No small amount of surprise was generated by the recent elections in Egypt when Islamist parties swept the parliamentary elections and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won the presidential election. Coming after a revolution conducted by progressive elements, convincing victories for Islamists was unexpected.
The news, with its total emphasis on the revolutionaries, led many to believe the new Egypt would be not only a democratic place but a liberal place. Whether that will happen, even if the country becomes a democracy—and the military will have something to say about that—a lot will depend on the magnanimity of the Islamists, principally the Muslim Brotherhood.
Will, for example, the Brotherhood and their allies promote the equality of women, raising them from the oppressive conditions in which they currently find themselves? Will they guarantee Christians, atheists and others the same rights as Muslims? Will the rule of law trump religious dictate?
Early on, the Brotherhood is indicating they will be accommodating. The attitude of the Egyptian people is, however, not entirely encouraging. Recent surveys indicate that while two-thirds of Egyptians prefer democracy over other systems, two-thirds also believe that Islam should play a major role in politics. Furthermore, 60 per cent believe that laws should strictly follow the Koran. A majority, but not a very convincing one (58 per cent) believe that women should have equal rights to men.
So the Egyptians have a way to go on the road to a free and equitable society. They must overcome first a recalcitrant military to achieve democracy and then an entrenched religious conservatism to achieve full human rights. I wish them success.