18 July 2012

The revolution and the reality—why Egypt elected Islamists

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.

But it shouldn't have been. The revolutionaries were mainly young, urban and secular. But most Egyptians are rural, conservative and devoutly Muslim. We heard a great deal about the former in our newspapers and TV—they were creating the action and thereby the news—but very little about the latter, toiling away on their subsistence farms. But when the elections followed the revolution and the masses turned out, the latter emerged in their numbers and had their way.

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.

1 comment:

  1. It's amusing, Bill, how we perceive the evolution of democracy in other lands while ignoring the centuries of struggle we went through to achieve the same thing.

    If we use our own starting point as Magna Carta, 1297, and then fix our democratic arrival at the introduction of universal suffrage in the 20th century, we took more than seven centuries to cross the finish line. And there were plenty of bumps and reversals along the way.

    Yet, in no small measure because they're Muslim, we shine an impossibly harsh light on Arab democracy in its infancy. Aren't we a gaggle of sanctimonious shits?