What's All This Then?

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It’s been an interesting three weeks to say the least. I have been tempted to join the countless pundits and politicians who have been filling the airways and the Internet with their observations and opinions about what has been happening in Egypt, but I have resisted, preferring to watch events unfold and to listen to those actually involved in the struggle and to the observations in the Mideast On Target news letter that I receive from time to time.

I was impressed with the wall to wall coverage of CNN and MSNBC. The reporting seemed honest and void of any opinion that clashed with the pictures and voices being beamed into our homes. Not quite the same on Fox New to which I switched from time to time. On the first couple of visits to that cable station, I was greeted with discussions of what was going on at C-PAC followed by O’Reilly talking endlessly about and playing clips of his pre-Super Bowl interview of the President, which I’m given to understand he continues to do on his nightly show. Sean Hannity’s program however was indeed concerned with little else but the events unfolding in Egypt except rather than reporting on the day to and hour to hour story of the uprising, it was filled with warnings of impending disaster. We heard about the Muslim Brotherhood and how "X" many Egyptians favored Sharia Law and cutting off the hands of thieves and how many supported Al Qaeda and were against peace with Israel and men and women working together and on and on. In other words, according to Hannity and perhaps Fox News, there was nothing to celebrate about the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and the possibility, however slim, that true democracy might come to that ancient land.

The question now of course - the question being asked by every serious reporter and sober observer is - what happens next? While not echoing Hannity’s apocalyptic views of a future Egypt, other voices are urging caution in our approval of what appears to be a popular, secular movement. In a Mideat on Target newsletter written before Mubarak resigned, Israeli commentator Yisrael Ne’eman wrote
"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." And "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."
I don’t have any special knowledge of how big an influence Islam has on Egyptian life and what role it might play in Egypt’s political future, but there were some pictures during the eighteen day uprising that gave some hints. There was a popular revolution unfolding before our eyes when suddenly everything was put on hold as though in response to a secret signal and thousands of people stopped protesting and prostrated themselves on the ground in prayer. And for the planned demonstration that was to take place on a Friday - that took place "after prayers." It would seem that Islam has a very definite influence on how people behave in Egypt.

In the country where I spent my youth, there is actually an "official" religion and one of the Queen’s titles is "Defender of the Faith." But while everything might stop for tea in England - a pleasant and partially true myth - there is never any obvious sign of the nation’s "official" Christian faith to be seen in the street or any place else outside of churches. Surprisingly, the religion that one does see on the streets of London and other British cities is - Islam. I can’t testify how it is in other countries where there is a substantial Islam minority, but in England it is an "in your face" religion. Not long ago, newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron, addressed that phenomenon with a speech in Munich, Germany in which he condemned the nation’s long standing policy of multiculturalism as a failure He was speaking of the nation’s Muslims whose first loyalty is to their religion rather than to their country.

Other leaders have since echoed the same sentiment, including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. If the leaders of England, France and Germany recognize the dangerous disconnect between loyalty to Islam and the obligations of citizenship under secular governance - one wonders what kind of secular democracy can exists with an overwhelming Muslim society.

The nation most concerned with what kind of government will eventually arise in Egypt - nonsensical comments by some American pundits about the danger of us "losing" Egypt notwithstanding - is Israel. Oddly enough, it is Israel that could provide a model that the Egyptians could follow as they struggle to achieve a kind of society that they have never known. Israel has its own version of religious extremism in the form of ultra orthodox Jews who almost form a society within a society.. Yet they participate politically and have representation in the Knesset and are able to exert a certain amount of influence on governmental policy. The last time I looked, Israel was a thriving democracy, able to deal with the ultra religious in their midst.

Of course there is an great deal of difference between orthodox Judaism and Islam, but each presents a problem to the health of a democratic society. Israel has many problems with its orthodox Jews - but in the 62 years of its existence, has managed to maintain a balance between the secular and religious aspects of its society and remain democratic. Whether or not an Arab nation that has never known democracy and where adherence to the dictates of the Koran is widespread can actually achieve what those crowds in Tahrir Square seemed to be saying they were willing to sacrifice their lives for remains to be seen. But whatever they do, it will be without the advice and opinion of pundits from outside the country - and fortunately for them, they don’t give a damn what Sean Hannity or Glen Beck say about what’s likely to happen or what their uprising really means.