Should the West Fear or Celebrate Egypt’s Uprising?
For the past ten days Egypt has experienced fear of autocracy, euphoria and fear of chaos. Starting off relatively small, the protests started with a few thousand people on January 25th, then escalated to a thrilling climax on February 1st, when millions of people assembled in Tahrir Square demanding the removal of Hosni Mubarak. After this the demonstrations deteriorated into violence as pro-Mubarak supporters attacked demonstrators.
Despite the violent scenes during the week, the developments in Egypt are welcomed. A nation that has been downtrodden for too long is now tasting freedom. The Arab world is buzzing with expectation, as ageing autocrats are suddenly looking shaky.
The West is juggling stability and democracy and as they struggle to attain balance, the Arab pro-democratic movement appears disturbing. Fearing the vacuum formed by the deterioration of Mubarak’s regime, the West fears the Muslim Brothers, the anti-Western, anti-Israeli opposition. Responding to their fears, the US sees it must redouble its efforts to secure a prolonged managed transition by retaining Mubarak or getting someone else like him at the helm.
Despite the fears of the US and Israel, the popular call for Mubarak to step down offers the Middle East the best chance for reform in decades. The West has been calling for democracy for years and if they fail to support Egyptians in their quest for democratic rule, the arguments of the US for democracy and human rights elsewhere in the world will fall on deaf ears. Egypt is also juggling; it is choosing between risk and stagnation.
The Egyptian protests are not an ‘Islamic’ uprising, but a mass protest of Muslims against an unjust, autocratic regime. The only ‘Islam’ shown throughout the scenes of demonstrators was the peaceful behavior, prayer, determination and resolution of a nation.
The result of these protests will certainly not be a perfectly formed democracy as it is likely that there will be disorder for some time. But on the plus side Egypt, though poor, has a sophisticated elite, a well-educated middle class and strong sense of national pride and these are indicators that Egyptians can pull order out of this chaos.
Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood is grossly overdone as they are respected for their piety, discipline and resilience. The Brotherhood grows with history and is constantly evolving. The movement at the present time can not be equated with its past. Calling for democracy, the voice of the people, free and fair elections, while not nominating any candidate, and having no desire for leadership or even a place in the interim government, the Brotherhood is the level-headed voice in Egypt.
The past few weeks have proved that the Brotherhood is a integral part of Egyptian society and if democracy is to flourish in Egypt, the Brotherhood must be given a voice. The alternative to democracy is a dead end. Egypt under Mubarak has been becoming increasingly repressive, leaving 85m people to live under dictatorship, burdened by a corrupt and brutal police force, the suppression of the opposition, and the torture of political prisoners. This was sufficient fuse to light the uprising.
Despite the obvious difficulties, even a disorderly democracy could eventually be a rich prize—and not just for Egyptians. If Egypt becomes democratic it could once again be a beacon to the region, answering the conundrum of how to incorporate Islam in Arab democracies. An Egyptian government that speaks for its people might contribute to a settlement with the Palestinians more than authoritarianism ever could.
The US has lost much of its credibility in pursuing stability above democracy and it could turn this negative image around by making amends now. As America still has influence with Egypt’s political, business and military elite, it could help speed the transition from autocracy through chaos to a new order and improve its standing in the region.