Friday, February 11, 2011

Building a New Pyramid...

Baby Waving Egyptian Flag (wikipedia)
Hosni Mubarak has resigned as president of Egypt.  By all accounts, power has been transferred to the Egyptian armed forces, who have been a stabilizing force throughout this entire democratic revolution.

Assuming the military makes good on its promise of free and fair elections, it is very possible that Egypt could become a democracy in the model of Turkey.  That the nation is heavily Muslim and some, but by no means all, of its laws may be based on Islam, does not mean that it will become a theocracy.

Only a few weeks before this uprising began, there were threats made against Coptic Christians in Egypt.  A bomb actually went off around Coptic Christmas Eve.  However, Muslim Egyptians formed human shields to protect the Copts.  While concerns remain for Egypt's Christians, this is a very encouraging sign and it signals the possibility that Egypt can function as a democracy despite its diversity.

For many weeks now, people were worried about Egypt descending into an Iran like state, but in fact this has not happened.  The Muslim Brotherhood may have Islamist ideas, but it is only one group and they appear more interested in democracy than forming a theocracy.  They have long sought participation in what little democratic processes that Egypt has.  They may, at worst, be like Turkey's ruling party, which espouses some religious overtones, but governors a secular society.

What may be the best bulwark against radicalization is the fact that this revolution was not started by any religious group or particular sect at all.  It was totally organic and natural brought on by legitimate economic and political demands.  These younger people in the streets of Caira, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere were not asking for the will of Allah to be imposed on their fellow citizens.  They wanted the will of the people to be imposed on the government.

Concerns about Israel's security may be tabled for the moment.  While the Jewish state's security will need to be addressed (the Egypt-Israel treaty is not particularly popular), the treaty will not change immediately.  The Egyptian military has no interest in taking that pact apart while it is in power so for now Israelis may rest easy.

Overall, this is a turning point in world history.  For the first time, an Arab nation may finally be able to determine its own destiny.  Freedom from direct government crackdowns on the press or on speech is something we take for granted here, but long tolerated overseas if it served our interests.  The answer, of course, is not imposing freedom on a nation (Iraq) or just assuming an election is the key to success (Palestine).  It has to flow naturally as it did here in the United States or as it did in Poland and now Egypt.  Only rarely, such as in West Germany and Japan, has democracy come through conquest.  In both those cases, there existed democratic institutions that had been perverted by the regimes in power.

America's delicate dance in the Middle East has always been about oil.  If we can begin to lessen our dependence on the stuff we may be able to stop propping up these regimes for our benefit, which incidentally harms our image among the public and breeds terrorism.  Egypt may not just be an opportunity to sow the seeds of democracy and freedom we have long enjoyed.  It could be a place where we build friendly relationships with Arabs on the street and that will be worh far more money in the bank than another barrel of oil.

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