All the reports I am receiving, including from friends who are actually in Tahrir Square, is that what we are seeing in Egypt is “absolutely not an Islamist revolution”. A friend on the ground, who has spent days talking to the protestors tells me:
This is a secular, liberal, Egyptian movement
The concern is that Mubarak’s years of repression, in which liberals were also imprisoned on trumped up charges, alongside Muslim Brotherhood activists, is that the Ikhwan is now the only organised political force in Egypt. Whether it will obtain some key ministries (Education, for example) or even end up as the cornerstone of a new government remains to be seen.
Have a read of this article by former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg in the Huffington Post. Ginsberg is alert to the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, he notes:
Moreover, many Egyptians I ask are unanimous in their assessment that the Muslim Brotherhood has not modernized sufficiently to attract many younger Egyptians to its ranks. Jihadi-bound Egyptians have rejected the Brotherhood’s rejection of violent Jihad; alternatively the more educated youth of Egypt who are leading the revolution are suspicious of the Brotherhood because of its anti-democratic, Shariah intolerance.
Also, read Norm:
The point is that nobody can foresee for a certainty where this process is heading or where it will end. But one cannot profess democratic and liberal values and shut off in advance their possible strengthening and development on the grounds that the democracy established might deliver the wrong result. The result delivered might indeed be wrong. If a people votes in politicians intent on stealing their newly won rights and liberties, that is a tragedy for them and possibly for others. But it’s a risk inherent in the democratic process and has to be worn – by genuine democrats. No democrat, on the other hand, is bound by their democratic commitment to support, much less admire, the political beneficiaries of a democratic process regardless of their political complexion. If a democracy in Egypt were to put in power a new round of tyrants, repressive theocrats or what have you, then this would have to be faced and they would have to be criticized, opposed, constrained, by all legitimate methods. For now, as between that danger and the democratic possibilities, there ought to be no practical dilemma. The people on Tahrir Square deserve our support.
Similarly, Martin Bright:
One of the most wonderful of many wonderful aspects of the anti-totalitarian uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt is that they have nailed the myth that Islamism represents the “authentic” voice of the Arab street. This was always a pernicious nonsense and the diversity of those demonstrating across the Maghreb and Egypt has been one of the most noticeable features of the revolt.
This must be particularly galling for the Foreign Office, which has spent considerable resources in cultivating the Muslim Brotherhood and other revivalist groups across the Middle East. It is gratifying for those of us who warned against this orthodoxy that Islamist fellow-travellers such as Frances Guy, the UK’S blogging ambassador to Lebanon, have been proved so wrong. The Arabist experts of the FCO failed to see this coming, just as they failed to predict the rise of radical Islam in the late 1970s.
Those such as the Conflicts Forum crew who have argued for outright engagement with the totalitarians with the slogan “listening to political Islam, recognising resistance” have been left with considerable egg on their faces. The resistance, as it turned out, came from enlightened, forward-looking young people looking for the political reform and modernisation that would allow their countries to take their place in the 21st century.
Let’s hope that this is so, and that those Egyptians who are resisting theocracy while struggling for liberty prevail.
On that note, take a peek at Simon Tisdall – a bit of a weird guy, but with an interesting take on events in Tahrir Square:
Iranian officials and clerics are insisting Egypt‘s insurrection, and similar popular revolts across the Arab world, are inspired by Islamist political ideology and have their origin in the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the late Shah. But opposition leaders and independent analysts take a very different view. They say the common rallying cause is democracy, not Islamism – and that the Tehran regime is increasingly fearful of an Egypt-style uprising there.
Purists point out the Iranian revolution was not, initially, Islamist-led. It, too, was intrinsically a response to poor governance. This is why, paradoxically, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Iranian opposition leader who many believe defeated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election, is also lauding events in Egypt – and claiming credit.
“What we are witnessing in the streets of Tunis, Sana’a, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez take their origins from the millions-strong protests in Tehran in 2009,” Mousavi said on his Persian-language website, Kalemeh.com.
Shayan Ghajar said Iran’s attempts to spin the story revealed “more about the Islamic Republic’s anxiety than the actual facts on the ground in Cairo”.
I think that Tisdall is wrong. Iranian pro-democracy campaigners are unlikely to see a dividend from Mubarak’s fall. Yes, there are demonstrations in a number of Middle Eastern countries. However, Sudan‘s government will not fall. Neither will Syria‘s Day of Rage unseat their dictator. That is because Syria is backed by Iran, which successfully resisted civil unrest by the precaution of arresting, torturing, raping and executing the demonstrators. That is what Iran and it allies are allowed to do. They can get away with it.
By contrast, the response of the United States was to oppose Mubarak’s desperate attempts to retain power.
The disparity in the response to calls for reform demonstrates clearly what you’d expect tyrannies to do in the face of popular opposition, and what you’d hope that democracies would do when faced with similar choices. However, we should also be aware that this is the reason that Iran and its proxies are likely to prosper in the new Middle East. It also explains why the US will get no credit for its stance on Mubarak, which will be seen as a sign of terminal weakness, rather than as a moral virtue.
But interesting to see this:
Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip are concerned about the effects of the upheaval in the Arab world, as Facebook messages call on Gaza residents to demonstrate against Hamas rule on Friday.
Several thousand people have joined the Facebook group calling for a protest against Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. Another Facebook group is calling for protests against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Far fewer people have expressed interest in that page, but Palestinian leaders in the West Bank also recognize that the protests in Tunisia and Egypt could spill over into Palestinian territory.
In Gaza City, Hamas police used force earlier this week to disperse a small rally showing solidarity with Egyptian protesters. Police officers dressed in civilian clothing arrested six women and detained some 20 others, according to Human Rights Watch.
Update 2 – also read this first hand account of how events in Egypt developed.