Author’s Note: It is imperative that one comes to the following with the jaundiced view shared by this space that in no way do we think there was, is and will be anything truly binding to this fourth or fifth Arab Spring in Egypt. Mostly, these people are nuts. This is no way to run a democracy; incessant revolution is bad for commerce, tourism and general stability, and if history has taught us anything—and that concept only works if you know anything about past events that almost always affect current ones—then Egypt may well go the way of 19th century France or 20th century Russia. It was difficult for anyone to fathom the volatile nature of those places and the volumes of gibberish it produced from people who lived through it, much less those with the clarity of hindsight. Let’s just say if the entire place isn’t burned to the ground by late-October it is a victory for the human race. Now carry on…
The current chaos that is Egypt provides juicy insight into how a 21st century Middle East democracy can run; either as an extension of the fourth century tribal councils that dominate a fair portion of the region or some semblance of a secular law-based structure which might serve as example and catalyst to the world stage.
Granted, the former has had a tremendous head start. Tribal councils are pretty straightforward and have little room for messy things like debate, dissent, diversity, human rights or, god forbid, voting. Hard-line is easy; it’s the way things have been done and the guys in charge use mystical reams of holy rhetoric and violence to keep the occasional “How about we try…” set in line. Democracy, with its handing over major decisions on ideological concerns to the greater populace, is dangerous for any culture; even those not mired in the whole pre-enlightenment milieu.
Unlike Israel, which had partial democracy heaped upon it by world war, genocide, colonialism and the inevitable march of progress, Egypt has exhibited an insularly deliberate crawl into the values of individual freedoms. The Egyptian model is unique. It comes—with all due respect to the piles of money it receives to make nice-nice with super powers—from an internal will to balance its religious traditions with its yearning to grant a voice to all its people.
However, unlike Israel, the echo of puppet regimes and violent upheavals surrounding its boarders has given the nation pause. There has never been a sense that Islam is without its influence in Egypt. On the contrary, it lives and breathes within its tenuous democratic construct in a far more powerful way than the nationalistic fervor of the Zionists. One does not get the sense that the bankrolled democracy of Israel is flexible in the way it perceives its sovereignty or its separation from its enemies, which is every bordering state.
Egypt is bipolar; even in its geographical location—the cultural origins of Africa mired in Middle Eastern turmoil; loaded with oil and little else, save for a tourism trade slowly eroded over the years with a growing western sense that its potential dangers outweigh its seductive landscape.
Its generational gap is growing, and with it an embrace of the type of technologies which obliterate superstitions that oppress women, art, press, and general free expression. As in all nations teetering on social revolution, the world’s alternative visions wash over Egyptian youth with reckless abandon. And unlike the outrage aimed at western ideals and culture prevalent in the 1979 Iranian revolution, Egyptian youth do not appear to be sated by returning to the purity of the past.
The Egyptian people, made up of some Christians, but mostly Muslims, and within the Islamic faith, the Salafis, Sunnis, Sufis, have not yet found a common ground democratically. The question for them, as it was in the first Arab Spring over two and a half years ago, is to choose a religious-based society run by a religious-based government or one democratic secular state that respects all sects and faiths and moves the evolution of free thinking forward. This was, allegedly, the nation’s aim when booting its previously democratically elected president, Hosni Mubarak, in favor of a new order, dissolved parliament and restructured constitution.
However, after a military “handling” of a special election, the Salafi-led Muslim Brotherhood movement took the reins of the fractured parliament with less than 50 percent of the national will and then propped its new president (receiving barely 51 percent of the vote), Mohamed Morsi, into power. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, wholly unpopular among the rankled 49 percent from day one, began to run things as if they had been handed one of those tribal council type deals and this was not going to fly with a country still stinging from the street protests that captured the world enough for the military to act in ousting Mubarak in the first place.
Egypt is suddenly faced with a singular religious dilemma in its burgeoning if not slightly off-kilter democracy. The Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood “experiment” was a bust. The near-majority of the nation now roundly rejects the running of things by order of the Qur’an, including state-sanctioned crimes against non-Salafi citizens. But what is the choice? To fully separate a deeply-held religious base from the public sector; respect its moral and traditional tenets, but keep it where it belongs in mosques and homes and not in the building of roads, delivering of mail or especially the law of the land. Or give up.
This begs the question: Can Egypt truly be a model for the rest of the region’s view of democracy? A far more organic and sane template than the war-ravaged, westernized abomination in Iraq formulated by aging, white, Anglo-Saxon Cold War relics at the barrel of a gun?
It is, unfortunately, the barrel of the gun that rules the near complete anarchy that has exploded on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and many cities across Egypt now that the military has once again taken charge; failing to give into semantics that the country has suffered its second military coup in two years and faces sanctions from its benefactors, including a scrambling U.S. that appears it will continue to send its $1.6 billion of “aid” to its tenuous ally if an exhumed mummy ran the place.
Although half the country losing an election, throwing a hissy fit and forcing the army to take over the government does not a democracy make, this could well be Egypt’s chance to stand up for the human condition in a region ravaged by civil rights atrocities and religious madness. It is a chance, as rare as they come, to shift the course of history and find a legitimate, internal, democratic form of government which represents the whole of the people against the myths of religion and tyrannical traditions that conspire to strangle liberty.