ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Egypt: Revolution or a "Correction"? 2.2.11

Egypt: Revolution or a "Correction"?


2 February 2011

By Yisarel Ne'eman

Massive demonstrations are rocking Egypt for a week already – with the single agreed upon demand that Pres. Hosni Mubarak must resign. No doubt the Mubarak administration was downright oppressive. Sparked by the Tunisian example forcing Pres. Ben Ali from power the Egyptian public collected the courage needed to confront Mubarak's dictatorship where elections are rigged (the last one just this past November) and the regime is propped up by the Muhbarat internal security police and the military. This regime is a continuation of the 1952 Free Officers Revolution led by the famed Gamal Abdul Nasser. Anwar Sadat succeeded Nasser and Mubarak was Vice President when Sadat was assassinated in 1981. None allowed for democracy and the regime became more unpopular over the years, in particular as corruption abounded and socio-economic reforms failed. Nasser originally came into power promising the people power and a better life and now almost sixty years later Mubarak represents the colossal failure of the Arab nationalist movement.

Essentially in the Arab world there are two forms of rule, neither democratic. We are either speaking of a form of secular military dictatorship as we see in Egypt, and let's remember that Mubarak was commander of Egypt's air force before entering politics, or rule by Islamists. One might counter that monarchies exist such as in Jordan and Morocco, but here too they are dependent on the military and an assortment of police forces, secret or otherwise.

The question of "the will of the people" has been raised constantly over the past few weeks, whether in relation to Tunisia, Egypt or other Arab countries likely to be affected by the revolt on the Nile. The people are united in demanding the fall of the present regime led by Mubarak and there appears little doubt the scenario will be completed. The question is, "What next?"

Watching the protests on AlJazeera one gets the impression that it is all about freedom, liberty and democracy. True there are certain educated youth who understand these concepts but they are far from indicative of the whole. Organizing through "Facebook," "Twitter" and the internet they were the first to protest, but they themselves are not an integral political movement. Small ideological cadres bent on forcing socio-economic and of course political change make revolutions and in the ensuing upheaval remove the previous power, bringing their own ideals to the fore. Hence it was with the French (1789), Russian-Bolshevik (1917), Moaist Chinese (1949) and Iranian (1979) Revolutions just to name a few. All were ideologically driven by "purist" understandings whether it be rationalism, communism or religion – Islam in this case.

Destroying the old regime is the first step, but how does one rally around the new one? More often than not there are varying ideologies and loose coalitions assembled to oust the former oppressors. Representatives of these differing perspectives form alliances to rule in the glow of victory, after all, they were shoulder to shoulder battling the old regime. But this is only the beginning. One of the groups may appear dominant but allows for joint process during the transitional, moderate period. The most solidified of the ideological hard line groups will garnish popular support and turn on the others. This often leads to a reign of terror and destruction of all other opposition forces whether they be remnants from the old guard or previous allies hailing from the grand coalition responsible for the fall of the government. The Iranian Revolution as of late was an excellent example of such events.

As far as the Egyptians are concerned there is no multi-ideological forum to choose from. The call for democracy may be bantered about, but the only solidified deep rooted ideological understandings are those of Islam, or in this case the Muslim Brotherhood, begun in Egypt in 1928 under Sheikh Hassan al-Banna. Liberal democracy is not a realistic option, as much as the West wants it to be. It is understood to clash with Islam and is often condemned as paganism or idolatry. "Islam is the Answer" is a well known slogan. Islam is not only a religion but an entire lifestyle and value system. Humans are responsible for liberal democracy while Islam is ordained by Allah. There is no comparison especially if one did not grow up in reverence of rational thinking and individual human rights.

Human rights and democracy can be slogans for overthrowing the regime, as is most likely, however they will not be the foundations of the next Egyptian government. Some ask whether the Islamists would be adverse to using a democratic apparatus to gain power. Opinions are split, but it appears they would. The precedent setting alliance with the West and in particular the US when working to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s is given as an example. Nowadays Islamists speak of defeating those temporary liberal democratic allies of yesteryear.

Those who are truly dedicated to democracy are first loyal to that system of self-rule, the political party – whether of a religious nature or not, is subservient to the democratic state and not vice-versa. Devout Muslims understand Islam itself to be the state and not just one variation or political perspective within the national elective structure. Islam is not to be voted into power or out of power – Islam is the power, an eternal one. Anything else is a contradiction of the Koran and Sharia law as given by Allah. From an Islamist point of view democracy is a tool to be used to the reigns of state and then one liquidates the tool. Using democracy can give one a tactical advantage if one does not have the backing necessary to attain power immediately. It also can be legislated out of existence (see the German example of the 1930s) or limited to the point of elimination where only approved Islamic candidates can run for public office – just ask the Iranians.

The military is not interested in a democratic system either, but can go through the pretenses of having one, rigging elections as Egypt and the Arab world have done until now. Or you can take your example from Hezbollah and shoot your way into power as happened in 2008 or take a softer approach and only threaten to use force like Hassan Nasrallah did this past month resting on his reputation of being good to his word.

The democratic option is barely viable. Most likely we are looking at a "correction" with the removal of Mubarak, at least in the short run. The military will impose its will while gaining the support of the people and some sort of reforms will take place allowing for more Islamic influence. Whether it will be a transitional regime or become solidified in place is impossible to know at this stage.

On the other hand, should the Muslim Brotherhood gain control of the Egyptian State either through street power or elections their loyalty will not be to democracy. We could be looking at a rerun of the Iranian revolution, even if somewhat less intense. Should that be the case relations with the West will be very difficult and the litmus test will be whether Egypt cancels its peace agreement with Israel, something the Muslim Brotherhood has promised to do should they attain office.

No doubt the West wants to see a "correction" whereby the military remains in control but allows for more freedoms and a gradual move towards a more democratic framework. Add to this the grand hopes of secular liberalism. In all scenarios Mubarak is finished along with much of the old guard. The West and Israel in particular just hope that the international stability projected by Egypt since the mid-1970s is not overthrown with Mubarak & Co. the man and regime so completely identified with those policies.

Egypt is the lynchpin to the Middle East. Whatever happens in Cairo reverberates throughout the Arab and Muslim world. To ensure stability the West wants a step by step process, not a revolution.