Democracy, middle east and peace – or not

egypt tahrir-square-cairo-protests
egypt protests in front of army

Egypt protests

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.

Iran protests in 2009

Iranian protests that failed

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.

Update:

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.

Robert Fisk: Secular and devout. Rich and poor. They marched together with one goal

 

Childrenwave Egyptian flags atop an armoured vehicle on the edge of Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday

AP

Childrenwave Egyptian flags atop an armoured vehicle on the edge of Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday

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It was a victory parade – without the victory. They came in their hundreds of thousands, joyful, singing, praying, a great packed mass of Egypt, suburb by suburb, village by village, waiting patiently to pass through the “people’s security” checkpoints, draped in the Egyptian flag of red, white and black, its governess eagle a bright gold in the sunlight. Were there a million? Perhaps. Across the country there certainly were. It was, we all agreed, the largest political demonstration in the history of Egypt, the latest heave to rid this country of its least-loved dictator. Its only flaw was that by dusk – and who knew what the night would bring – Hosni Mubarak was still calling himself “President” of Egypt.

Mubarak ended the day as expected, appearing on television to announce that he will hang on until the next election – a promise that will not be accepted by the people he claims to love. The people of Egypt were originally told this was to be “the march of the million” to the Kuba Palace, Mubarak’s official state pile, or to the man’s own residence in Heliopolis. But so vast was the crowd that the organisers, around 24 opposition groups, decided the danger of attacks from the state security police were too great. They claimed later they had discovered a truck load of armed men close to Tahrir Square. All I could find were 30 Mubarak supporters shouting their love of Egypt outside the state radio headquarters under the guard of more than 40 soldiers.

The cries of loathing for Mubarak are becoming familiar, the posters ever more intriguing. “Neither Mubarak, nor Suleiman, and we don’t need you Obama – but we don’t dislike USA,” one of them announced generously. “Out – all of you, including your slaves,” announced another. I did actually find a decaying courtyard covered in rectangular sheets of white cloth where political scribes could spray-paint their own slogans for 40 pence a time. The tea-houses behind Talat Harb’s statue were crammed with drinkers, discussing Egypt’s new politics with the passion of one of Delacroix’s orientalist paintings. You could soak this stuff up all day, revolution in the making. Or was this an uprising? Or an “explosion”, as one Egyptian journalist described the demonstration to me?

There were several elements about this unprecedented political event that stood out. First was the secularism of the whole affair. Women in chadors and niqabs and scarves walked happily beside girls with long hair flowing over their shoulders, students next to imams and men with beards that would have made Bin Laden jealous. The poor in torn sandals and the rich in business suits, squeezed into this shouting mass, an amalgam of the real Egypt hitherto divided by class and regime-encouraged envy. They had done the impossible – or so they thought – and, in a way, they had already won their social revolution.

 

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.

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