India, — Those who remember the dramatic uprising in Egypt in January-February 2011 would also be able to recall the angry faces of young protesters who had gathered at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. But public memory being notoriously short and media`s attention span even shorter than that, few would remember the `Lotus Revolution` in Egypt which followed the `Jasmine Revolution` in Tunisia and was, in turn, followed by the `Shoot the Colonel Revolution` in Libya. A brief recount, therefore, would be in order.
When tens of thousands of young men and women flooded the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities across Egypt, demanding the ouster of Hosni Mubarak who had been President since Anwar Sadat`s assassination on October 6, 1981, everybody was taken by surprise. Nobody had expected such a tidal wave of protest. But then, nobody had expected Tunisia to explode into fury either. If the Mukhabarat (secret police) was caught unawares in both Tunisia and Egypt, so were the CIA and Mossad. It`s immaterial whether other intelligence agencies had an inkling of the dam-burst; what they knew or didn`t know was and remains inconsequential.
Unlike Zine el Abidine Ben Ali who fled Tunisia without pushing his luck any further, Hosni Mubarak stood his ground. To his credit, neither did he jump onto the presidential plane and fly into the sunset, nor did he despatch his family to safer shores. In the end, the Army let him down. Rather than squeeze themselves out of the power structure, the Generals dumped one of their own and sought to retrieve lost ground. They are still trying to do so. Hosni Mubarak, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, is now reduced to a prisoner in a jail, charged with and found guilty of crimes that have fetched him a life term. At least he is alive. He could have met the same fate as Muammar Gaddafi and Nicolae Ceusescu – or Mohammed Najibullah who was hanged from a lamppost long after he had ceased to be President of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the flower children of Tahrir Square who discovered the awesome power of social media courtesy a Google nerd called Wael Ghonim, came to terms with the realities of Egypt without a Pharaoh. Most returned home victorious from their standoff with the Mubarak regime. Others enabled the Muslim Brotherhood, which had cunningly remained behind the veil during the tumultuous days and nights of the `revolution`, to seize the leadership, as it had intended to do all along. The writing on the wall had been clear from the first day of the protests. But many in Egypt and abroad, especially those given to pseudo-liberal and bogus Left-wing bunk, for example, know-all paratrooper journalists who landed in Egypt to report on tectonics events in a country of which they knew nothing, chose not to read it. Instead, a great fiction was foisted on the naive and the ill-informed: That the `revolution` at Tahrir Square was the harbinger of democracy, pluralism and secularism. This became a self-perpetuating myth, as did the wholly imagined `Arab Spring`.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over the reins of power from Hosni Mubarak, has slowly and slyly consolidated its position over the past year. Yes, it did conduct the promised parliamentary elections that were widely perceived to be free and fair. And, yes, as was predicted by those with a sense of Egypt`s politics and knowledge of subterranean Islamism in that country that came over ground after Hosni Mubarak`s fall, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salaafis won an overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament. The military has also kept its word and held a free-and-fair presidential election. For the first time since the Young Officers` Revolution that saw the emergence of Nasser and his Arab nationalism, a President has been elected without securing 99 per cent of the vote, leaving people wondering why the remaining one per cent did not vote for him. But that`s only half the story.
A year-and-a-half after the flag-waving at Tahrir Square (an itinerant television journalist from India claimed to have spotted guitar-swinging wannabe Bob Dylans and Joan Baezs on the frontline of the protest) Egypt has a President but no Parliament. The Constitution of the `new` Republic, yet to be drafted, leave alone debated, has been supplanted by a military-issued list of dos and don`ts for the President. The Islamist-dominated Parliament has been dissolved on the orders of the Constitution Court which has held elections to a third of the seats as unconstitutional. The Islamist President could one day be dismissed through a similar process if he does not toe the line of least resistance as laid down by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
For the moment, Mohamed Morsi, an engineer trained in the US who contested and won the recent presidential poll as the Muslim Brotherhood`s candidate, is busy projecting himself as the new and legitimate leader of Egypt by virtue of being its elected President. He can`t be faulted for that. But, as Wael Ghonim has been quick to point out, he has secured 52 per cent of the vote in the run-off election; the remaining 48 per cent has gone to Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister of the Mubarak era, a former Air Force chief, and the de facto candidate of the armed forces. That, however, has not come in the way for Morsi to outline his agenda and worldview, which he did to a throng of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters on Friday. Among other things, he made a solemn pledge to secure the release of Egyptian-born cleric Omar Abdel Rehman who plotted terror attacks in New York that were a precursor to the horrors of 9/11.
As President, Morsi may not be able to match his rhetoric with action. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will continue to wield real power, at least for the foreseeable future and till a fresh Parliament is elected. For all practical purposes, things are in a flux and predicting the course of events would be at once foolhardy and foolish. The armed forces in Egypt are more than the custodians of military assets. They have widespread business interests, protecting which will always remain their primary concern. It is this that gives the Generals their clout at home and abroad, much like the military in Pakistan. Indeed, Egypt could well adapt itself to the Pakistani model with the military calling the shots while a popularly elected Islamist President and Parliament do the Generals` bidding. The balance of power would be tilted towards the cantonment; the civilian regime would front for the military leadership. On the face of it, the Muslim Brotherhood is not complicit in this devious scheme. But that does not preclude an understanding between the Generals and the Ikhwan, nor does it mean that the two can`t forge a deal in the coming days and months. Pragmatism is an elastic word, much like an India rubber ball.
