Jonathan Freedland writes a really important article in the Guardian today about the quandary facing Egypt and the Middle East.
They fear they’ve seen this movie before. In the first reel, the world watches with awe as the streets of a distant capital fill with the young and the angry, brave enough to shake their fist at a hated dictator. In the second, the statues fall, the tyrant flees and all hail a triumph for democracy. But in the final reel there’s a twist: the original street rebels are pushed aside, replaced by a tyranny just as ruthless as the one it toppled – and much more menacing to its neighbours.
This in a nut shell is the fear facing Egypt’s neighbours. As Jonathan says there is a fear that
They hold elections – but they are of the “one man, one vote, one time” variety.
It has happened before. The fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979 replaced a brutal tyrant with an even more brutal theocracy under the Ayatollah’s. We saw this in 2009 with the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement. In fact it was this movement and its use of Twitter that got me using it – and ended up with this blog! You see its all their fault!!
One of those I followed was a student in Tehran. This is his last tweet.
Nothing more since. I have no idea what happened to him. Was he arrested and killed or is he in prison or is he just keeping his head down?
Jonathan is hopeful. He hopes that a genuine democracy will allow not only greater freedoms in Egypt but a greater chance of peace in the Middle East based on a legitimate democracy. He is hopeful that Egypt will reject the way of Islamic militancy and embrace reform.
Or listen to the former deputy chief of mission in Israel’s Cairo embassy, Ruth Wasserman Lande. She agrees that Israel is right to be concerned by the upheaval in Egypt, that it should remain vigilant, “with seven eyes in the back of its head”. But she also urges Israelis to listen to the protesters with “open eyes and an open heart”. Doom is not inevitable.
I very much hope that his analysis is right. I hope that the doom-sayers are wrong. But there is much to be fearful of.
There was a clip on the Today programme this morning where one of the protesters was shouting at the reporter “America is finished, finished, finished. Israel is finished, finished, finished”. The organisation that is best organised in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood. Not quite the fanatical organisation that it has been portrayed as but still wanting to implement Sharia law in Egypt with probable major consequences for both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
And therein lies the dilemma. Theocracies tend to make bad governments. Of all religions. It becomes too easy to claim that it is the will of Allah or God or Vishnu or whoever and that anyone opposing you is opposing them.
That has tended to lead to dreadful decisions being made – the Crusades, ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East, the clampdown in Iran. It gives them a certainty that there actions are right and other are wrong. It gives them a “certainty” that the use of force against those who oppose them is reasonable – making the ability to change their government so much more difficult and bloody.
The response of the population in terms of peaceful protest and the declaration by the army that they will not stop peaceful protests are all great signs that a way through to a peaceful democratic society is possible.
I hope and pray that Egypt will pull through to a democratic government that respects human rights and the rights of ALL its citizens. It is much more important, even than for just Egypt alone. Egypt is the largest Arab nation with a population of over 80 million. The stakes for peace in the whole region are extremely high.
So Mubarak is fighting back
This, unfortunately could easily raise the stakes. It makes a settlement and ordered handover more difficult. It can entrench opinion. Far more people are likely to die and it makes a stable democracy more difficult.
Hoping and praying tonight for a peaceful settlement.
Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent for the Independent thinks talk of the Muslim Brotherhood is blown out of all proportion
And then there was the absence of the “Islamism” that haunts the darkest corners of the West, encouraged – as usual – by America and Israel. As my mobile phone vibrated again and again, it was the same old story. Every radio anchor, every announcer, every newsroom wanted to know if the Muslim Brotherhood was behind this epic demonstration. Would the Brotherhood take over Egypt? I told the truth. It was rubbish. Why, they might get only 20 per cent at an election, 145,000 members out of a population of 80 million.