Monday, November 28, 2005

Egyptian democracy

If the Egyptian version is a touchstone for democracy in rest of the Middle East, the US is on the wrong side of history.

This essay by Baheyya is worth a look. I come away from her analysis with two important conclusions: First, the forces that control Egypt are very unpopular -- so much so that the official policy about voting is to prevent as many potential voters as possible from exercising their right to vote. Second, a group known as the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, is perhaps the strongest opposition voice in the country.

You don't want to know what the Muslim Brotherhood stands for. As far as I can determine, they are the Egyptian counterparts to Pat Robertson, Michael Savage and a vigilante border patrol group all rolled into one. You also don't want to know how very popular they are.

The Ikhwan have done well to take voters and their needs seriously, and voters in turn are returning the favour by braving security phalanxes and demanding their right to be heard (above). Now I am deeply ambivalent about the Ikhwan, but who cares? As my Egyptian politics guru rightly reminds (that’s right, guru), one cannot impugn their fundamental respect for the ordinary Egyptian, and their superior skills at capitalising on and augmenting seemingly puny opportunities. They are not infallible and they are not without schisms, but they are committed. And they are clean.

So before the pundits begin to produce their post-mortems, moaning and wailing about the supposedly sinister rise of the Ikhwan, let’s be honest and clear-headed here. The Egyptian public is not some drugged mass following the siren song of religion. The Egyptian public is suffering from a regime that is aloof and inept at the very best and dangerous and violent the rest of the time. It is not a mystery nor a ‘problem’ how an uncorrupt, moralising, problem-solving, and politically astute organisation has captured the provisional trust of large swathes of that public. The challenge for the Ikhwan as a political phenomenon will be to maintain and truly live up to voters’ trust. No easy task, and not a foregone conclusion.
Our anaylist is clearly not on the side of this group. But despite her personal views she can see the obvious: the group is undeniably popular. This picture reminds me of that famous image of the lone student in Tienanmen Square facing a line of tanks. As Baheyya notes, "There is something deeply noble to me about this lone citizen trying to negotiate her way into this formidably fortified Alexandria polling station."

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