February 13, 2011

Egypt: Another Iran In The Making?

Now that Mubarak has stepped down, what will happen in Egypt? That’s the question we all are asking ourselves. More precisely: What will the new Egyptian government look like? And what will be the role of the Muslim Brotherhood? Needless to say, as many international observers—including the Italian doyen of political scientists, Giovanni Sartori—have pointed out, the risk now is that a second Iran might be born.

Like the Shah Reza Pahlavi before him, Mubarak has been a loyal ally of the West. Also on the list of likenesses between the two stories is that the Shah, besides being the first Muslim leader to recognize the State of Israel, went down in history for countless clashes with radical Islamists, and Mubarak, in turn, banned the Muslim Brotherhood (which presents itself as the moderate face of Islam but supports Hamas in Palestine) and strengthened relations with Israel. We know how things went in Iran.

Perhaps it is true that, as Scott Atran put it, the Muslim Brotherhood is not to be feared because it is “marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading through the Arab world.” Or perhaps Caroline Glick was right when she wrote, “If the (Egypt) regime falls, the successor regime will not be a liberal democracy. Mubarak’s military authoritarianism will be replaced by Islamic totalitarianism.” What I know is that, according to a survey conducted in Egypt—and in six other majority Muslim countries—by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “at least three-quarters” of Muslims in Egypt say

they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.

The survey also finds that

Muslim publics overwhelmingly welcome Islamic influence over their countries’ politics. In Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan, majorities of Muslims who say Islam is playing a large role in politics see this as a good thing, while majorities of those who say Islam is playing only a small role say this is bad for their country.

Yet, when asked for their views about democracy, majorities in most of the Muslim communities surveyed say that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government… Maybe this means that—whatever President Obama may think about the Egypt crisis—we should start asking ourselves to what extent their way to think of democracy is compatible with ours. In the meantime, I can’t help recalling what an Egyptian student had to say about this whole matter, a story very different from what most of us have been seeing on television or reading in our papers. However, and in any event, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best, no matter what our personal beliefs (or disbeliefs) may be.