Wednesday, 2 February 2011

What Sort Of Revolution In Egypt?

As the chaos in Egypt rumbles on, there are those in the media who appear hopeful that the revolution we are now witnessing will lead to an ill-defined, flowering "democracy" in the region.

While the Mubarak regime is indeed oppressive, is the opposition really capable of producing the kind of truly free state that some people think it can? I see no reason to believe so. Some analysts have shrugged off the suggestion that this is an Islamic Revolution, citing many secular justifications made by protestors for their actions, and pointing out that hardline Islamic groups have not been front and centre during these demonstrations.

And yet, as far as I can see, the opposition really has no organised centre or figurehead. Mohamed ElBaradei, the media's darling of the moment, is a nobody who has barely set foot inside Egypt during the last 20 years. The only group that has any kind of significant following at all is the Muslim Brotherhood, described at as "the most important representative of the Egyptian masses" today. The Brotherhood, as Kamal El-Helbawy, a member and former spokesman affirmed recently, would seek to implement sharia law in Egypt if it took power, as long as "the majority of the people and democratic practice allows it". Despite his further equivications, this would be a very, very bad thing, since no version of sharia exists which actually promotes the real freedom and equality necessary to govern a true democracy.

And would the majority of the Egyptian people allow sharia law to take hold? There is plenty of evidence to suggest so. Widespread popular support for the Brotherhood can be viewed in conjunction with the fact that a 2007 of Maryland survey found that of a representative sample of 1000 Egyptian Muslims, at least 50% and as many as 74% expressed a desire to implement "strict" Islamic law in every Muslim country. These findings are backed up by the results of a study by another respected polling organisation, the Pew Research Centre, who found that "At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion."

What we can draw from this is that even if the majority of Egypt's Muslims don't have any specific urge to get the Muslim Brotherhood into power, if such a thing was to happen (which seems inevitable eventually given the paucity of any other organised opposition to the current regime), they would have no problem at all living with it. Such an outcome would, of course, be detrimental to women and non-Muslims, and would render Egypt an enemy of Western democracies, since we cannot coexist in friendship alongside countries whose core values so drastically contravene universal standards of human rights (Egypt is bad enough already in this regard).

The long and short of it is this: It is true that the opposition protests in the country are not primarily religious in character right now. But then, neither was the Iranian Revolution to begin with. While what we are witnessing did not begin as an Islamic Revolution, I believe that it will end up as one. Time will tell.

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