy of turkey (as established by Kamal Attaturk, a hundred years ago) is increasingly under threat from the election of Islamist parties.
It would clearly be good for the Egyptian people to have an opportunity to opt for and to sustain democracy, but it may be doubted whether the opportunity will be presented, or if it is, whether it will be taken. In the circumstances, the best we might hope for (for ourselves and the Egyptians) is some sort of continuation of the present authoritarian regime, which attempts to slowly increase public participation and improve the lives of Egyptian people, whilst resisting the encroachment of fundamentalism, and protecting a major part of the cultural history of the world.
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