One has a natural sympathy for the Egyptian protestors who bemoan the lack of freedom in Egypt under Mubarek. But the question must be asked: Is there any significant movement in Egypt to accept responsibility for developing a political culture based on liberal freedoms and constitutional democracy?
Or, in fact, is it likely that the end of the Mubarek regime, if and when it comes, will be accompanied by the same Islamist revolution that has plagued Iran, and those who have been negatively impacted by its proxy Islamist terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah?
Remember that Egypt still has a population of Coptic Christians numbering 8 million out of the total Egyptian population of about 80 million. This 10% minority has been under attack recently, with, for example, the murder of some 6 Coptic Christians right in their church on the Coptic Christmas eve in January, 2010, and a storming of a Coptic Church by some 3000 Muslims in March.
The Islamist assault on Christians in their midst is widespread. A little known fact of the war in Iraq is that the end of Saddam Hussein brought the end of the Muslim tolerance for the Iraqi Christian population, which has largely fled the country. In November 2010, Islamists attacked a Catholic Church in Baghdad, slaughtering 58 congregants.
Also, it is little publicized in the West how badly Palestinian Christians have fared under the Muslim dominated Palestinian Authority compared to those Arab Christians who live under Israeli law, in Haifa and other communities in Israel’s north.
It is too late for the former Jewish community of Egypt, which was driven out of the country, mainly in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with the largest group leaving in 1956 after the government proclamation that “all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state”.
Egyptian television continues severely anti-Semitic programming, even airing a series promoting the anti-Semitic myth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. How eerie it is to see some protestors in the streets of Cairo carrying placards with the photo of the now reviled Mubarek, with a Jewish star etched on his forehead, to show the ultimate contempt.
Moreover, the anti-Semitic words and actions are not limited to members of the authoritarian Mubarek government or members of the Jihadist Muslim Brotherhood. Amr Bargisi, writing in the Wall Street Journal in December 2008, argued that much of the Jew-hatred emanates from “the pro-democratic and anti-Islamist crowd on which the country’s hopes for a more tolerant future supposedly rest.” Such supposedly liberal papers as the Al-Wafd Daily and Al-Masry Al-Youm carry preposterous pieces about Jewish conspiracies organized by shadowy Jewish business interests, and parrot ridiculous notions about Jewish participation in the 9/11 attacks, with allegations that Jewish employees at the World Trade Center stayed home from work that day. Anti-Semitism, then, seems to have infected every part of Egypt’s media and political culture.
I am all for supporting oppressed people. In the case of the Egyptians we should rightfully be concerned about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood, an anti-liberal advocate of Sharia law and universal Jihad, using the present crisis to take power, one way or another.
Caroline Glick, writing this week in the Jerusalem Post, reminds us of the recent Pew opinion poll in Egypt, showing that fifty nine percent of Egyptians said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics….Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion…When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.
The great Phyllis Chesler has also written this week, in NewsRealBlog, about the abysmal state of women’s rights in an Islamified Egypt.
So, at a bare minimum, the West, including the United States with its billions of dollars of past support for the Egyptian government, should lay down a pre-condition for support and aid to the proponents of more freedom and the end of the Mubarek government: stop scapegoating Christians and Jews and create a liberal culture where minority religions, women, gays and others will not have to live in fear. Take responsibility for your own freedom and the freedom of your minorities. Then we shall all feel better about supporting the Egyptian people in their struggles.
Unfortunately, the U.S. is stuck with a President who is on record as opining that America and Islam “share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings ... Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.” With that kind of cultural relativism, Americans will have a hard time understanding what they are witnessing in the new Middle East, and what steps, if any, can be taken to assist the Egyptian people towards a future of freedom and dignity for all.
Howard Rotberg is the author of three books on the Middle East and political culture, and is acting President of Mantua Books.
February 2, 2011