Little hope shines forth from Egypt

Little hope shines forth from Egypt

The news as this piece was being penned was that Islamist Mohammed Morsi had won the Egyptian presidential elections held over the weekend, beating his rival, former Air Force Gen. Ahmet Shafiq, the ruling military’s man.

Morsi’s victory, however, means nothing, given the absolute hold on power the anti-Islamist military has, especially after it recently dissolved Parliament where the Islamists represented the overwhelming majority.

Egypt today effectively remains a country in political limbo, with hope for a liberal democracy shattered after the raised expectations following the demonstrations in Tahrir Square 16 months ago. The question in that country seems to have boiled down to a simple one.

Will it be the Islamists who hold power and shape society according to their religious ideology, or will it be the military that not only holds power and maintains its privileged position secured under Mubarak, but also keeps the Islamists at bay by force.

In keeping the Islamists at bay, it will no doubt also have the support of the country’s not- so-insignificant Christian minority and of the liberals who do not want to live under a religious dictatorship based on the Islamic shariah.

While the Islamic Brotherhood may cry foul, and justifiably castigate the military for its undemocratic moves and broken promises, the fact is that it itself, as well as the even more fundamentalist Salafis, have given scant indication that they are imbued with a genuinely democratic spirit.

Instead they have given out signals suggesting that an Islamic regime is what they are really interested in and after. It was inevitable, in such a situation, that the seminal question of “secularism,” so central to genuine democracies, should not have even been talked about, being a taboo subject for the Islamists.

As matters stand, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan exhorted the Egyptians not to fear secularism during his visit to Cairo last year, he created an uproar among Islamists. President Abdullah Gül also exhorted the same thing to Egyptians in a recent interview with the Global Viewpoint Network, trying to explain to them, like Erdoğan before him, that secularism does not mean anti-Islam, or atheism, but merely represents a system where the state respects all religious beliefs or lack thereof.

This, however, appears to be a bridge too far for Egyptian Islamists, who have given every indication that they do, in fact, want to interfere in individuals’ beliefs and lifestyles by means of social restrictions based on Islam. But this begs a very serious question for Egyptians.

How does Egypt plan to become a democracy if it is not prepared to face up to this “sine qua non” condition for democracy? And if the Islamists are not prepared to face up to this, what will be the difference between a regime based on military rule that infringes on individual rights, or a regime based on Islamic rules that does the same?

How is one to believe in this case that the Islamists will respect democracy in the future even if they come to power by democratic means? The bottom line is that Egypt is not providing hope for those thirsting after for democracy in the Middle East and this is discouraging for the whole region.

What is the use, after all, of having taken to the streets for more democracy and respect for individual rights if a military dictatorship is merely going to be replaced by a theocratic one?

Will not many Egyptians, as well as Western powers following developments in Egypt with consternation, prefer military rule in this case?

Little hope is shining forth from Egypt these days indeed.