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January 4, 2007

Democracy in Egypt? Thanks but no thanks.

Prayer during working hours at a bank downtown Cairo
Prayer during working hours at a bank downtown Cairo

While I have always been a true supporter of democracy in my country Egypt , recent events in the region are sending all sorts of wrong and worrying signals regarding the implementation of democracy in the region. The 1992 events in Algeria started it all; the Fronte Islamique du Salut (FIS) was just about to make a major win, which was not worrying until the banners its supporters were brandishing started to reveal the true intentions of the FIS; It was to be the first and last elections. The army interfered against the democratic outcome, and that country has been involved a low level, and ugly civil war that only cooled down in the last few years.

Fast forward and you see the phenomenal success of the Islamists from Hamas in the Palestinian territories, to the conservatives sweeping the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, and legislative elections in Kuwait, and Bahrain, to the good performance that Hezbollah was able to put up in the Lebanese elections, and these are just signs of what to come in the rest of the region if democracy was to make route. Just look at what happened in the nascent Iraqi democracy! All sides were polarized under their respective clergymen!

While experts are banging their heads against the walls of DC think-tanks, trying to explain this trend and extrapolate the future to draw America 's strategic policies towards the region, we in the region can see the trend, and where it is leading.

Recently, the minister of culture in Egypt voiced some remarks about his nostalgia to the days when most Egyptian women didn't wear a head scarf 20 years ago! His remarks were published and a political storm ensued, and even NDP members joined in the witch-hunt asking for a public apology by the minister. This incident showed how attached the majority of the population has become to religious appearances in a way that didn't exist in recent history.

The image above shows how most of the employees in Nasser's bank headquarters, downtown Cairo, left their work and went to pray in a makeshift mosque inside the bank during working hours!

One reason for the success of Islamists is that the governments in the region have suppressed political activities for ages, leaving the only place for gathering and indoctrination to be the Mosque, where any amateur clergy, spew his own twisted interpretation of the Koran to further whatever goals he deems worthwhile. Combine that religious devotion with high illiteracy rates in countries like Egypt (40%), and these illiterates mostly do attend their Friday sermons at the mosque or Sunday sermons at the church, and you get a country (or countries) that are being weekly (if not daily) brainwashed on many occasions into pursuing the puritanical state otherwise known as the "Khilafat" or "Islamic Nation".

Any current free and fair elections will bring about the dominance of Islamists and might turn some of current secular dictatorships into theocratic oppressive regimes where civil liberties and minority rights will be at risks of loosing the little space they have now, and Shari'a law will be in place.

The only solution in my view will be for Egypt and other countries in the region, to come up with laws against incitement, and embark on an ambitious education readjustment programs, where new curricula that include introducing human rights, civil liberties, and removes all inciting materials from the current curricula. Any action in this direction will have to be indigenous since the slightest perception that these changes are dictated by the west, will backfire. Students will also have to learn about the three powers, the political hierarchy, parliament, constitution, and other things that are included in the social science curriculum of 4th grade in elementary schools in the west.
For this approach to work, parallel efforts will have to be made including effective policies to reduce natural population increase, since the current educational resources cannot sustain even the current population numbers, let alone any expansion to the system.

first published here

Posted by Egypt Renaissance at January 4, 2007 4:28 AM

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