Somewhere in the world beyond the one in which we live, Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood as a revivalist organisation and was assassinated by the Palace in 1949, and Sayyid Qutb, the theorist who gave the Ikhwan al Muslimun its stirring slogan, “Islam is the Solution”, and was sent to the gallows by Nasser, are having a hearty laugh. Not because the Muslim Brotherhood`s fortunes are at last on the ascendant but because Islam has long last become the `solution`. Whether that solution shall lead to greater conflict at home and abroad or serve to tame those Muslims who have defied Islamism till now – look at how Qutb`s dictum has become the leitmotif of Pakistan – is a question that is best left for another day.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
© Copyright 2012. CMYK Printech Ltd.
Nazir-Ali: How Mohammed Morsi, Egypt`s first Islamist president, interprets Sharia law will be a crucial test
by Michael Nazir-Ali
The Telegraph Online
Now Mohammed Morsi is Egypt`s new president an Islamist heads the largest Arab nation. His approach to Sharia, Christians and the West is a crucial test, writes Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester
Egypt is going to be a test case. A declared Islamist has been elected president and any parliament in the foreseeable future is likely to have an Islamist majority. Not only is Egypt the most populated country in the Arab Middle East, it also has the largest number of Christians in the region and a sizeable secularised middle-class in the cities. What happens there will have implications for much of the Arab and Muslim worlds.
So will it be another Iran, with minorities and professional people leaving in significant numbers, or is there a way of being Islamist that prevents such an exodus?
We must be wary of cosmetic gestures and false accommodation. Mohammed Morsi`s promise of having a non-Islamist prime minister, with a Christian and a woman as vice-presidents, whilst welcome, says nothing about any Islamist system which may yet be put in place. It is good that he has had an early meeting with Christian leaders but it remains to be seen whether Muslims and Christians will continue to be regarded as equal citizens.
The key to answering some of these questions lies in the place Sharia is likely to have in a future Egypt. We should not be in any doubt that it will have a prominent role. Already, under the previous regime, and because of Islamist pressure, the constitution was changed from recognising it as one of the sources of law to being the sole source of all law. It is difficult to imagine an Islamist government settling for anything less. The question is what will be the extent of implementing such an understanding of Sharia, how will it be interpreted and what effects will it have on minorities
Many observers of events in Egypt were surprised by the strength of Wahhabi-Salafism there. This group wants nothing less than a Saudi-style system with women behind the veil, minorities reduced to the discriminatory dhimmi status and harsh punishments for those who drink alcohol, dress “immodestly” or violate the sexual code of Islam. Any overtures in this direction will surely result in panic amongst Christians, the extinction of tourism and an Iran-like isolation of Egypt. Unlike Iran, Egypt cannot rely on oil and the new regime will have to weigh very carefully what impact its actions have on the economy.
Another, very different, scenario is, however, also possible. Egypt has a long history of Islamic scholars seeking to understand Sharia in terms of contemporary conditions and a concern for the common good. Muhammad Abduh (d.1905), the Grand Mufti, who is venerated by both the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, wanted a “pure” Islam as well as one which was compatible with reason and the conditions of the modern world. He wanted to do away with traditional interpretations of Sharia and favoured a radical reconstruction of Islamic law.
Even in his fatwas, he showed how this could be done, for example, by declaring that bank interest did not fall under the prohibition of usury (thus undermining the case for Islamic finance) and by holding that Muslims could eat food produced by Jews and Christians. He argued for a legal system which would take Sharia into account but in which considerations of the common good would be of primacy importance.
This tradition of thought has been followed in Egypt by notable leaders such as Rashid Rida, Al-Azhar and the present Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa. The last two have pioneered new approaches to the notorious Islamic law on apostasy. Instead of the three days traditionally allowed to the apostate from Islam to repent or face execution, Al-Azhar scholars have argued that such a person should be allowed a lifetime to repent.
Very bravely, Ali Gomaa has pronounced apostasy not to be punishable in this life. He has also reiterated Abduh`s teaching on interest. Such rulings have the potential to be influential not only in Egypt but across the world.
Even though there has been widespread opposition to this way of understanding Sharia, it must be one of the ways forward for the new Egypt.
The West has been obsessed by the idea of a secular-led “Arab Spring” but, in fact, there never was such a thing. The revolutions, throughout the Arab world, have been led by Islamist-minded movements of one kind or another.
Secular opponents of the ancien regime have joined in the overthrow of a dictatorship but their options for the future appear limited.
Every effort must now be made to encourage a view of Islam, and particularly of Sharia, which can lead an open and tolerant Egypt. What Egypt does today will be globally significant tomorrow.
Abduh held that the unchanging principles of Islam should be related to changing circumstances. The protection of the person, of reason, of property and of the family can provide the basic principles around which Egyptian law is developed. What is urgently needed is a reaffirmation of the principle that there will be one law for all Egyptians which will seek to accommodate the consciences and beliefs of different elements in society.
The Church should beware of accepting a situation where it is allowed its own law, provided that Sharia can be enforced for Muslims. This would return Christians to being second-class subjects and restrict the freedom of expression and mobility for Muslims, especially women. The equality of all before the law must be clearly stated and a commitment to common citizenship rapidly developed.
Some kind of a Bill of Rights may be a first step. The armed forces cannot be the sole guarantors of a plural Egypt; political parties, government institutions and, in particular, Islamic organisations must commit themselves to such a vision.
The alternative can be seen in many parts of the Muslim world and it is not attractive. Egypt deserves better.
* Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, is author of Conviction And Conflict: Islam, Christianity And World Order
© The Telegraph Online 2012. Telegraph Media Group Ltd.