• Reports
  • December 2, 2005
  • 7 minutes read

An Egyptian Secularist Dilemma:

Confirmed By-elections in Egypt
An Egyptian Secularist Dilemma:
Between a Corrupt Government and a Theocratic Government

For many long years the picture in Egypt lacked many parts that prevented it from its characteristics being clear. However, what Egypt has been witnessing this year is only a collection of many parts of this picture, which is about to be complete and clear for a secularist citizen to see and live.

The picture is framed by the detestable Emergency Law that has ruled Egypt for nearly 38 years. In the background there is the complete control of the Egyptian political police over all aspects of life in Egypt. This control is reflected in torture and framing accusations against innocent citizens. It is apparent in the unfair trials and the habit of spying on citizens and violating the privacy of their lives. The few parts that the picture contained until recently represented a regime that excluded the Other. It excluded any Other. It is a regime that does not refrain from using all means and cheap methods to monopolise authority, distort and oppress its opposition, and deprive its people from their simplest rights, the least of which is the right to choose their leader.

Then, the year 2005 came to add more parts to the picture. These included legislative amendments. Superficially, these amendments created a delusion of free, contested presidential elections. In reality, the amendments consolidated the continuation of the corrupt regime’s symbol for many years to come.

The referendum on these amendments was a testing laboratory for new, ignoble means by state security authorities. This was reflected in the sexual harassment of women, trailing opposition on the streets, and preparing thugs and criminals for fights.

The latest of the pieces added to the picture were the recent elections in which the main contesters were the regime – with all its corruption, oppression and new methods, and its competitor that mobilised the Qur’an and calls of expiation and indulgence to enter the fight.

The picture is nearly complete and the evaluations have started
– This is the time of action. Let us ally with the state to confront the fascist theocratic attack
– Theocrats have come through elections. Let us welcome them as a legislative power.
– The state is using suspicion of the integrity of the elections so as to dissolve the parliament and thus waste the opportunity for theocrats.
– Emigration from Egypt is the alternative to being killed at the hands of the theocrats in the streets.
– We have lost and we did not represent a third force that acted as an alternative to the state and the theocrats.
– The state will take off its military cloak and wear a religious one and both will become two faces of the same coin.
These were the reactions to many secularists, pro-democracy thinkers, and human rights activists whose role has been limited to evaluating the picture and analysing it without participating in its making.
What will others do with us? This is the core question.

I recalled my last trip to Iran. There, the people are more secular, while living in a state that raises the banner of religion and the theocratic sword. An Iranian journalist told me that the first years were the most difficult ones. The theocratic force will remain the winning horse as long as he remains an oppressed opposition. The people will not discover the theocratic force’s fake calls and slogans except when it is in power using force and oppression to support it. They will try to impose a positive regime guided by divine teachings. But they will fail. You Egyptians need to surpass your personal fear for your lives. This will be done by giving them their right to rule as long as they have come to power by the will of the people. Either their falseness will be revealed, as happened in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Afghanistan or they will be able to build a system that is void of corruption and oppression or you will accept a model like that of Algeria and live many years in a circle of violence.

It is really a dilemma. One can bet on the current corrupt and oppressive regime on the basis that it might be more merciful than a theocratic regime that might kill the secularists and the communists, imprison liberals and nationals, and oppress the Copts and other religious minorities. Thus, going along with a statement exchanged by several simple citizens during the referendum – “Who we know is better than that who we don’t know” – as a justification for voting “yes” for Mubarak.

Thousands of books and theories have been written by intellectuals and secularists and others to reach the same result as that of the simple citizen: Mubarak with all his oppression is much better than the Islamists who could be just like the Wahabis or those of Tehran and the Taliban.

I oppose Mubarak’s corrupt regime and I suffer from him. Yet, I fear for my life from the regime of the Islamic guide. I hate Kamal al-Shazly and Safwat al-Sherif, yet I dread Abdel Sabour Shahin and Essam al-Aryan. I look up to the public prosecutor, the minister of interior, and minister of justice and I don’t find except Ahmed Seif al-Islam Banna, Muhammad Habib, and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh. I seek consolidation of the principles of justice and human rights – the rights of all humans – and I am confronted with the religious penalties: severing the hands and stoning. I dream of going public with my secularism, yet I am threatened by the prisons of the current regime and the calls of expiation by the coming theocrats.

Both are a dilemma. To live in the shadow of a corrupt regime that violates your humanity or to bless a regime in the doorway that could cut your head off. The current regime is non-democratic and illegitimate: yet it is the closest to legitimacy that could use democracy to impose the shura. We are part of this country. We have contributed to the making of this dark image. This image was not drawn by the Islamists or the government alone. We have all contributed to it.

In order to become effective and in order for us to be consistent with ourselves, let us accept the will of the majority. Let us refuse the Algerian model and accept the result of our passiveness. If the majority, with its free will, brings in the Muslim Brotherhood, then this is better than a corrupt, violating regime that has no majority supporting it. For the Muslim Brotherhood to rule in accordance with the will of the people is better than being ruled by Mubarak using his police. What would be better than both these choices would be to be able to convince the people of a secular democratic rule in which they can contribute.

Gamal Eid,
secular lawyer and an Egyptian human rights activist