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28 February 2011

The Egyptian revolution and Moderate Muslims الثورة المصرية ومعتدلة مسلم

الثورة المصرية ومعتدلة مسلم
Hawks and neocons in America need to acknowledge that much-needed political reform in this part of the world does not depend on outside pressure, but on the internal demands within each country and the will of its people.

By Anthony Galli
I RECALL a study a few years ago that reported that while it is true that the vast of majority of Muslims in the world are moderate, which validates my own experience, the majority of this moderate populace is not liberal, which unfortunately also validates my own experience.
Moderate’ here simply means not believing that violence should be used to advance political or religious goals (i.e. not violently spreading Islamic rule and Sharia around the world), believing that non-Muslims should only embrace Islam through their own free will. This does not mean that all moderates are against authoritarian government per se. Nor that they necessarily support equal rights for women and religious minorities, universal access to education, birth control, or freedom of choice in marriage and other social matters.
What this does mean is that a democracy, which at minimum is defined as majority-rule, can exist and not necessarily be liberal. As I’ve argued before, if most citizens in a country do not believe in liberal policies, it is not feasible, or democratic, for a minority in power to try to implement a political revolution in that direction, especially if they are seen as westernised and part of the privileged elite class.
Perhaps liberalism is a purely ‘western’ idea. Perhaps it has no place in the Muslim world, or in any traditional, non-western society, although
one could argue that during the rule of the early caliphs Muslim society was indeed more democratic than despotic governments in the Middle East today.

One of the oldest critiques of democracy is that it could lead to mob rule. As the biologist E.O. Wilson noted, lower species like ants, while not smart individually, do show collective intelligence, whereas humans seem to display just the opposite. When a crowd is angry, it’s not difficult for a few clever manipulators to sway it; group prejudice and scapegoating come into play. Most of Roman education focused on rhetoric, and it’s not surprising that their leaders felt it was important to be skilled at articulation. Is this any different from unscrupulous, silver-tongued politicians today, or slick lawyers who can convince juries to convict the innocent or let off the guilty?
Only a rational public, unswayed by emotional manipulation, can make sound choices in a democracy, if it is to benefit its members. I would add, too, that it depends on a population that isn’t overworked, underpaid, insecure in their job situation, or full of debt, with enough free time to contemplate, deliberate, inform themselves, and participate fully in the political arena. This has been America’s big hurdle to overcome.
America, with all its advantages, is struggling to get its economy moving again and needs to reform its political system to curtail the regressive influence of big moneyed lobbies hounding its Congress. However much anger its foreign policy generates in the Muslim world, it cannot be denied that America is a social experiment that is continually evolving, and other emerging democracies still, despite its diminishing prestige, watch it closely, look towards it for guidance, and learn from its excesses. Liberalism, like democracy itself, might be more an ideal to aim for, more than other else.
Egypt is not so much a poor country, as one which has had much of its wealth plundered by kleptocracy (sound familiar?). And while Cairo is a comparatively liberal city for the region, and is a large film hub, this does not necessarily reflect the cultural realities of Egypt as a whole.
Despite disparities in wealth, there are some uniting factors in the country, which the Mubarak regime no doubt used to good effect. Egypt, like many Arab countries, trafficks in anti-Semitic and racist propaganda. It has a history of oppressing religious minorities. Most Egyptians believe that a Muslim who converts should be killed. A popular government there might not survive if it allows freedom of religion and doesn’t kowtow to the ultra-conservative ulema.
These are not uneducated people; in fact, Egypt has a high rate of Ph.D holders. But the education Egyptians have received has been rather unbalanced, focusing mainly on applied science. Scientific research and the arts and humanities have been less emphasised, or not emphasised at all, in government-run schools. The thousands of Al Azhar schools teach an old curriculum that mainly focuses on religious subjects, and little on that which enables students compete in the modern global economy. They pressure the government to limit free speech, and do not foster a spirit of free inquiry essential to the success of universities the world over. And due to the imbalance in quality education, tutoring services proliferate at a high rate, with a majority of students now attending private tuitions.
This is a consequence of a country ruled by a government that may have been secular, but not necessarily progressive or democratic.
Educational reform is the key, and isn’t likely to happen without accountable leaders.
With rule of law and equality at least among the majority Muslims — assuming women get to enjoy these rights too — Egypt can progress.
More importantly, this recent democracy movement, which started in Tunisia, rocked Egypt, and is now influencing protests in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, and is likely to spread to other parts of the Middle East and the Muslim world, did not result from the intervention of the US military, violent protests or terrorism. If democracy spreads, it was not because of any domino effect caused by the war in Iraq, or any other nation-building efforts.
Hawks and neocons in America need to acknowledge that much-needed political reform in this part of the world does not depend on outside pressure, but on the internal demands within each country and the will of its people.
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